- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Two congressman who praised President Bush’s war efforts in Iraq said it is time for the administration to openly accept international help and presented an extensive list of recommendations for a safer and more accountable reconstruction phase.

Reps. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, and Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, traveled to southern Iraq and Baghdad with nongovernmental organizations last week. The two spent three days and two nights unescorted by the military in sections densely populated by Shi’ite Muslims, a population hated and demonized by ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

Although the two men lauded the administration for going to war to free the Iraqi people from the “tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein,” both said it’s time for Mr. Bush and his aides to tone down what the lawmakers see as administration arrogance, admit mistakes and be more open to new ideas and independent monitoring.

“In Matthew 23, verse 12, it says, ‘For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’ I would urge the administration to be open to outside ideas and practice more humility,” Mr. Wolf said.

The pair met with reporters yesterday to discuss their trip and findings.

“I know the [Bush] administration won’t like [a recommended audit of the efforts], but there has to be a group … that will go on a periodic basis to come in and say: How are things going?” Mr. Wolf said.

He said an independent accounting of all aspects of the rebuilding effort are necessary to maintain a sense of accountability for American expenditures in Iraq.

Although he said security is much better this visit than it was when he visited the war-torn southern regions in May, he added there is still a long way to go.

“Some of the observations: Security is a top issue. Weapons are all over. You need an aggressive buy-back program,” he said.

Perceived deficiencies in the post-Iraq-war plan have been well-documented in the American and international press corps. Mr. Shays pointed to the looting and pillaging of palaces and museums that occurred after Mr. Bush’s victory address aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in May.

And he said the continuous calculated attacks from former Ba’ath Party militias could be winding down rather than escalating if the administration had not wasted precious time in the days immediately following the war.

“I’m absolutely convinced of this — we had two months, give or take, of absolute inaction from the end of the direct war to the rebuilding effort. We wasted two months,” Mr. Shays said. “We didn’t protect the ammunition areas. … And so what I think is, acknowledge that, be upfront about miscalculations, admit some mistakes. It gives more validity to what you say afterwards.”

Another recommendation was for more cooperation between international law enforcement agencies modeled after NATO. Mr. Shays also urged the appointment of a special adviser for public diplomacy in Iraq, selected by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, whose directive would be to expand the American rebuilding message to the other countries in the region.

Mr. Wolf praised the appointment of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III to oversee Iraqi debt restructuring by foreign nations, but said more needed to be done to contain terrorist-supporting nations.

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