G.O.P. Senators Voice Rising Concerns on Iraq

By BRIAN KNOWLTON

New York Times

September 20, 2004

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 Reflecting rising concerns, one senior Republican senator said today that the United States was in "deep trouble" in Iraq, another denounced administration "incompetence" in Iraqi reconstruction, while two others said that unless American-led forces quickly retake several areas from insurgents, credible elections cannot be held in January.

The senators' comments, made on televised political programs, underscored mounting worries even within President Bush's party about the murderous attacks of recent weeks, and about the coalition's failure to bring some Iraqi cities under control.

The comments of Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina came as the interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, was telling a television interviewer that "we are winning" the fight against what he said were increasingly desperate insurgents.

None of the senators spoke with that sort of optimism, though they predicted longer-term success if the administration remains resolute.

Democrats have seized on the latest troubles as evidence, they say, the Bush administration is badly even "catastrophically," in the word of Senator John Kerry, the presidential candidate mishandling the war there. The Kerry campaign has sharpened its attacks, and party leaders said today that they would further hone in on Iraq this week.

"No, I don't think we're winning," Senator Hagel of Nebraska said on the CBS News program "Face the Nation." "We're in trouble, we're in deep trouble in Iraq."

Mr. Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he planned on Monday to send administration officials a list of recommendations for changing course in Iraq, including a major effort to involve regional allies to speed up training of Iraqi police and troops.

More American troops are clearly needed, Mr. Graham said on CNN. "The security situation in Iraq is going to get worse before it gets better," he said. "I think we're going to need more people over time."

Mr. Lugar, asked why only $1 billion of $18 billion appropriated last year for Iraqi reconstruction had been spent, replied, "Well, this is the incompetence in the administration." The Foreign Relations Committee chairman was appearing on the ABC News program "This Week."

Senator McCain who, like Senator Hagel and Senator Lugar, has often criticized administration planning on Iraq said that a major error was allowing insurgents to keep control of the city of Falluja, after vowing to oust them. "As Napoleon said, if you say you're going to take Vienna, you take Vienna," Mr. McCain said.

Insurgents are challenging American control of other cities as well.

"I would never have allowed the sanctuaries to start with," Mr. McCain said on "Fox News Sunday." "And allowing those sanctuaries has contributed significantly to the difficulties that we're facing, which are very, very significant."

As American forces develop plans to move against those areas, Mr. McCain urged quick action.

"We're not going to have those national elections until we get rid of the sanctuaries," he said, "or at least they're not going to be effective." Mr. McCain said he believed this could be achieved by January.

But ending the resistance, he said, could only be accomplished with "boots on the ground," meaning higher casualties and a need to enlarge the Army and Marine Corps by 90,000 or more.

Mr. Lugar, who like other senators urged a larger effort to train Iraqi police and troops, said that he did not believe Iraqi forces were ready to support American troops when they re-enter Fallujah.

"I don't think they are," he said on "This Week." "I think that, therefore, there are going to be weeks that will ensue, whether it happens before the election or after, it will have to happen before the elections occur in January. Fallujah is not in a position to have an election."

Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, said that anything less than national elections would be a dangerous approach. "You'll hear some people start to say, well, let's have elections in the Shia and the Kurd area," bypassing the troubled Sunni region, he said on "This Week." "That is a prescription for disaster in terms of division within the country."

For all the challenges facing the interim Iraqi leaders, however, Mr. Lugar said that "they have remarkably stayed on course." He added: "They're headed toward elections. My own view is that those elections are going to happen. They may not be perfect, but they're going to happen."

He said Mr. Allawi, who is scheduled to meet with President Bush on Thursday, had overseen "extensive" progress and that the areas of violence were "very, very small parts of the picture."

The administration did find a strong supporter in one Republican senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, who spoke on "Face the Nation."

He said Mr. Bush had been a consistent and committed leader of the Iraq war. Of its critics, he said, "hand-wringing does not win wars."

"War is tough," Mr. Kyl said, "and there are casualties and just before victory sometimes it gets most violent."

No one was saying "that we don't have to change course," he said. But Mr. Kyl added, "Freedom's on the march."

Mr. Allawi, interviewed on "This Week," said that Iraq still planned to hold elections in January and that an American intelligence report suggesting the possibility of civil war in Iraq was wrong.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, and an adviser to Senator Kerry, said of Mr. Allawi's comments that "no one I know, except Allawi, thinks things are going to get better" in Iraq.

"Everything in Iraq for the past year has gone worse than the administration predicted," he added.

Some Democrats suggested that the administration was playing politics by delaying a major push against the sanctuary cities until after the American presidential election.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if the tough decisions, the painful decisions are going to be delayed by this administration until after Nov. 2," Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said on CNN.

Even Republicans who called for course adjustments by the administration said they were optimistic for Iraq if the United States did not lose its nerve.

Mr. Graham said that Mr. Kerry, in suggesting he would seek to pull out American troops within four years, "sends the wrong signal to terrorists" that they might accelerate that timetable through violence.

Instead, he said, the message had to be, "We're in it for the duration," as in World War II.

"If we stay the course," he said, "we will win."