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US Lawmakers Press Bush Officials on Iraq Sovereignty Plans - 2004-04-22

U.S. lawmakers Thursday pressed Bush administration officials about plans for transferring sovereignty in Iraq to the Iraqi people at the end of June. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its third hearing in three days on the June 30 handover.

With a little over two months before U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer is to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government, members of the Foreign Relations Committee demanded details of the plan.

"A detailed plan is necessary to prove to our allies and to Iraqis that we have a strategy and that we are committed to making it work," said Committee Chairman Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican. "If we cannot provide this clarity, we risk the loss of support of the American people, the loss of potential contributions from our allies and the disillusionment of the Iraqis."

The top Democrat on the committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, questioned whether political authority would indeed be given back to the Iraqis on June 30, or whether the U.S. Ambassador would be "pulling the strings", or wielding the power.

"The American ambassador, when there is a problem, is going to get in his car, and he is going to talk to the new transitional government, whatever that form is going to take," he said. "How is that going to translate to the Iraqi people, as they wake up in the morning thinking there is any transition? How is that reflect this notion that there is going to be some meaningful change in their circumstance?"

Testifying before the committee, Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman emphasized that Iraqis would be running their own ministries.

"Iraqis will take control of the Development Fund for Iraq. It will be their money," he said. "Iraqis will take control of oil revenue. It will be their money. I do not debate you on the security area, but what I say to you is that in many, many, many parts of Iraqi life, there will be a very important Iraqi face on an Iraqi government."

Mr. Grossman said the interim Iraqi government also would take control of foreign policy. But he acknowledged that U.S. commanders would continue to control military operations.

In his appearance before the committee, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman could not say when the Iraqis would assume total control of the security of their country.

The Foreign Relations Committee will discuss Iraq again next Tuesday, when it considers President Bush's nomination of U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte to become the first U.S. Ambassador to Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War.