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U.S.: Senators Question Bush's Reconstruction Plan For Iraq

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S.'s top civil administrator in Iraq, faced tough questions in the U.S. Senate yesterday as he sought to rally support for President George W. Bush's proposed $87 billion package for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq.

Washington, 23 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.'s top civil administrator in Iraq urged the U.S. Congress yesterday to quickly approve President George W. Bush's $87 billion plan to rebuild Iraq so that the country doesn't slip into chaos.

But as L. Paul Bremer made his case before the Senate Appropriations Committee, many of its Democratic members called the package too costly and blamed a lack of international aid on what they called the Bush administration's unilateral Iraq policy.

Veteran Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia told Bremer the request will put a huge strain on the struggling U.S. economy: "The president's request for an additional $87 billion for the military and for the reconstruction of Iraq is eye-popping -- E-Y-E, eye-popping. This request comes at a time when the American people are expressing serious reservations about the president's go-it-alone occupation of Iraq."

But with members of Bush's own Republican Party rallying behind him, Bremer said only a swift approval of the funds will ensure U.S. success in transforming Iraq into a democracy and deal a key blow against the forces of terrorism and tyranny. "If we fail to recreate Iraq with a sovereign democracy sustained by a solid economy, we will have provided the terrorists with an incredible advantage in their war against us," he said.

Bush is expected to take a similar message to the world today when he delivers a key speech before the UN General Assembly in New York.

Bremer urged Congress to approve the $20.3 billion part of Bush's proposal earmarked for refurbishing the country's infrastructure. The remaining $66 billion are for military expenditures.

Bremer likened the U.S. effort in Iraq to the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II: "The $20.3 billion in grants to Iraq the president seeks as part of this $87 billion supplemental [request] bespeak grandeur of vision equal to the one which created the free world at the end of [World War II]. Iraqis, living in freedom with dignity, will set an example in this troubled region which so often spawns terrorism."

Although France and Germany complain that Washington is not transferring sovereignty quickly enough to the Iraqi people, Bremer insisted that Iraq's transition to self-government should not be rushed. He said Washington has a four-point plan to improve security, services, the economy, and political institutions that must be carried out before Iraqis can fully govern themselves.

Bremer said that after a quarter-century under a dictatorship similar to Nazi Germany's, political distortions and inequities permeate Iraqi society. "No appointed government, not even one as honest and dedicated as the Iraqi Governing Council, can have the legitimacy necessary today to take on the difficult issues Iraqis face as they write their constitution and elect a government," he said. "The only path to Iraqi sovereignty is through a written constitution, ratified and followed by free democratic elections."

Yesterday's hearing was the first in a series that Bremer is set to face in Congress this week as the Senate and House of Representatives debate sending Bush this second massive money package, after giving him $70 billion in April largely for Iraq. Bremer said Washington is hoping further reconstruction money will be pledged by the international community at a donor's conference next month in Madrid.

But Democrats on the Senate panel, led by Byrd, vowed to take their time to critically assess Bush's spending request. Byrd asked why the Bush administration is asking for $290 million to protect Iraq's borders when it had only recently shot down a similar request in Congress to hire more guards to patrol America's borders against terrorist infiltrations.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said that many of the things Bush had predicted about Iraq have not come true, such as weapons of mass destruction, which have yet to be found, or that U.S. soldiers would be greeted as liberators.

Leahy also chided the administration for alienating European allies to the point that they are now reluctant to help pay for Iraq's reconstruction. "I want to know how much it's going to cost, when the Iraqis are going to take over," he said. "I don't think we can drift along spending more than a $1 billion a week, with no plan, no timetable, every week another four or five Americans killed or wounded [and] growing resentment of the Iraqi people."

Bremer urged patience and insisted Washington has a time frame for its operations in Iraq. He did not share any details, however. He also acknowledged that the fierce resistance met by U.S. forces in Iraq has been an "unwelcome surprise" for the Bush administration. Seventy-nine U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire in Iraq since Bush declared an end to major combat on 1 May.