American troops in Iraq will continue to be in danger if Congress does not quickly pass the president’s $87 billion emergency funding request, the American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, told senators yesterday.
“Some Iraqis are beginning to regard us as occupiers and not as liberators. Some of this is inevitable, but faster progress on reconstruction will help,” Mr. Bremer told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Unless this supplemental passes quickly, Iraqis face an indefinite period with blackouts eight hours daily. The link to the safety of our troops is indirect, but real.”
Mr. Bremer called attacks on troops in Iraq “an unwelcome surprise,” but said the United States must persevere or “we will have sown the dragon’s teeth, which will sprout more terrorists and eventually cost more American lives.”
President Bush last week submitted to Congress his request for $87 billion, of which $20.3 billion would go to reconstruction of Iraq. The rest would be allocated for military costs: $51 billion for the deployment in Iraq, $11 billion for the ongoing commitment to Afghanistan and $4 billion for the worldwide war on terrorism.
Now the administration and Republican leaders are trying to build the sense of urgency about approving the request as Congress begins a week of hearings on it.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said he wants the full Senate to vote on it by the end of next week, while one House Republican aide said they hope to act “sooner rather than later” on the bill.
With a host of administration officials expected to testify before a half-dozen House and Senate committees, critics will have plenty of chances to question the initial war and the administration’s handling of the aftermath.
Yesterday, Democrats on the committee said they would support the part of the request that funds the military.
But some wondered whether the money could be split into two pools so the military money could be approved quickly, but the reconstruction money could be studied longer.
“I think we’re being given a snow job by the administration,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and the senior Democrat on the committee.
“I don’t believe adequate explanation has been made for this $20 billion on the part of Ambassador Bremer,” Mr. Byrd said.
Republicans, though, said the money all works toward the same goal of securing Iraq and bringing American troops home soon and safely.
“The nexus between support for our troops and ongoing reconstruction efforts in Iraq, for me, is undeniable,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the committee. “The sooner a new Iraqi government is formed and effectively functions, the quicker our soldiers, sailors and all Americans can come home.”
Mr. Bremer said congressional approval of the request must be done before the end of October, when an international donor conference is scheduled to take place in Madrid. Mr. Bremer said showing a U.S. commitment now will show other nations the United States is serious about its obligation to Iraq.
“It will show leadership. That’s what they need to see from us,” he said.
Right now, 61 countries have pledged about $1.5 billion in aid.
And some Democrats questioned whether the administration has credibility anymore on Iraq.
“Since the fall of Baghdad, practically everything the White House and the Pentagon predicted about Iraq has turned out to be wrong,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who said he hasn’t decided how he will vote.
One exchange between Mr. Stevens and Mr. Byrd underscored the difficulty of finding common ground on moving the bill.
Mr. Byrd protested both the time limit Mr. Stevens set on the first round of questions and the fact that Mr. Bremer was only appearing before the committee for one day.
“He’s asking for $20 billion here. I think if he expects to get $20 billion, he ought to make himself available,” Mr. Byrd said, and later added, “You’re not going to rush this senator. I tell you this, we’re not being treated fairly on this.”
Mr. Stevens, though, said Mr. Bremer is already scheduled to appear before other committees for the rest of the week. Mr. Stevens also said the Appropriations Committee is already setting a record for the number of hearings on a single supplemental request.
Asked whether the administration would seek more money next year for Iraq, Mr. Bremer said he didn’t “anticipate coming back for another [spending bill] of this magnitude.”
“That’s all I can say at this moment,” he said.
He also said that by 2005 Iraq should be collecting about $20 billion from oil revenues and other tariffs, which should be used to cover the $15 billion estimated annual cost of operating Iraq’s government and leave $5 billion for infrastructure investment.
Several senators asked why the U.S. should foot the bill rather than have Iraq borrow the money against future oil revenues, but Mr. Bremer said with a debt of $200 billion already, Iraq couldn’t handle the additional costs, estimated at $60 billion to $70 billion over the next five years.