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Republicans fire back at Sanchez for Iraq war criticism

  • Story Highlights
  • Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham: "I am astounded" by comments
  • Sanchez, a retired former coalition commander in Iraq, called war "nightmare"
  • Republican Sen. John McCain wishes Sanchez would have spoken up earlier
  • Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell said Sanchez is simply wrong
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republicans reacted with surprise and recrimination Sunday to blistering criticism of the Iraq war from former coalition commander retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

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Lawmakers lashed back at retired Gen. Ricardo Sanchez on Sunday after he criticized the war effort.

On Friday, Sanchez, who was coalition commander in 2003 and 2004, called the Iraq war "a nightmare with no end in sight." He said the Bush administration, the State Department and Congress all share blame.

Speaking with military reporters in Virginia, Sanchez also said such dereliction of duty by a military officer would mean immediate dismissal or court martial, but the politicians have not been held accountable.

"I'm astounded, really," South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on CNN's "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer on Sunday.

Graham, who recently returned from Baghdad, said he and GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain had visited Sanchez several times in 2003 and 2004.

"Every time we talked to Gen. Sanchez, we got pushback -- we have enough troops; Guard and reserves aren't being strained," Graham said.

He added that Sanchez's own record in Iraq is blemished: Abu Ghraib "got out of control under his watch. The war in general got out of control under his watch."

But Graham said that "finally," with the commitment of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops since January, "We are getting it right."

Sanchez told reporters that American political leaders have cost American lives on the battlefield with their "lust for power."

Sanchez said it had been his duty to obey orders and not object publicly while on active duty, but that he has an obligation to speak out now that he has retired.

"While the politicians espouse a rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power, our soldiers die," he said.

That brought a tart response from McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I wish that he had given us the benefit of that knowledge at the time," McCain told CBS's "Face the Nation." He said Sanchez should have spoken out at the time -- or resigned -- but "unfortunately, that doesn't happen very often."

One of the reasons few speak out, he said, is evidenced by what happened to former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, McCain said. Shinseki was sidelined after telling Congress that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to occupy Iraq.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, told ABC's "This Week" that Sanchez is simply wrong. "My definition of winning is a stable country and an ally in the war on terror," he said. "I think we're making significant progress toward that end."

But, he added, "I think the central government in Iraq has been an embarrassment. They've not been able to produce any of the kind of political compromises that we had hoped for."

Graham said he hopes the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will "step up to the plate and do something meaningful by the end of the year."

If that does not happen, he said, "it will be incumbent upon us, as a nation, to devise a new political strategy to find a way forward or create a stable Iraq."

That brought a blistering response from Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser under President Carter.

"What is this? This is a colony," he said. "That's the heart and essence of the difficulties we encounter."

Even those Iraqis who were happy to see Saddam Hussein toppled from power more than four years ago are not happy with the continuing U.S. presence, Brzezinski said.

Though some countries are willing to go along with the United States, "No one in the world really supports our policy in Iraq," he said.

In his Friday speech, Sanchez added that the "surge" of U.S. troops into Iraq represents "a desperate attempt by the administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war."

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National Security Council spokeswoman Kate Starr did not address the comment. Instead, she said, "We appreciate his service to the country. As Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker said, there's more work to be done but progress is being made in Iraq. And that's what we're focused on now."

Gen. David Petraeus is the U.S. top commander in Iraq. Ryan Crocker is the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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