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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.

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Tuesday, April 20

Lawmakers want answers from Bush on Iraq

By John Yaukey and Jon Frandsen | GNS

WASHINGTON - Lawmakers returning from their spring recess had plenty of questions, strongly worded advice and, in some cases, outrage for the Bush administration and its handling of Iraq.

A chorus of Republican and Democratic senators holding hearings on Iraq wanted to know how the administration plans to stabilize the volatile nation, to which it will transfer sovereignty June 30 as Bush has promised. And they want to know why the administration has provided scant information about its Iraq strategy.

The administration still has not solidified plans for selecting an Iraqi government to receive authority. Nevertheless, Bush remains adamant about meeting the handoff date. Meanwhile, more than 100 U.S. troops have died in Iraq so far in April, the bloodiest month since the war began March 19, 2003.

``The administration must present a detailed plan to prove to Americans, Iraqis, and our allies that we have a strategy and that we are committed to making it work,'' said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Lugar's committee began three days of hearings Tuesday on the explosive events in Iraq and the still-vague plans for a power handoff, but the administration declined to send a top-ranking official to any of the sessions, angering some committee members.

``I think it's an outrage that the administration has not provided every witness we have asked for, said Sen. Joseph Biden, D- Del., the leading Democrat on the committee. ``It's the president's responsibility to do two things: level with the American people and tell us the plan.''

However, the administration did send top defense officials to hearings on Iraq held by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This week's hearings were the first opportunity lawmakers have had to formally question the administration about the bloody fighting that broke out in April.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that there were considerable difficulties in Iraq, but he also complained that considerable gains in the country were being ignored.

``Perhaps most importantly, in the year since Iraq has been liberated, no new mass graves have been filled with the bodies of innocent Iraqi men, women and children capriciously murdered by a brutal regime," he said.

Bush has repeatedly pledged to stay the course in Iraq and to provide more troops if necessary.

Some lawmakers have called for substantial increases in U.S. troops.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has ordered 20,000 troops who had been scheduled to return home to remain in Iraq for several more months, keeping the numbers of U.S. forces at 135,000.

Rumsfeld said Tuesday he has not received any requests from field commanders in Iraq to raise the troop level any higher, but ``we have prepared for that - you bet.''

According to a USA TODAY-CNN Gallup Poll, one in three Americans now support a troop increase, up from one in five April 8.

On the political side, the administration is now awaiting a recommendation from Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations' special envoy to Iraq, who is expected to propose a strategy for the transfer of authority soon.

Brahimi is expected to suggest replacing the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council with a government chosen by the United Nations in consultation with Bush administration officials.

Senior administration officials have cautiously praised the idea.

But lawmakers have questions about it.

``What if the Iraqis don't like this new government?'' Lugar said. ``What does the United States do?''