Top Iraq commanders, Rumsfeld to answer lawmakers' questions on war

Top U.S. commanders try to convince lawmakers in Congress that the United States is making progress in the war Thursday.

Gen. George Casey, the most senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command, were to testify before the Senate and House Armed Services committees alongside Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After weeks of being criticized for his hurricane response, President George W. Bush also is trying to put the focus back on issues considered his strengths the fight against terrorism and Iraq.

The president plans to address the nation Oct. 6, following speeches on Iraq by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney over the next few days.

Congress has not held a hearing on Iraq with top officials since before its August break.

Back home in their districts, lawmakers heard from constituents whose discomfort about Iraq was reflected in polls that showed sliding support for Bush as well as the war effort.

An AP-Ipsos poll this month showed only 37 percent approved or leaned toward approval of how Bush has handled the situation in Iraq. The percentage who disapproved strongly outweighed those who approved strongly by 46 percent to 22 percent.

"We're on the offense," Bush said Wednesday. "We have a plan to win." Still, he warned of an upsurge in violence before Iraqis vote Oct. 15 on a new constitution. He said insurgents ultimately will fail.

Republicans have increasingly started expressing concern, although most continue to support the president.

Democrats have begun to ramp up their criticism of Bush's Iraq policy as that country's Oct. 15 vote on a new constitution nears and the U.S. death toll approaches 2,000.

Before the hearings, Senate Democrats implored Rumsfeld in a letter "to provide frank answers" to the public's questions about the war, including the status of the training of Iraqi security forces and expected U.S. troop levels over the next year.

"Continued stonewalling, or simply saying these answers are 'unknowable' or are 'conditions based,' are no longer satisfactory. The Congress and the American people deserve better information," the letter said, reports the AP.


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