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Senators to set Iraq inquiry timetable

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Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, center, and Jay Rockefeller are the Democrats on the bipartisan panel.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six senators are meeting Tuesday to set out a new schedule for investigating prewar intelligence on Iraq.

The task force was appointed to end a standoff between Republicans and Democrats last week.

Democrats, who have accused Republicans of dragging their feet, invoked a little-used rule to call for a secret session of the Senate to put pressure on their opponents to move on with the investigation.

Republicans blasted the tactic as a stunt.

The three Republicans and three Democrats from the Senate Intelligence Committee will try to agree to a timetable for the second phase of the committee's inquiry into the claims that led the United States to invade Iraq.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has said Congress should be willing to subpoena Bush administration officials and documents as part of the investigation to seek answers to questions about how the White House built its case that war was necessary. (Watch Reid urge 'real investigation' -- 2:05)

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, one of the three Democrats on the panel, said recently declassified documents from the Defense Intelligence Agency raised more questions about the intelligence sources used by top officials to link Iraq to al Qaeda, the terror group responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"The president of the United States ... said that we've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda in chemical and biological weapons, using the same source" as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in his February 2003 U.N. presentation, Levin said Tuesday.

"A year before [Bush's] statement, the Defense Intelligence Agency said that the source of that was bogus and was likely misleading us and making up stories."

Levin said he believed the Bush administration's "statements before the [Iraq] war were deceptive and misleading and this is part of the pattern."

Levin will work out the new timetable with fellow Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, together with Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and his party colleagues, Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri and Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Democrats have been emboldened by President Bush's sliding approval ratings and the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. (Full story)

Roberts and other Republicans blamed Democrats for politicizing the intelligence investigation with the Senate's secret session.

"I think, quite frankly, what happened is they had a leadership meeting the night before, they looked at the Scooter Libby situation, they thought the situation was right, and so they pull a stunt like this, not letting anybody know they're going to go into a secret session," Roberts said.

"I think it was more politics than anything else."

Republicans hit back

The Democrats further stepped up their attacks on the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism Monday, calling for an independent investigations into the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody.

Republicans hit back by accusing Democrats of trying to score political points off continuing American losses in Iraq and of undermining support for U.S. troops.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Americans could face the human toll of the September 11 attacks "over and over and over again" if the United States withdrew prematurely from Iraq.

"I hope the members of this body who have politicized this issue by making false allegations of manipulation of intelligence would realize their allegations only serve to divide the American people and undermine critical American resolve to finish the important work we are about in Iraq," Cornyn said.

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