- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

The head of U.S. Central Command called postwar Iraq “a battle of moderation versus extremism” yesterday as administration officials fanned out across Capitol Hill, pushing for congressional approval of an additional $87 billion for the global war on terror.

Gen. John Abizaid appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee with L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in charge of Iraq, who said the reconstruction phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom has become a focal point in the war.

“If, after coming this far, we turn our backs and let Iraq lapse into factional chaos, we will have sown the dragon’s teeth, which will sprout more terrorists and eventually cost more American lives in Iraq or even here at home,” Mr. Bremer said.

“You may think I exaggerate,” he said. “But I ask you to look at what happened in Afghanistan, another country which, after it was debilitated by decades of war and mismanagement, became easy prey to the Taliban and al Qaeda.”

In addition to attacks already being executed on U.S. troops in Iraq by Saddam Hussein’s loyalists, Gen. Abizaid acknowledged the potentially growing threat presented by the al Qaeda-linked northern Iraq terrorist group Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam).

He said as many as 400 members of the radical group are operating in Iraq. Ansar, which largely was routed from its stronghold on the Iran-Iraq boarder at the end of March, was suspected of involvement in the Aug. 19 bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 23 persons.

“We remain concerned about the capacity of Ansar al-Islam,” Gen. Abizaid said. “We remain concerned about their ties to al Qaeda. Certainly, we should also have expected that some of their other people from abroad would have returned to join Ansar al-Islam as things developed in Iraq.”

At the Senate hearing and during a House Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday, which also included testimony from Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Mr. Bremer and Gen. Abizaid fielded questions from skeptical lawmakers. Some in Congress have spent this week considering ways to scale back the $87 billion funding package sought by the White House.

President Bush seeks the package as an addition to the $79 billion approved by Congress in April. On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said $66 billion of the package would be used for such costs as pay for troops, fuel, transportation, maintenance, weapons, body armor and ammunition.

That portion of the package appears to have wide support in Congress. What is at risk is the additional $20 billion, which the administration says would be used to pay for the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq over the next year alone, including a push to establish a freely functioning democratic government with nationwide elections.

In arguing for the money, Mr. Bremer cited the debt left over for the Iraqi people by what he called Saddam Hussein’s “Soviet-style” government.

“The facts are that the Iraqi people have a debt of more than $200 billion hanging over them, a debt incurred by Saddam’s economic incompetence and by his wars of aggression against his neighbors,” he said. “[The Iraqi people] cannot pay that debt. They can’t even service it. And it makes no sense to lay more debt on top of them.”

Facing pressure from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, Mr. Bremer acknowledged U.S. authorities are having “difficulties in Iraq.”

“If we didn’t have difficulties, I wouldn’t be here before you asking the American taxpayer to put another $20 billion up,” he said.

Mr. Bremer told lawmakers that if the money is approved, it “will be spent with prudent transparency” and that “every contract of the $20 billion will be subject to open, competitive bidding.”

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