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Sen. Reid questions generals' abilities

June 15, 2007|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday questioned the competence of the senior American commander in Iraq and the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, setting off a new war of words between the Nevada Democrat and the Bush administration.

A White House spokesman quickly condemned Reid's comments, which came nearly two months after he provocatively said he believed the "war is lost."

Reid, a fierce critic of the war, is gearing up for a new legislative push to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, set to begin in two weeks when the Senate takes up the defense authorization bill.

Reid said at a news conference Thursday that he was particularly disturbed to read comments by Gen. David H. Petraeus in USA Today in which the top commander in Iraq said he saw "astonishing signs of normalcy" in as much as two-thirds of Baghdad.

"I was a little disappointed," Reid said, noting other reports of increased violence in Iraq and the high number of U.S. casualties since President Bush began deploying additional troops in January.

Reid added: "I am waiting to see if Gen. Petraeus can be a little more candid with us. What took place in USA Today is not being very candid."

When asked if he thought Petraeus was competent, Reid replied: "Not as far as I am concerned."

Reid also said Thursday that he was "happy" that Marine Gen. Peter Pace was forced to step down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last week.

"I talked to him in my conference room, just him and I, and I told him how I felt, that he had not done a very good job in speaking out for some obvious things that weren't going right in Iraq," said Reid, who was asked about Pace after reports on the Politico website that Reid had disparaged the generals during a conversation Tuesday with liberal bloggers.

Reid's comments drew an immediate rebuke from the White House and some congressional Republicans.

"In a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Reid later issued a carefully crafted statement in which he called Pace "a distinguished military veteran and public servant."

But he rejected a suggestion by a reporter that criticizing the generals sent a damaging message to the troops.

"In the supplemental appropriation bill, we put extra money in there for the troops," Reid said. "We put extra money in there for the veterans and military medicine. So I'm thanking the troops every day."

noam.levey@latimes.com

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