- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee raised the prospect yesterday of extending the Bush administration’s June 30 deadline for turning over sovereignty in Iraq, questioning whether the country would be ready for self-rule.

But the White House said firmly it was sticking by its timetable.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar said security is a shambles in some cities, and Iraqi police forces are not prepared to take over.

“The real issue is June 30, how we are going to make that transition,” the Indiana Republican said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The key, he said, is that “even as we’re trying to get security, which we must, and Iraqis take on more security, there will be enough going there that, in fact, the democratic forces can have the constitution building, they can have the elections, can have the transition.”

Asked whether transferring power in less than three months would be premature, Mr. Lugar said, “It may be, and I think it’s probably time to have that debate.”

Under current plans, Iraq no longer would be under U.S. political control on June 30, but more than 100,000 American troops would remain there. U.S. officials have said that the Army is assuming that it will have to keep roughly 100,000 troops in Iraq for at least two more years.

Mr. Lugar, who plans committee hearings on Iraq this month, said there remain far too many questions about what will happen after installation of an interim government, whose composition has yet to be decided.

He said the administration has not told his committee about plans for an ambassador, who the embassy staff will be and how they and the embassy will be protected.

“This is a huge new exposure of Americans,” Mr. Lugar said. “At this point, I would have thought there would have been a more comprehensive plan.”

Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the committee’s top Democrat, said training Iraqi forces cannot be done in months, but will require at least three years.

“We’re going to end up with a civil war in Iraq if, in fact, we decide we can turn this over, including the bulk of the security, to the Iraqis between now and then,” Mr. Biden told “Fox News Sunday.”

White House spokesman Brian Besanceney said the administration has no intention of rolling back its June 30 turnover date.

“The United States and our coalition partners are continuing to work closely with Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people on our plan to meet the June 30th deadline,” Mr. Besanceney said. “The United States will stay in Iraq until the job is done.”

Iraq has been hit in the past month with some of its worst violence since the combat phase ended.

On Wednesday, jubilant crowds dragged the burned, mutilated bodies of four American civilian contractors through the streets of Fallujah. That day, five U.S. troops were killed in a roadside bombing northwest of the city.

Seven U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday in fighting with Shi’ite militiamen in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City. The U.S. military also reported that two Marines were killed in a separate “enemy action” in Anbar province over the weekend, raising the toll of American service members killed in Iraq to at least 610.

The administration has been under pressure from its Iraqi partners and international allies to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis and end the military occupation as soon as possible.

The administration also wants a functioning, sovereign Iraqi government in place to counter Democratic criticism of President Bush’s Iraq policy during the campaign for the Nov. 2 election.

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