Iraqi authorities can't understand US diplomatic and military plans

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to reassure jittery Congress members who want specifics about the United States' path to success in Iraq. Republicans and Democrats alike are raising questions about the Bush administration's diplomatic and military plans in Iraq amid a rising U.S. death toll, soaring costs and slumping public support for the war.

"The president and Congress must be clear with the American people about the stakes involved and the difficulties yet to come," Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday, when Rice was making her first appearance before Congress in eight months.

"Even if withdrawal timelines are deemed unwise because they might provide a strategic advantage to the insurgency, the American people need to more fully understand the basis upon which our troops are likely to come home," Lugar said.

By State Department design, Rice was testifying before Lugar's committee just days after Iraq apparently approved its first constitution since a U.S.-led coalition ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Her appearance also coincided with the start of Saddam's trial in Baghdad for a massacre of 150 of his fellow Iraqis.

With President George W. Bush's poll numbers dragged down by public discomfort over Iraq, Rice was seeking to reassure lawmakers, who are feeling the heat from their war-weary constituents, that U.S. policies toward Iraq are sound.

But committee members from both political parties were expected to press Rice on options for improving security, advancing the political process and strengthening the economy in Iraq.

Saturday's vote was a political milestone on Iraq's path to forming a legitimate democratic government. Efforts by skeptical Sunni Arabs to defeat the charter appear to have failed, but the Bush administration has embraced their unexpectedly large turnout at the polls as a sign democracy is taking root, according to the AP.

Lugar called the vote a welcome development, while noting, "The larger hope of reaching a political settlement between all the major ethnic groups has not been realized."

Urging caution, he added, "We cannot assume that the establishment of democratic institutions in Iraq in the short term will yield corresponding diminishment in the insurgency."

The Bush administration contends that progress on political and military fronts is linked. It believes that as Iraqis take steps to establish a new government, minority Sunnis will gain confidence in the democracy and quell the insurgency.


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