Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday defended U.S. policy in Iraq amid criticism from lawmakers demanding a plan to bring troops home.
In her first appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since February, Rice said the U.S. goals in Iraq are to break the back of the insurgency, keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven for Islamic extremism, turn the corner economically and become a democratic example for the entire Middle East.
She outlined a strategy to clear the toughest areas of insurgents, secure them as a sanctuary from violence and "build durable national Iraqi institutions," which she insisted would "assure victory."
"Our strategy is to clear, hold and build," she told senators. "The enemy's strategy is to infect, terrorize and pull down," reports CNN.
Rice appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations committee for only the second time since members gave her an unexpectedly tepid endorsement to replace Colin Powell in January, and she fielded pointed questions about U.S. intentions and commitment on Iraq from lawmakers who said they are hearing complaints at home.
"Our country is sick at heart at the spin and false expectations," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., told Rice. "They want the truth and they deserve it."
Rice said Iraq's police and Army forces are becoming better able to handle the country's security without U.S. help, and she repeated President Bush's warning that setting a timetable for withdrawal plays into terrorists' hands.
"The terrorists want us to get discouraged and quit," Rice said. "They believe we do not have the will to see this through."
Rice said the United States will follow a model that was successful in Afghanistan. Starting next month, she said, joint diplomatic-military groups called Provincial Reconstruction Teams will work alongside Iraqis as they train police, set up courts, and help local governments establish essential services.
By State Department design, Rice testified before the 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 1982 massacre of 150 of his fellow Iraqis, informs the AP.