WASHINGTON – Training the police is as important to stabilizing Iraq as building an effective army there, but the United States has botched the job by assigning the wrong agencies to the task, two members of the Iraq Study Group said Wednesday.
"The police training system has not gone well," said former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the bipartisan commission.
For a second day, a key Republican directly challenged President Bush to do more than pay "lip service" to this and other recommendations on how to resolve the troubled conflict in Iraq.
"As a nation we'd be much better off if the executive branch were not so insular," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. "I'd think the executive branch would be well advised to do more than have a meeting and a news conference to give in-depth consideration to what is being proposed here."
According to the report, co-authored by Hamilton and former Attorney General Edwin Meese, the U.S. erred by first assigning the task of shaping the judicial system in a largely lawless country to the State Department and private contractors who "did not have the expertise or the manpower to get the job done."
In 2004, the mission was assigned to the Defense Department, which devoted more money to the task. But department officials also were insufficiently trained for the job, Hamilton and Meese said.
As a result, Iraq has little if any on-the-street law enforcement personnel or a functioning judicial system free of corruption, they said.
Justice Department officials, they said, should lead the work of transforming the system. Police executives and supervisors should replace the military police personnel now assigned.
And the FBI should expand its investigative and forensic training in Iraq, Hamilton and Meese told the panel.
The recommendations about the Iraqi judicial system were included in the Iraq Study Group's report last year, but got little attention. Hamilton and Meese said Wednesday that unless the U.S. helps create a capable, trained professional police force and functioning criminal justice system, "ordinary Iraqis will not live in peace and will not have confidence in their new government."
"Long-term security depends as much on the Iraqi police and judicial system as the Iraqi Army," they testified.
The hearing comes as lawmakers increasingly line up against President Bush's escalation of the unpopular war in Iraq, many citing the findings of the Iraq Study Group as they urge an end to U.S. involvement there.
Wednesday's hearing gave committee Democrats a fresh opportunity to take a swipe at the White House.
"If the administration had been serious and competent about establishing a functioning democracy in Iraq, it would have seen the need for a trustworthy criminal justice system in which all Iraqis could have confidence," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in prepared remarks.
With a Senate showdown just days away, No. 2 GOP leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said he had concerns with each of a host of resolutions introduced so far on the war. If Republican leaders do not rally behind a single proposal, the party could avoid taking a clear, united stance on the widely unpopular Iraq war — a consequence Lott suggested he wouldn't mind.
"To herd the cat some times you have to let them stray," he said. "Think about that. Keeping them together by letting them stray."
The Iraq Study Group recommended the administration pull U.S. combat brigades out of Iraq by early 2008, launch new diplomatic initiatives with Iran and Syria and vastly increase the number of U.S. military advisers in the country.
Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, in subtle disagreement with the Bush administration, told Wednesday's hearing that the United States should always be ready to negotiate, including with Iran and Syria as part of a regional conference that he proposed for dealing with Iraq.
But Kissinger described radical Islamic fundamentalism promoted by Iran as the biggest threat to the area, and said that "I see little incentive Iran has to help us solve the Iraq problem."
In prepared testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared to line up with senators opposing President Bush's buildup in Iraq.
"I could have supported an increase in troops if that increase had been tied to a clear, important and achievable mission, and if we were guaranteed that our troops would have the best training and equipment," she said.