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Retiring GOP congressman breaks ranks on Iraq

Nebraska's Bereuter calls war 'a mistake'

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

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Iraq
Doug Bereuter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Breaking ranks with his party and reversing his earlier stance, a senior Republican lawmaker who is retiring said Wednesday the military strike against Iraq was "a mistake," and he blasted a "massive failure" of intelligence before the war.

The unexpected four-page statement came from Rep. Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, who until earlier this month was vice chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- a panel that reviewed much of the evidence the Bush administration cited before going to war.

"I've reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed, that all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action, especially without a broad and engaged international coalition," Bereuter wrote in a four-page letter to his constituents.

"The cost in casualties is already large and growing, and the immediate and long-term financial costs are incredible."

Bereuter was particularly critical of the prewar intelligence, which described an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But no such weapons have been found since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Bereuter voted in support of an October 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, but he said that vote was based on what he had been told about the weapons threat from Iraq.

"Left unresolved for now is whether intelligence was intentionally misconstrued to justify military action," Bereuter said.

After 26 years on Capitol Hill, Bereuter is retiring next month, and he will become the president of Asia Foundation.

Congressional Republicans appeared surprised and angry at Bereuter's comments.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Illinois, a member of the intelligence panel, described Bereuter as "very bitter" for having been passed over in recent years to head the intelligence and international relations committees. He suggested Bereuter's comments were a parting shot to House GOP leaders and President Bush.

An aide denied Bereuter was motivated to write the letter because he didn't get the appointments.

Rep. James Gibbons, R-Nevada, who is also on the intelligence panel, said Bereuter's new conclusions are wrong.

"The facts don't change. Iraq was a dangerous place," Gibbons said. "Mr. Bereuter is entitled to his opinion."

Bush officials tried to downplay the congressman's statement.

"He is not an opinion maker or someone who has taken a leadership role. I don't think you can take this as a sign his comments are a barometer of other Republican thinking," one Bush political aide said.

Bereuter's critique of the administration on Iraq was sharp.

He said the administration was wrong to disband the Iraqi army -- because so many of its members joined forces with the insurgents -- and was wrong to rely on the Defense Department instead of the State Department to spearhead reconstruction and the interim government.

He also said the administration was wrong to ignore military leaders who warned many more troops would be needed in Iraq to maintain the postwar peace.

"Now we are immersed in a dangerous, costly mess and there is no easy and quick way to end our responsibilities in Iraq without creating bigger future problems in the region and, in general, in the Muslim world," Bereuter said.

Bereuter said it was important for the executive and legislative branches of government to learn from the "errors and failures" relating to the war in Iraq and its aftermath.

Some Democrats see Beureter's comments as a political plus in part because he argued the president should have gone to war in Iraq with a broader international coalition, as Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, has said.

But Bush aides pointed out a key difference between the two that could benefit the president politically: Kerry, answering a direct challenge from Bush, said recently he does not regret voting to authorize war.

Bush officials said they are in constant contact with congressional Republicans. They said they want to to keep these lawmakers engaged in the president's campaign, and behind his argument that even knowing what he knows now, war in Iraq was the right thing to do.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.


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