WASHINGTON -- Two leading Republican legislators yesterday attacked the Bush administration's approach to rebuilding Iraq, in one of the strongest indictments of the administration's Iraq policy from members of President Bush's party.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from State Department officials seeking to divert almost 20 percent of the $18.4 billion in US reconstruction funds to security operations instead of public works projects and economic development.
But the hearing quickly became a forum for attacking what the Republican committee chairman, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, referred to as the ''dancing-in-the-street crowd" that wrongly predicted that Iraqis would be celebrating after the fall of Saddam Hussein a year and a half ago. He said the same White House officials have repeatedly failed to make necessary course changes.
''Now, the nonsense of all [the predictions] is apparent; the lack of planning is apparent," he said.
Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, addressing two of the State Department's point men on Iraq, said the pace of reconstruction has been ''beyond pitiful. It's embarrassing. It is now in the zone of dangerous."
''You don't win the hearts and minds of the people at the end of a barrel of a gun," Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, said. ''You do that through the process that we started here in the Congress appropriating $18.4 billion."
As for the original architects of the Iraq war, he added: ''Maybe we ought to have a hearing with the inventors of this, have them come back up, all these smart guys that got us in there and said, 'Don't worry.' "
The criticism signaled the growing worries in both parties that Iraq is slipping out of control, with large areas of country under guerrilla control and rising attacks on troops and Iraqi civilians. It also sent a clear signal to the White House that some Republican supporters of Bush's decision to invade Iraq last year are worried that the administration's Iraq policy is veering off-track.
To try to beef up security, the Bush administration Tuesday announced it was asking Congress for permission to reallocate about $3.5 billion of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds Congress approved last November.
Most of the money would finance more training for Iraqi police. A smaller portion would be used to establish a nationwide work program to combat the estimated 50 percent unemployment rate in Iraq and deter young people from joining the insurgency.
US rebuilding funds have created 111,000 new Iraqi jobs, according to State Department figures, far below what specialists agree is necessary to prevent defections to the insurgents.
Administration officials told the Senate panel yesterday that the proposed funding shift is part of a new strategy by the State Department, which took over responsibility for Iraqi reconstruction from the Defense Department in June.
''An uncertain security situation affects all potential economic and political development," said Joseph Bowab, deputy assistant secretary of state for foreign assistance programs.
As of last week, only $1.14 billion out of the $18.4 billion pot that was approved on an emergency basis last year has been spent because of contract delays and the growing attacks on public infrastructure by guerrillas and Islamic extremists.
Most of the frustrations expressed by the senators centered on the slow pace of reconstruction.
''This is an extraordinarily ineffective administration procedure," Lugar said of the reconstruction. ''It is exasperating for anybody looking at this from any vantage point. We're in favor of the security aspect, but we're still also in favor of getting money out to these towns and villages.
''Although we recognize these funds must not be spent unwisely, the slow pace of reconstruction spending means that we are failing to fully take advantage of one of our most potent tools to influence the direction of Iraq."