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Senators ask tough questions

Wolfowitz testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Wolfowitz testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Paul Wolfowitz

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One of the architects of the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq faced tough questions from a Senate committee Tuesday as he urged Congress to support the Bush administration's $87 billion funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The costs are large, but it is a battle that we can win and a battle that we must win," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

About $71 billion of the White House budget request would pay for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, which President Bush has declared the "central front" in the war on terrorism launched after the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington nearly two years ago.

"As large as these costs are, they are still small compared to just the economic price that the attacks of September 11 inflicted, to say nothing of the terrible loss of human life," Wolfowitz said. "And even those costs are small in comparison to what future, more terrible terrorist attacks could inflict."

Wolfowitz: Iraq welcomed 'foreign terrorists'

But Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, questioned the Bush administration's attempts to link the war in Iraq to the battle against al Qaeda and said the administration made a "questionable strategic choice" by invading Iraq.

"I certainly will support all efforts to win. We have no choice," Reed said. "But I think we've put ourselves in a position where we've made a choice where everything is to lose and very little to gain."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said that he wanted more answers about how long the reconstruction of Iraq would take, and how much it would cost, before giving the administration "a blank check."

"We're going to support the servicemen and women," Kennedy said. "But when you're asking for the tens of billions of dollars in reconstruction, we're entitled to the answers to those questions."

Wolfowitz said the Iraqi government was recruiting volunteers from other countries to battle U.S. troops "from the very early stages of the war," and displayed what he said were the passports of "foreign terrorists" killed or captured in Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion.

"The foreign terrorists who go to Iraq to kill Americans understand this: If killing Americans leads to defeat and the restoration of the old regime or any kind of new tyranny, they would score an enormous strategic victory for terrorism and for the forces of repression and intolerance, rage and despair, hatred and revenge," he said.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told international reporters Tuesday that "a stable and prosperous Iraq is going to be the centerpiece of a more stable Middle East."

"The price tag may be very high," Rice said. "However, freedom is priceless. Security is priceless."

Byrd: 'Congress is not an ATM'

U.S. troops face an ongoing guerrilla campaign in Iraq after ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in April. Wolfowitz told the Senate committee that a sustained U.S. commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq is needed to show the world "that we have the staying power to finish the job."

But even Sen. John McCain, a prominent supporter of the war, said the Defense Department failed to take into account the "truly staggering" scale of reconstruction.

"The Pentagon had planned that there would be some 60,000 troops in Iraq today as a result of the progress that was foreseen," the Arizona Republican said. Instead, 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, plus about 23,000 allied troops -- mostly British -- and more troops are needed, he said.

And Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, an outspoken critic of the war, told Wolfowitz, "Congress is not an ATM. We have to be able to explain this new, enormous bill to the American people."

Several senators attacked Wolfowitz's pre-war assessments that the reconstruction of Iraq would require relatively few U.S. troops and be paid for largely by Iraqi oil revenues. Sen. Carl Levin, the committee's ranking Democrat, said Congress already has spent $79 billion on the invasion and occupation of Iraq and called Bush's budget request "a bitter pill for Americans to swallow."

"Mr. Wolfowitz, you told Congress in March that, quote, 'We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon,' close quote," Levin said. "Talk about rosy scenarios."

A Pentagon report found the U.S. military failed to plan adequately for the occupation of Iraq and devoted insufficient resources to the search for Iraq's suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, which the Bush administration cited as its justification for war. None have so far been found.

The committee's chairman, Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, said it was "imperative" that Congress approve the money needed for U.S. troops to stabilize and rebuild Iraq. But he said the controversy over troops levels is "legitimate" and "continues to this day."

But Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the presence of more U.S. troops could undercut efforts to stabilize Iraq.

"The more Americans in Iraq, the less Iraqis might feel prompted to come forward and furnish us that intelligence which is what we need so badly to deal with this threat," Myers said.

He said about 55,000 Iraqis have been taken on as police and security forces to aid the occupation, and the United States hopes to have 184,000 Iraqis in security forces by 2005.

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