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WASHINGTON (AP) -- American troops could still be in Iraq four years from now, the war's former commander told members of Congress concerned about persistent, deadly attacks.
The number of U.S. troops in Iraq probably won't decline significantly from the current 148,000 until sometime next year, Gen. Tommy Franks said Thursday. The kinds of hit-and-run attacks that killed two American soldiers Wednesday will continue, he warned.
"We need to not develop an expectation that all of these difficulties will go away in one month or two months or three months," Franks told the House Armed Services Committee.
"I anticipate we'll be involved in Iraq in the future," Franks added later. "Whether that means two years or four years, I don't know."
President Bush also asked for patience Thursday, saying the United States would "have to remain tough" in Iraq despite the attacks that Franks said were coming at a rate of 10 to 25 per day.
In Washington, congressional critics kept up their questioning of the administration's justifications for going to war and its characterizations of the current outlook in Iraq.
"I'm deeply disturbed by the kind of happy face we're trying to put on this situation," Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., said during a sharp exchange with Franks, who stepped down Monday as head of the military command overseeing Iraq and Afghanistan.
Franks said he was confident that his successor, Gen. John Abizaid, and the civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, would succeed in bringing stability and representative government to Iraq.
"We must be there for the entire journey (to democracy), and we will not fail," Franks said.
The House panel's top Democrat, Ike Skelton of Missouri, said he worried "we may find ourselves in the throes of guerrilla warfare for years." And Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., spoke up to Franks and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about what she said was a reluctance to talk about guerrilla warfare.
"Why are we playing word games when our troops are facing a trained and determined enemy every day in Iraq?" Sanchez challenged Franks.
"It does not bother me if someone refers to this as guerrilla or insurgency warfare," the general replied. Franks said he wouldn't use those terms because the attackers in Iraq don't have broad public support or signs of nationwide coordination.
Bush, responding to concern about the rising casualty toll, said, "There's no question we have a security issue in Iraq, and we've just got to deal with it person to person. We're going to have to remain tough." The president spoke in Botswana during his tour of Africa.
More than 70 American soldiers have died since Bush declared major combat over May 1. "It's going take more than 90 to 100 days for people to recognize the great joys of freedom and the responsibilities that come with freedom," he said. "It's very important for us to stay the course, and we will stay the course."
Much of the criticism has focused on Bush's main justification for the war -- that Saddam Hussein's government had chemical and biological weapons and was working to build more of them and develop nuclear bombs. No such weapons have been found in Iraq. The White House admitted this week that Bush's State of the Union reference to Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Africa was based on intelligence that turned out to be false.
Franks said he didn't think Bush overstated the threat and said he was confident "we will either find the weapons or find the evidence of the weapons of mass destruction."
At one point during the war, Franks said, the United States intercepted Iraqi military communications suggesting a chemical attack was imminent. An Iraqi commander issued orders that included saying, "Blood! Blood!" -- which U.S. intelligence analysts thought was a reference to chemical weapons called blood agents, Franks said.
Blood agents are chemicals containing cyanide compounds that are carried through the blood to cut off oxygen to the body's tissues.
Franks said he did not know why Iraq didn't use chemical weapons or why U.S. forces haven't found any.
Besides the 19 countries with forces in Iraq, another 19 are preparing to send troops and 11 are discussing it, Franks said. The United States hopes to have two divisions of about 20,000 international troops in the next few months, one led by the British and one by the Poles.
"The United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Spain, Italy, others are making their contribution now," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday.
With the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division scheduled to leave Iraq by September, Rumsfeld and military leaders met to discuss what American forces will replace them, Franks said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)