- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday told Congress it can afford the $87 billion requested by the president for Iraq and Afghanistan because the money is needed for national security and “the stability of the world.”

“Is $87 billion a great deal of money? Yes. But can our country afford it? The answer is also yes,” he told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

President Bush has asked for the money as an addition to the $79 billion, which was approved by Congress in April.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the request does not alter the end goal for Iraq of an eventual exodus of U.S. and coalition forces and the passing of the country back into the hands of the Iraqi people through a seven-point plan, which includes the establishment of nationwide elections.

Joined at the hearing by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the Joint Chiefs chairman, and Army Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Central Command, Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S.-led forces in Iraq have made a series of achievements in security and civil reconstruction.

So far, he said, close to 70,000 Iraqis have become involved in providing security for themselves in Iraq.

In addition to smatterings of troops from a coalition of 32 other countries, 130,000 U.S. troops remain on the ground in Iraq, he said, adding that while they have “accomplished a great deal, a good deal remains [to be done].”

With rebuilding more hospitals, schools and the government, an infusion of cash is needed to battle the ongoing threats to the troops, he said. Particularly, resistance is coming from loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s regime, criminals and foreign fighters who have entered the country.

“Of the $87 billion, $66 billion is to support ongoing military operations, money for military pay, fuel, transportation, maintenance, weapons, equipment, life-saving body armor, ammunition and other military needs,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The other $20.3 billion would be used to pay for the ongoing rebuilding over the next year alone, including the push to establish a freely functioning democratic government.

With no one in Congress facing re-election this year, several lawmakers have begun to more vocally criticize the administration’s policies in Iraq. Several lawmakers this week said they’re leaning toward approving the $66 billion for the troops but may accept considerably less than the $20.3 billion requested for reconstruction efforts.

There is some possibility Congress may break the president’s request into two parts to be voted on separately. But Republicans, who control both the House and the Senate, have opposed the idea, and Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday insisted the two chunks of money are “inextricably linked.”

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who called the president’s $87 billion request “larger than the economies of 166 countries,” challenged Mr. Rumsfeld on the $20.3 billion part of it. “Where is the mandate from the American people to carry out the reconstruction?” he asked. “When did the American people give their assent?”

In response, Mr. Rumsfeld said rebuilding Iraq was within U.S. interests and cited the resolution passed by Congress last October to use force against Iraq. “Having gone in,” he said, “the last thing we need to do is turn over that country to another dictator like Saddam Hussein.”

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