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Congress Pushes Bush Administration for Details on Iraq Power Transfer - 2004-04-20

Members of the U.S. Congress are criticizing the Bush administration for not providing enough details about plans to transfer sovereignty in Iraq on June 30. The concerns were expressed during the first of three days of congressional hearings about Iraq.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Richard Lugar, says the Bush administration needs to release specifics about plans to hand over power to Iraqis in just over two months.

"The administration must present a detailed plan to prove to Americans, Iraqis and our allies that we have a strategy and that we are committed to making it work," he said.

Although a State Department official is scheduled to testify before the committee later in the week, Senator Joseph Biden criticized the White House for not providing high-level administration witnesses at the hearings.

"The fact that they are not prepared to send a witness either means they are totally incompetent and they don't have anything to tell us, which would constitute incompetence or they are refusing to allow us to fulfill our constitutional responsibility," he said. "There is always a price to pay for that."

The hearings come as United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is working on a plan to transfer sovereignty to a "caretaker" government of respected Iraqis.

Mr. Brahimi says the new government should be led by a prime minister, a president and two vice presidents until nationwide elections can be held next January.

The envoy says there must be considerable improvement in the security situation in Iraq before elections can be held.

Mr. Brahimi is expected to present his recommendations to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan soon.

Sandy Berger, who was White House national security adviser during the Clinton administration, told members of the Senate at Tuesday's hearing the Bush administration needs to be more forthcoming in providing information about the handover.

"We will not meet any of our goals in Iraq if we lose the public at home," he said. "Today the question on the public's mind is, what is our strategy for success in Iraq and is it achievable? Too often today it seems to be improvised."

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, who is a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, testified that the transition to a democratic government is extraordinarily important.

"It is a transition of gigantic magnitude and scope, immensely important in itself and even more important in its ramifications for the Gulf region, the wider Arab world and the war on terrorism. If that were not enough, the outcome of the transition now under way will profoundly affect our ability to operate internationally in a world in which we are uniquely threatened by an ideologically driven movement aimed at our destruction," he said.

On Wednesday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hear from counter-terrorism and military experts on the transition in Iraq. On Thursday Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman is expected to testify.