In Senate Hearing, Administration Defends War's Progress

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Senators grilled Pentagon officials Tuesday about President Bush's $87 billion budget request for Iraq, saying the strain on forces, lack of international help and botched postwar planning in Iraq had created a situation that demanded a clear-cut strategy.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said he would offer an amendment to the Iraq spending bill that would bar money for security and reconstruction until the president officially presented Congress with his plan for Iraq.

Americans deserved to know how many troops would be in Iraq and for how long, the total cost of the war, the current situation, the expected levels of international support and the schedule for restoring basic services, Kennedy said.

“I believe we need to know the answers to those questions before we provide the additional funding for reconstruction,” he said.

For months, many Democratic and some Republican lawmakers had complained that the administration had offered few details about its plans for Iraq.

On Tuesday, some of those lawmakers had their chance to grill Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers (search).

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the administration painted "rosy scenarios" earlier in the year when it said Iraq would quickly be able to pay for its own reconstruction.

The $87 billion request "is a bitter pill for the American people to swallow," he said.

The administration "clearly underestimated the size of the challenge we would face," added Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pointing to the unexpected resistance to U.S. forces and the advanced decay of the Iraqi infrastructure.

"That was not anticipated before we went in," McCain said.

At the White House, Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked who was to blame for the misjudgment on the condition of Iraq's infrastructure.

"Saddam Hussein," he replied.

In a televised address Sunday, Bush said he would ask Congress for $87 billion in supplemental funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush said the money was needed to stop terrorists before they could strike again in the United States. The money would be in addition to the $79 billion approved by Congress earlier this year for the Iraq war and reconstruction.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V., a staunch opponent of the war and critic of the administration’s Iraq policy, immediately questioned the fiscal implications of continuing to work in Iraq.

“Congress is not an ATM. We have to be able to explain this enormous bill to the American people,” Byrd said.

Not everyone was critical of the administration. Stressing the need to stay the course, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said: “This is a problem the American people have to show patience for. It’s a problem we simply can’t back away from.”

Administration officials have promised that international help will be forthcoming. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Tuesday was headed to a donors' conference looking for contributors to help fight the war on terror in Iraq.

“International terrorism is an international problem. I would anticipate by the end of the year we ought to have more contributors,” Myers said.

Under Secretary of State Marc Grossman acknowledged that the administration did not know when international help would arrive, but said that he expected three or four countries to make contributions if a new Security Council resolution were to be passed.

Iraq's acting president, Ahmed Chalabi, said Tuesday that the nine-member Iraqi Governing Council wanted neighbor Turkey to send 10,000 troops to serve in a U.N.-mandated peacekeeping force, provided it would not be deployed to Kurdish zones.

That contradicted earlier statements by the council's foreign minister, himself a Kurd, who implied that Turkish troops would not be welcome in Iraq.

In Congress, Sen. Levin was blunt in his questioning.

“We’ve known for months that countries like Pakistan, India, Turkey would not send troops unless we had a U.N. mandate. Why have we waited for months?” he asked.

Defense officials said Tuesday that National Guard and Reserve troops would have their tours of duty extended so that they would serve a whole year in Iraq in addition to time spent training and debriefing.

McCain warned that extending the terms of service for the National Guard and Reserve would risk breaking those institutions.

Myers agreed that the expanded service would be a strain on Reservists and Guardsmen, but that it was also part of the job.

“We’ve got to put predictability in the lives of our reserve component and for that matter our active component,” Myers said, adding, “If we are a nation at war, we are using the Guard and Reserves exactly the way they are designed.”

Defense officials said 55,000 Iraqi soldiers had started fighting alongside Americans and 184,000 were expected to be active by the summer of 2005.

"We're standing with the Iraqi people as they assume more of their own defense and move toward self-government," said President Bush at a fund-raising appearance Tuesday in Jacksonville, Fla.

Wolfowitz also stressed accomplishments made thus far.

“The overwhelming majority of Iraqis in the south are with us and the overwhelming majority of Iraqis in the north ... so we have the winning assets on our side. We’ve done a fantastic job,” Wolfowitz said.

“The problem is that the war isn’t over,” he added.

Fox News' Peter Brownfeld and the Associated Press contributed to this report.