Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Senate intelligence chief urges end to Iraq probe

Senate intelligence chief urges end to Iraq probe
By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday urged lawmakers to begin wrapping up the second phase of its investigation into U.S. intelligence on prewar Iraq, despite fresh demands from Democrats for further scrutiny.

Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican, laid out a schedule for completing four of the investigation's five segments by the end of April and pledged to release much of the findings to the public.

The largest segment of the Phase 2 investigation, which has increasingly become a lightning rod for partisan squabbling, promises to examine whether Bush administration officials exaggerated intelligence on Iraq as they made their public case for war in 2002 and 2003.

"Over the next several weeks, the committee's members will work with staff to write the final products," Roberts said in a statement. "This schedule provides a reasonable time frame for member input as we complete the inquiry."

Aides to Roberts said the chairman released the work schedule in a public bid to counter behind-the-scenes efforts by Democrats to expand the Phase 2 probe.

"The Democrats are saying (the probe) is not developing the answers they want -- the answers they want amount to 'Bush lied' -- so they just want to keep looking," said one aide, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about committee affairs.

Republicans cited a January 13 letter to Roberts from Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia, the intelligence panel's ranking Democrat, as evidence that Democrats wanted a broader investigation.

Neither Roberts nor Rockefeller would release the two-page letter.


But a Democratic aide familiar with Phase 2 said the letter asked the committee to interview about 20 senior administration officials, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and sought access to President George W. Bush's daily intelligence briefings on Iraq.

"Nowhere is there any suggestion we need to go into areas of investigation that we haven't already started," he said.

The Rockefeller letter also called on the committee to press ahead with its probe of former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith, whom Democrats accuse of manipulating intelligence to suggest links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the Democratic aide said.

Roberts has put the committee's Feith investigation on hold until the Defense Department inspector general completes its own probe of the former defense official.

"Our goal should be to unite around a thorough, accurate and credible report that answers lingering questions about whether and how intelligence may have been misused," Rockefeller said in a statement.

The first phase of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence probe looked at the quality of intelligence on Iraq and concluded in a scathing 2004 report that grave errors led to prewar U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

WMD were a main justification for Bush's decision to invade Iraq. But no such weapons have been found.