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RUMSFELD'S ROLE

Another call for Pentagon chief to resign

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld fielded some of the toughest questioning of his stewardship yesterday, as senators took more aim at the administration's $87 billion request for funding the mission in Iraq. Later, the Pentagon boss received a demand for his resignation from an unexpected source: one of the Bush administration's former envoys.

Joseph Wilson, former acting ambassador to Iraq, urged Congress yesterday not to approve the funds unless Rumsfeld, who Wilson believes failed to prepare the nation for the true cost and duration of the occupation, gave up his job. He also called for political reconstruction to be handed over to the UN.

Wilson had a unique vantage point from which to assess Rumsfeld: He was the career diplomat sent by the Bush administration to the West African nation of Niger in 2002 to investigate a British intelligence report that Iraq sought to buy uranium there. Even though he thoroughly discounted the report, it somehow made its way into President Bush's State of the Union address -- a decision the White House later acknowledged was wrong.

Beyond that, however, Wilson said the questionable prewar assertions and postwar miscalculations now demand that Rumsfeld be held responsible.

"The arguments for the war -- weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and liberation -- were used to bolster decisions that were already made," Wilson said. "We opted for the highest risk -- invasion and occupation -- which did not serve disarmament and increased the chances that weapons of mass destruction could be transferred to a terrorist group. And it's hard to make the argument it was a legitimate liberation. The Iraqis are not terribly grateful."

Rumsfeld declined to comment on Wilson's allegations. His spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said, "The fact of the matter is the secretary serves at the pleasure of the president."

The latest call for Rumsfeld's removal was made after a smattering of influential Democrats and liberal organizations have called for him and top Bush administration officials to resign. Rumsfeld and other senior administration officials are also facing harsh questioning about the $87 billion spending request to cover costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While lawmakers are expected to approve much of the request, public hearings have exposed growing doubts in Congress. Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, chided administration officials for comparing the Iraq operation to the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II, saying that the analogy did not fit.Rumsfeld said that in less than five months the US has "racked up a series of achievements in both security and civil reconstruction that very well may be without precedent." New polls show many Iraqis welcome the removal of Saddam Hussein and believe their country is better off. But as L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, told a separate congressional panel yesterday: "Some Iraqis are beginning to regard us as occupiers and not as liberators. Let's not hide the fact."Earlier this month, Representative David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and ranking member of the Foreign Operations and Appropriations committees, told Bush in a letter that he should fire both Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. Last week, another broadside came from Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who is the ranking member of the powerful defense appropriations subcommittee and one of the most hawkish Democrats. "We cannot allow these bureaucrats to get off when these young people are paying such a price," Murtha said.

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