WASHINGTON -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war, said yesterday that the Pentagon underestimated its enemy, failing to predict how resilient Saddam Hussein and his government would be.
In a rare admission of prewar miscalculations, Wolfowitz also said it's impossible to say how long a large American military force will have to stay in Iraq after political power is handed to Iraqis on June 30.
Wolfowitz spoke at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the latest called by lawmakers concerned about the Bush administration's handling of the war and reconstruction and its plans for the future.
Answering a question about miscalculations made to date in the year-old campaign, Wolfowitz said: "I would say of all the things that were underestimated, the one that almost no one that I know of predicted . . . was to properly estimate the resilience of the regime that had abused this country for 35 years."
Wolfowitz said he doesn't know how long a large US military force will have to stay in Iraq after power has been handed back to the people there. "The next year or year and a half will be so critical; that is the time it will take to stand up Iraqi security" forces that are fully trained, equipped, and organized and to elect a government to take over from the interim group that will assume power on June 30, Wolfowitz said.
The hearing was the latest called on Capitol Hill to examine the continuing resistance to US-led efforts to rebuild Iraq.
Setting the tone yesterday, Senator Richard G. Lugar said: "With lives being lost and billions of dollars being spent in Iraq, the American people must be confident that we have carefully thought through an Iraq policy that will optimize our prospects for success." The Indiana Republican is chairman of the committee.
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, said that the campaign "is losing the support of the Iraqi people" and that the "window of opportunity" for American support is closing as well.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee harshly criticized his Senate counterparts yesterday, accusing them of "driving the story" of the Iraq prison abuse and pulling officials out of Iraq to testify.
"I think they have given now probably more publicity to what six people did in the Abu Ghraib prison at 2:30 in the morning than the invasion of Normandy," Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, said on C-SPAN. While other Republicans have also raised concerns that the prison abuse controversy is diverting attention from the war, the criticism a House chairman was unusual.
It was made as three top generals in Iraq have been called to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee today: General John Abizaid, top commander of US forces in the Middle East; Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the senior US officer in Iraq; and Major General Geoffrey Miller, current commander of detainee operations in Iraq.
Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, released a letter he sent to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday in which he said the witnesses could appear by video teleconference.
At the Senate hearing yesterday, Biden said that coalition successes in rebuilding schools and ministries "have been dwarfed by two towering deficits the administration created" in security and US legitimacy in Iraq.
Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, criticized Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for not knowing precisely how US-run prisons will be handled after the transfer of sovereignty.