- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Even before issuing a formal declaration of victory in Iraq, the Bush administration is laying plans for an international donors conference to raise money for Iraq's rebuilding.

Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's budget chief, said in an interview with the Associated Press yesterday that the administration has no estimate of how many billions of dollars it will take to reconstruct the country, which has been damaged by more than a decade of U.N. sanctions.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday that the war is not over, but more U.S. warplanes are headed home as ground troops prepare for a longer stay to stabilize the country.

A first group of about 10 F-15E Strike Eagles will return to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, in North Carolina, today, and F-15C and F-16Cs are due back at other U.S. bases tomorrow and Friday, Air Force officials said. B-2 bombers and F-117A stealth fighters have returned.

Two of the five Navy aircraft carriers that participated in the war left the region last week.

Mr. Zakheim said a number of countries are providing or pledging assistance for the earliest stages of stabilizing Iraq and laying a foundation for rebuilding its oil-based economy.

The United Arab Emirates, for example, is contributing a water-purification system for Baghdad, and Spain has promised to provide armed peace officers, which he described as constables. An international constabulary of several thousand officers will be needed, he said.

Mr. Zakheim said France, Germany and Russia countries that strongly opposed President Bush's decision to invade Iraq have not yet offered assistance. He would not say whether they would be welcomed as investors in Iraq's future.

Mr. Zakheim said he believes there will be more international interest in investing in Iraq's reconstruction than in the case of Afghanistan, which has less appealing prospects for economic revitalization. The initial donors conference on Afghanistan resulted in pledges of about $2 billion, but the Bush administration complained for months that donors were slow in giving the money.

"There's tremendous interest in getting the Iraqis going because, let's face it, the Afghan economy has been a subsistence economy," he said in an interview with the AP, "whereas Iraq is one of the few Middle Eastern countries that is blessed with both oil and water, in great amounts, which means that it has a naturally balanced economy."

Mr. Zakheim said an international donors conference would be held after the World Bank gets a team of experts into Iraq to assess its needs. He said that assessment would take about six weeks.

A spokesman for Mr. Zakheim, Lt. Col. Gary Keck, said later that it is not clear whether the donors conference will be held under the auspices of the United Nations or through some other organization.

In addition to the estimated $25 billion it has spent on fighting the war so far, the United States has pledged $550 million for reconstruction, and Britain has pledged $330 million, Mr. Zakheim said. Australia and Japan have pledged $100 million; Spain, $56 million; and Norway and the Netherlands, $21 million each.

Mr. Rumsfeld has said repeatedly the United States will not keep its military forces in Iraq longer than necessary to stabilize the country, but he has offered no estimate of how long that might be.

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