There has been more heated debate between members of Congress and U.S. officials over the question of the powers a transitional Iraqi government will have after the transfer of sovereignty on June 30.
In a hearing of the House International Relations Committee, State Department and military officials were pressed by lawmakers about what will happen after June 30.
Assistant Secretary of Defense, Peter Rodman, says the U.S. objective in Iraq is to ensure that moderate democratic elements prevail. "Our strategy is to empower the moderates in Iraq and to marginalize the extremists politically, even while the coalition is seeking to put them out of business militarily," he said.
But as the transition draws near, and despite reassurances by Bush administration officials in recent weeks, many lawmakers remain uncomfortable, wanting to know specifically what powers and authority an Iraqi interim administration will have.
Thursday, lawmakers asked whether a sovereign Iraqi government would theoretically be able to order American troops out of Iraq, resulting in this exchange between Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Marc Grossman.
GROSSMAN: If you look at the transitional administrative law and U.N. Security Council [resolution] 1511, Iraqis have said they would like our forces to stay.
ROHRABACHER: I know, but if they ask us to leave and they have sovereignty, we will leave, will we not? What is this. . .?
GROSSMAN: Of course.
Is the answer yes?
GROSSMAN: If they ask us to leave, let me go backwards. I do not believe they will ask us to . . .
RORHBACHER: No, that's not the question. Is the answer yes?
>b>GROSSMAN:>/b> Yes, sir.
Mr. Grossman later back-tracked, saying the United States will not leave Iraq until, in his words, "the job is done." He says the "Transitional Administrative Law" forming the basis for the June 30 transition, represents an Iraqi decision to allow U-S and coalition forces to remain until an elected government takes over responsibility for security.
"The transitional administrative law is an Iraqi decision to limit their authority, not their sovereignty, they limit their authority here and allow the multinational forces, not just American forces, but the multinational forces, to operate in Iraq under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1511," he said.
In other testimony, Lieutenant General Walter Sharp, attempted to reassure lawmakers about training of an Iraqi army and police.
Saying 1,500 Iraqis are being trained each month, he acknowledged under questioning that only about 50 percent of Iraqi police will have been trained by September. Ultimately, he said, security in Iraq can only be assured by an international force.
"We must expand international security forces to support the return of the United Nations in their work. We must provide a secure background for the upcoming political transition, to include security for the elections process. To accomplish this, we cannot do this alone," he said.
In his testimony, Undersecretary Grossman said the prisoner abuse scandal has made the transition process harder, but progress toward the June 30 date, and establishment of a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad continues.
Mr. Grossman says the embassy is expected to have 1,000 American employees, and about 700 Iraqi employees under newly-confirmed Ambassador John Negroponte. He estimates the cost of running the new U.S. mission over the next year at about $483-million, rising to about one-billion dollars in 2005.