WASHINGTON -- Senator Edward M. Kennedy said yesterday that US troops in Iraq are ''police officers in a shooting gallery'' and that they are paying the price for the ''ideological pride'' of the Bush administration, which has failed to secure broad international support for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq.
The Massachusetts Democrat warned that the situation on the ground will only deteriorate if the president doesn't seek help from NATO and the United Nations. ''It was a foregone conclusion that we would win the war,'' said Kennedy. ''But pride goes before a fall, and the all-important question now is whether we can win the peace. In fact, we are at serious risk of losing it.''
In his role as an elder statesman of his party, Kennedy urged administration officials to seek the deployment of an international peacekeeping force, and he lambasted the Bush administration for the ''shoddy evidence'' they offered to justify going to war.
''It's a disgrace that the case for war seems to have been based on shoddy intelligence, hyped intelligence, and even false intelligence,'' Kennedy said in a speech at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. ''All the evidence points to the conclusion that they put a spin on the intelligence and a spin on the truth.''
Kennedy, along with Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, was a leading voice against war in Iraq before the fighting began, a time when many of his Democratic colleagues were reluctant to question Bush on national security matters. But with questions about intelligence reports used for building a rationale for war and the escalating cost of the war putting pressure on the burgeoning budget deficit -- as well as daily reports of US casualties still filtering back from the region -- criticism of the US mission in Iraq has been growing.
''For the men and women of our armed forces who are dodging bullets in the streets and alleys of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, the battle is far from over,'' said Kennedy. ''President Bush says of the attackers, `Bring 'em on.' But how do you console a family by telling them that their son or daughter is a casualty of the postwar period?''
Kennedy plans to introduce an amendment today to a Defense Department spending bill that would direct the Bush administration to deliver to Congress a plan for rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq, including a plan to win a UN resolution authorizing an international peacekeeping mission. A multinational United Nations force would have more credibility with Iraqis, some of whom view the US troops as occupiers instead of liberators, he said. A NATO peacekeeping force, meanwhile, would offer expertise in nation-building.
The Bush administration, which prosecuted the war in Iraq without UN support, has said it would welcome troops from other nations to participate in postwar operations. But it has resisted formally asking for a multilateral force. In Paris yesterday, President Jacques Chirac dismissed any possibility that French forces would be sent to Iraq without a UN mandate.
India recently refused a US request to participate in the rebuilding effort in Iraq, a snub Kennedy said would be less common if a request was made through UN and NATO channels.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that there are 19 countries ''participating and helping'' in Iraq. ''We've been in touch with a number of countries. Obviously, each country has to come to its own decision and make the decisions based on its own domestic considerations,'' McClellan told reporters who barraged him with questions about the success of the postwar mission in Iraq and the veracity of the administration's prewar statements on the threat.
McClellan also sought to explain Bush's comments Monday suggesting the United States went to war in part because Saddam Hussein refused to allow inspectors in the country; in fact, inspectors were permitted in Iraq. McClellan said yesterday Bush meant that Hussein was ''trying to thwart'' the inspectors' efforts.
The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Representative Porter Goss, Republican of Florida, urged patience, saying the United States was ''ahead of schedule'' in stabilizing Iraq.
But many Capitol Hill lawmakers, reflecting public opinion polls showing Americans are increasingly unhappy about the situation in Iraq, have begun to question whether they were misled by administration officials who argued in classified briefings that Iraq presented an imminent threat to US security.
With Hussein possibly still alive -- and weapons of mass destruction still not found -- some members of Congress are demanding an independent investigation into what administration officials knew about the reliability of evidence it presented to Congress and the world. Bush, in his State of the Union speech, suggested Hussein was seeking to buy uranium from Africa -- a charged based on documents that have since been discounted as forgeries.
''The United States' credibility, as far as the case they presented to the world, is eroding like snow melting on a hot August day in Cape Cod,'' said Representative William Delahunt, Democrat of Quincy.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.