Republicans Criticize Bush 'Mistakes' on Iraq
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leading members of President Bush's Republican Party on Sunday criticized mistakes and "incompetence" in his Iraq policy and called for an urgent ground offensive to retake insurgent sanctuaries.
In appearances on news talk shows, Republican senators also urged Bush to be more open with the American public after the disclosure of a classified CIA report that gave a gloomy outlook for Iraq and raised the possibility of civil war.
"The fact is, we're in deep trouble in Iraq ... and I think we're going to have to look at some recalibration of policy," Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"We made serious mistakes," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who has campaigned at Bush's side this year after patching up a bitter rivalry.
McCain, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," cited as mistakes the toleration of looting after the successful U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and failures to secure Iraq's borders or prevent insurgents from establishing strongholds within the country.
He said a ground offensive was urgently needed to retake areas held by insurgents, but a leading Democrat accused the administration of stalling for fear of hurting Bush's reelection chances.
The criticisms came as Bush prepared this week to host Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and focus strongly on Iraq after stepped up attacks from Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.
After the CIA report was disclosed on Thursday, Kerry accused the president of living in a "fantasy world of spin" about Iraq and of not telling the truth about the growing chaos.
McCain said Bush had been "perhaps not as straight as maybe we'd like to see."
"I think the president is being clear. I would like to see him more clear," McCain said. He said Congress was expected to hold hearings on Iraq soon.
Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also criticized the administration's handling of Iraq's reconstruction.
Only $1 billion of $18.4 billion allocated by Congress for the task has been spent, Lugar said. "This is the incompetence in the administration," he said on ABC's "This Week."
A ground offensive was essential to clearing insurgents out of strongholds such as Falluja, McCain said. He joined other lawmakers from both parties who said Iraqi elections scheduled for January would be impossible unless this were done.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that the U.S. military intended to retake Falluja by the end of the year.
"We've got to take out the sanctuaries. We're going to have to sustain, tragically, some more casualties. Airstrikes don't do it; artillery doesn't do it. Boots on the ground do it," McCain said.
"And the longer we delay ...the more difficult the challenge is going to be and the more casualties we will incur," he said.
Sen. John Kyl, like McCain an Arizona Republican, said, "Allowing the Iraqis to make the decisions not to go into some of these sanctuaries, I think, turns out to have not been a good decision, which we're going to have to correct now by going in with our Marines and Army divisions."
Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, speaking on ABC, accused the administration of delaying an offensive out of concern it would hurt Bush's bid to win reelection on Nov. 2.
"The only thing I can figure as to why they're not doing it with a sense of urgency is that they don't want to do it before the election and they want to make it seem like everything is status quo," Biden said.
But Kyl said on CBS that time was also needed to train Iraqi troops to help secure areas recaptured from insurgents, and he disputed accusations Bush had not been open about the difficulties in Iraq.
McCain also called for enlarging the U.S. Army by 70,000 soldiers and the Marines by 20,000 to 25,000.
Kerry and other Democrats have said Bush plans to call up more part-time National Guard and Reserve troops after the November election to compensate for thinning ranks in the full-time military due to Iraq. The Bush campaign denied this.
Biden said disappointment with Bush's policies was bipartisan. "Dick Lugar, Joe Biden, Chuck Hagel, John McCain -- we are all on the same page. It is us and the administration. This has been incompetence so far," he said. (additional reporting by Sue Pleming)
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