Lawmakers Back Rumsfeld - Sort Of

Family photo of Phoebe Nora Mary Prince, 15, who committed suicide on January 14. Family Photo

Acknowledging mistakes in Iraq by the Bush administration, leading Republicans expressed reluctance Sunday that the White House replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has lost the confidence of some GOP lawmakers over the conduct of the war.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said a change at the top of the Pentagon would be too disruptive, given the elections scheduled in Iraq for Jan. 30. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also said the administration was addressing the missteps that have occurred in the aftermath of the U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Sudan Hussein.

"We should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities in the Pentagon," Warner said in a broadcast interview.

Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added, "We really can't go through that ordeal" now of finding a successor. Rumsfeld "should be held accountable and he should stay in office," said Lugar, R-Ind.

But Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, said he had "no confidence" in Rumsfeld." But Hagel, R-Neb., did not say that Rumsfeld should step down.

"I find it astounding. ... Things are worse than they've ever been" in Iraq, Hagel told CBS' "Face the Nation." "Should he leave? That's up to the president."

More than 1,300 American troops have died since the war began in March 2003. On Sunday, car bombs rocked Iraq's two holiest Shiite cities, killing more than 60 people and wounding more than 120. In Baghdad, the capital, dozens of gunmen killed three Iraqi employees of the organization running next month's elections.

U.S. troops in Kuwait have complained to Rumsfeld about long deployments and a lack of armored vehicles and other equipment.

Rumsfeld, who agreed to Bush's request earlier this month to remain in the Cabinet during the president's second term, won a vote of confidence from the White House on Sunday.

"Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a spectacular job," the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card, said in a broadcast interview.

"The president has provided good direction for our military, and Secretary Rumsfeld is transforming our military to meet the threats of the 21st century," Card said.

Rumsfeld's performance has come under criticism even from congressional Republicans, including GOP Sens. Trent Lott of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona.

Lott said last week that Rumsfeld did not listen to uniformed officers and that Bush should make a change at the Pentagon in the next year or so.

But Warner said Bush should stay the course, especially with the Iraqi vote next months.

"We are going to have a tough period after that election and we should press our confidence in the commander in chief and his principal subordinate," Warner said.

Stars and Stripes reports that Rumsfeld has not signed the condolence letters to families of troops killed in Iraq, but will do so going forward.

"I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action. While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter," he said in a statement provided to the military newspaper.

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