Thursday, September 21, 2006

Senate Democrats plan probes into Iraq war

Senate Democrats plan probes into Iraq war
By Joanne Kenen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Accusing Republicans of failing to adequately monitor the conduct of the war in Iraq, Senate Democrats on Wednesday announced their own series of hearings into what they called a failed policy.

"Three years into war, the American people still don't have a clear picture of what's gone wrong in Iraq -- or how to set it right," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"We've been going backward for too long," he said.

Democrats said they had invited Republicans to attend the hearings, which will start in Washington on Monday and move across the country in October and November -- before and after the November 7 congressional elections in which control of both houses are at stake.

Reid and other top Democrats told a news conference the current Congress had conducted fewer oversight hearings than previous wartime Congresses. They said lawmakers held 152 days of hearings on the Korean War and 328 days on Vietnam.

Republicans countered that they had held dozens of hearings and briefings on Iraq and the full Senate had debated many aspects of the war.

"We all understand how important the war on terror is, especially the ongoing fighting in Iraq," said a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. "It's no surprise, however, that on the day after a national poll showed improving American attitudes toward the liberation of Iraq that the Democrat leadership would want to change the subject."

Democrats earlier this week called for Congress and the Pentagon to probe the Bush administration's rebuilding effort. They said hiring and contracting practices in Iraq recalled the government's botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Opinion polls show significant voter disapproval of President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, a trend worrying Republicans trying to keep control of the House and Senate in November.

Democrats have tried to keep a spotlight on the violence in Iraq, while Republicans have hammered Democrats for planning to "cut and run" from that country.

Also on Wednesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow denied reports the White House was losing confidence in Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"That's absolutely false," Snow said, adding Maliki was working toward suppressing violence and creating national reconciliation. "So it is not true to say there's a lack of confidence in the prime minister. The man has been in power for barely more than a hundred days, and frankly there has been considerable progress.