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Waxman says Rice headed for 'confrontation' with panel

The oversight committee chairman is upset over the State Department’s limited cooperation with a series of inquiries -- most recently into corruption levels in Iraq.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Thursday sharpened his rhetoric in an ongoing clash with the State Department, indicating he will renew efforts to force Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to appear before the panel.

"Secretary Rice is going to have a confrontation with this committee," Waxman told Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Larry Butler, who testified at a six-hour hearing on U.S. efforts to combat corruption in Iraq, after Rice declined to appear.

At issue was State's contention that broad assessments of corruption levels in Iraq should be classified because they might damage U.S.-Iraq relations, a position Waxman called ridiculous.

More broadly, committee Democrats have recently blasted the department for limited cooperation in a series of inquiries. At a hearing Tuesday on security contractor Blackwater USA, Waxman said State was less responsive than Blackwater to document requests.

Butler declined to answer questions about the quality of Iraqi efforts to combat corruption, but said he would answer in a closed hearing.

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., however, said those responses would be useless because the committee's goal is to share the information publicly.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., noting that State is withholding information compiled by the so-called Office on Accountability and Transparency in the Baghdad Embassy, asked Butler if he appreciated the irony of his position.

Democrats were incensed that State classified a report on corruption only after the committee requested it. The move came after the report, which cited rampant corruption in Iraqi ministries, was cited in numerous news accounts.

Butler said the failure to initially classify the document was a mistake.

Despite what members labeled stonewalling by the department, the committee released a report quoting interviews with eight State officials who generally said U.S. anti-corruption efforts are hamstrung by a lack of coordination and funds.

The report quotes James Santelle, the State Department official who oversees OAT: "To do this accurately and effectively, I need 14 people. I need a budget person. I need a personnel person. I need a manager. I need people in all these different units to do this well. I don't have that ... I've just got no staff. That's too far."

Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the former head of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity, estimated corruption has cost the country $18 billion over the last three years. Some of that money has helped fund insurgents, Radhi said.

Waxman said the committee needs more information from State. "The secretary is going to have to answer questions," he said in an interview, indicating new efforts to have Rice testify in what would be a charged appearance.

The committee previously sought unsuccessfully to have Rice testify about the administration's pre-war intelligence and the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Waxman expressed interest in a suggestion by Government Accountability Office Comptroller General David Walker that Congress "consider conditioning future appropriations on the existence of" of a coordinated strategy for combating Iraqi corruption. But the chairman stopped short of endorsing the suggestion, saying he would consider it.