- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Electrical service in Iraq is still a month away from prewar levels, and Iraqis face an indefinite period with rolling blackouts unless new funding is approved for reconstruction, the Bush administration’s top official in Iraq said yesterday.

“Think of what we would be asking Iraqis were we to suggest they fashion a new economy, a new democracy, while literally in the dark eight hours a day,” L. Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said yesterday in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Bush administration officials this week have been working to sell Congress an $87 billion package for reconstruction and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have criticized the administration’s Iraq policy as the U.S. budget deficit grows, occupation costs rise and casualties mount, but no multiyear plan or new international support emerges.

“No one wants to be throwing money, much less American lives, down a black hole. So we need to be convinced you have a workable plan with clear benchmarks, timetables and accountability,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the committee.

“One of the concerns many of us have … is not just losing an international consensus, but losing a national consensus for the objective we have ahead of us,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.

The Bush administration’s plan envisions sweeping political and economic reform for Iraq. Mr. Bremer yesterday declared significant progress toward a transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis and a series of steps toward a market-oriented economy.

But a lack of security and basic services is undermining the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts and turning Iraqi opinion against the United States.

“Some Iraqis are beginning to regard us as occupiers and not as liberators. Let’s not hide the fact. Some of this is inevitable, but faster progress on reconstruction will help,” Mr. Bremer said.

The president’s budget request includes $20.3 billion for rebuilding Iraq, including $2.9 billion to repair the electrical system. Other reconstruction expenses include emergency communications, a children’s hospital, irrigation projects, witness protection, war-crimes experts, prisons and guards, oil pipeline repair and English classes.

The power grid was able to meet only about two-thirds of the country’s demand before the U.S.-led invasion. It is expected to reach prewar levels within one month and meet 100 percent of demand by next summer, Mr. Bremer said.

“As millions of American households — including my own, and I am sure many people who live in the District will recall — it is almost impossible to live in the modern world without dependable electricity,” Mr. Bremer quipped, referring to power outages related to Hurricane Isabel.

On the security front, Mr. Bremer said that Iraqis were being trained to handle basic police work, national defense and courts, but noted that success would depend ultimately on economic revival.

“A good security system cannot persist on the knife edge of economic collapse,” he said.

Mr. Bremer likened the $87 billion request to the Marshall Plan, which helped Europe recover from World War II.

Legislators have suggested that the money be in the form of a loan, but Mr. Bremer said Iraq’s heavy debt load would make that impossible.

Tony Fratto, a Treasury Department spokesman, estimated Iraq’s debt at $60 billion to $110 billion. Creditors include other Persian Gulf states, Russia, France and the United States, though exact figures have not been made public.

Legislators also questioned earlier Bush administration projections that oil revenue would pay for reconstruction.

Production is still below prewar levels. By 2005, oil revenue should reach $4 billion to $5 billion per year, Mr. Bremer said. That amount would finance only a part of reconstruction costs.

The Senate session was interrupted by an outburst from a man in the audience who identified himself as an Iraqi-American and started asking questions about the U.S. occupation. The man was removed from the hearing room and was neither held nor charged, U.S. Capitol Police said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide