- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Emboldened by a successful first vote against President Bush’s Iraq war policy, Senate Democrats said today they were wary of the administration’s anticipated $1.2 billion request for reconstruction there.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he wants assurances from the administration that the money would not fuel corruption or the insurgency in Iraq.

A key piece of Mr. Bush’s new strategy is increasing reconstruction efforts, with the U.S. pledging another $1.2 billion and the Iraqi government designating $10 billion. As part of the plan, Mr. Bush is dispatching 21,500 additional troops to Iraq to bolster security so reconstruction efforts are not stalled.

“I hope we will hear today some concrete details on why these funds will achieve better results than we’ve been able to achieve before,” Mr. Biden said.

The State Department has spent nearly $15 billion in reconstruction already and “as you know better than I do, the results aren’t pretty,” the Delaware Democrat added.

Testifying before the committee was David Satterfield, the State Department’s senior adviser on Iraq, and Brig. Gen. Michael Jones, a Middle East adviser on political and military affairs to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Satterfield said the State Department is expanding the number of reconstruction teams sent to Baghdad and the western Anbar province and sending some 300 additional civilian personnel to Iraq. But, he added, much of the heavy lifting must be accomplished by the Iraqi government.

“It is not a question of putting them in the lead or encouraging them to take the lead. It’s a recognition of reality,” he told the panel.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the panel, said he wants regular progress reports that are much more detailed than previously provided to Congress. Mr. Lugar on Wednesday announced that he had serious reservations that Mr. Bush’s new Iraq plan would work.

“Overall, the results have been disappointing to the Iraqi people, to Congress, and to American taxpayers,” Mr. Lugar said, referring to reconstruction efforts.

Mr. Biden’s committee yesterday passed, 12-9, a resolution that dismissed Mr. Bush’s plans to increase troops in Iraq as “not in the national interest.” The vote on the nonbinding measure was largely along party lines, with Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska being the sole Republican on the committee offering his support.

The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure Feb. 5.

Republicans have been meeting behind closed doors to shore up support for the Iraq war plan. The Senate is tied 49-49 between the two parties, with two independents caucusing with the Democrats. That means either party needs help from the other in order to achieve the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

“The goal is to try to salvage this situation and not send the additional troops with a message of disapproval,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said of the Republican meetings.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he doesn’t want the issue rammed through.

“We’re not going to try to stop the votes. What we want to do is make sure we have a number of different alternatives,” he told MSNBC.

Senate Democratic leaders say they are willing to negotiate the language to pull in more Republican support. Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, who sponsored a rival proposal, has already met with Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and others to discuss his position.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said yesterday that the resolution the committee approved is not the last that will be heard from Congress.

“A resolution that says we’re against this escalation, that’s easy. The next step will be: How do you put further pressure on the administration against the escalation, but still supporting the troops who are there?” he said on NBC’s “Today” program.

Mr. Warner, a prominent Republican and former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, cast his measure as a milder alternative. It leaves open the possibility of Mr. Bush sending in a much smaller number of troops, particularly to the western Anbar province, and uses language that some say may be seen as less partisan.

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