Democratic and Republican senators alike lashed out Wednesday at the military’s efforts to stabilize Iraq, reprimanding Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for not having a “coherent plan” to tackle the wave of violence sweeping Baghdad.
Speaking in stern tones to a packed hearing room, members of the Senate’s defense appropriations subcommittee said they were concerned that crime and instability in Iraq threatened to undo the military victory against Saddam Hussein’s regime.
“The lack of stability concerns me,” said Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.). “It is absolutely imperative that the U.S. maintain order regardless of how difficult it is.
“Because without it, there is a real chance that the people of that country will assume that the victory that we claim is not a victory at all,” he said.
“At this point there is no evidence that you have any coherent plan” to bring order to the fractured country, Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) told Rumsfeld.
The subcommittee is weighing the Defense Department’s 2004 budget request. But the budget received scant attention from senators compared with the reports of chaos in the Iraqi capital, where the U.S. is in charge.
Rumsfeld called published reports of anarchy in Baghdad “overstatement” but acknowledged that the looting and violent crime there “is a problem.” U.S. forces are doing everything they can to bring it to a stop, he added.
“The one thing that is central to success is security,” Rumsfeld said under questioning from Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.). “We have a full-court press on that.”
Noting the recent move to replace the Pentagon’s handpicked administrator in Iraq, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, with former ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, Byrd said, “I hope that the recent shake-up in the civilian leadership of the U.S. occupation authority will help the situation and will not amount to merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
But Rumsfeld took issue with Byrd’s characterization of the move, saying Garner “is not being replaced.”
“From the very outset, it was clearly understood that at some point a senior civilian would be brought in, and Ambassador Bremer is that individual.... There is no shake-up,” he said.
Rumsfeld said both Garner and Bremer, who had arrived in Baghdad on Monday, are doing “terrific” jobs in circumstances complicated by the prewar emptying of Iraqi jails and an infrastructure badly degraded even before the war.
Rumsfeld also promised that U.S. and coalition troops would be using “muscle” in dealing with disorder. He did not elaborate, but the Army general in charge of ground forces in Iraq on Wednesday denied a published report that soldiers would start shooting looters.
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan said that simple looting is not enough to warrant opening fire on Iraqi civilians, unless soldiers are threatened.
Soldiers will, however, arrest and hold those caught in criminal acts, he said.
Quizzed by Byrd on why U.S. troops had not secured sites where Iraqis were believed to be developing nuclear weapons before the sites were stripped by looters, Rumsfeld said U.S. forces “had a lot of tasks to deal with.”
“It is not possible to have enough forces in a country instantaneously to guard every site so somebody won’t get into it,” he said.
Rumsfeld said the Pentagon has no evidence that nuclear materials were taken by looters.
Assailing criticism of the pace of the stabilization effort, Rumsfeld said, “We can’t make it right ... in five minutes.”
He told the committee that 15,000 to 20,000 troops from the Army’s 1st Armored Division would arrive in Iraq in the next seven to 20 days, joining the approximately 142,000 U.S. service members already there. The infusion had been announced earlier. With British and other coalition forces, it will bring the total in Iraq to 175,000.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the subcommittee there were still 309,000 U.S. troops in and around Iraq and stationed on ships within close range of the country.
Rumsfeld vowed daily improvements in Iraqis’ living conditions and said the military would make an all-out effort to provide the security needed for reconstruction.
“The circumstances of people in that country are better than they were before the war,” Rumsfeld said. “They’re going to get better every day.”