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Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - Page updated at 03:39 P.M.
GOP senators rip slow pace of efforts to rebuild Iraq
By Seattle Times news services
Among those harshly criticizing the White House at a hearing were the two top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Of the $18.4 billion Congress approved last year for Iraqi reconstruction, $1.14 billion has been spent because of violence and other problems. Hagel called that record "beyond pitiful and embarrassing; it is now in the zone of dangerous."
Even Lugar, who is not usually given to strong rhetoric, said the failure to inject funds into the Iraqi economy quickly was "exasperating for anybody looking at this from any vantage point."
The hearing was called to discuss a new administration plan to reallocate nearly $3.5 billion in reconstruction funds, primarily to Iraqi police and military training.
The request comes as heavy fighting continues between U.S.-led forces and a variety of Iraqi insurgents, endangering prospects for elections scheduled for January.
Lugar said the administration could have sought the funding switch months ago, but it dithered amid the upsurge in violence by minority Sunni and majority Shiite insurgents against the government of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and U.S.-backed coalition forces.
"We have an emergency problem now. And we had one in July, and we had one before that," he said.
The bloodshed has exposed as "nonsense" assurances that "blindly optimistic" administration officials gave the committee before last year's invasion that U.S. troops would be welcomed in Iraq and would be there only a short time, Lugar said.
"Our committee heard ... from the administration prior to the war and people outside the administration, what I call the 'dancing in the street crowd,' that we just simply will be greeted with open arms," Lugar said. "The nonsense of all of that is apparent. The lack of planning is apparent."
Bush insists that conditions in Iraq are improving despite the expanding insurgency and mounting U.S. and Iraqi casualty and death tolls. The president has said that a national election, a key element of his goal to create a stable, democratic Iraq, will be held as scheduled by Jan. 31.
Lugar and Hagel spoke during a hearing at which two senior State Department officials presented details of how the administration wants to spend the $3.46 billion that it's proposing to divert from $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds appropriated last year.
"You have inherited a mess, gentlemen," Hagel told the pair, referring to the Pentagon's handover of Iraq policy to the State Department when Iraq's sovereignty was formally restored in June.
The two witnesses Ronald Schlicher, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Iraq bureau, and Joseph Bowab, deputy assistant secretary for foreign-assistance programs and budget conceded under questioning that the administration had fallen short of benchmarks touted during the past year:
None of the 32,000 Iraqi police put on the beat since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has gone through a full training program, Bowab acknowledged.
Of $13 billion pledged by other countries to aid Iraq's reconstruction, $1.2 billion has been spent.
The administration has created only 110,000 jobs for Iraqis, leaving a pool of unemployed young men, many of whom have become willing recruits for insurgents. The new reallocation is intended to provide 800,000 jobs, but many are short-term, some for as little as one month. Schlicher said, "When Iraqis have hope for the future and real opportunity, they will reject those who advocate violence."
Schlicher said the amount of money spent since the transition to an interim Iraqi government in June had doubled. But he added: "We have to do much better, and we will."
About $1.8 billion of the $3.46 billion would go to training and equipping an additional 80,000 members of Iraq's security forces. The rest would pay for boosting oil production, debt relief and local reconstruction projects that would employ thousands of Iraqis.
The officials stressed areas of progress in Iraq since the United States turned over political control of Iraq to an interim government June 28.
They cited advances in generating electricity, producing oil and creating jobs.
Congress approved the $18.4 billion in November as part of an $87 billion package intended mostly for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the time, administration officials said the reconstruction money was just as important as the military funds. But only $1.14 billion had been spent as of Sept. 8.
The administration's request requires congressional approval. The bulk of the diverted money would come from large-scale water, sewage and electricity projects.
Lugar said that while he recognized the need to shift the funds, the move could hamper efforts to pacify Iraq.
"If the shift of these funds slows down reconstruction, security may suffer in the long term," he said.
Lugar, Hagel and the committee's senior Democrat, Joseph Biden of Delaware, expressed frustration that only $1.14 billion had been spent.
Large-scale reconstruction projects, which the Pentagon awarded mostly without bid to large U.S. corporations, have been delayed by sabotage and attacks.
"The slow pace of reconstruction spending means we are failing to fully take advantage of one of our most potent tools to influence the direction of Iraq," Lugar said.
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