Monday, January 30, 2006

The Bush administration is considering asking Congress later this year for at least $2 billion in new reconstruction money, primarily for maintaining completed Iraqi facilities.

Administration officials say the additional funding is needed to prevent completed projects in Iraq from falling into disrepair while the new government tries to establish a steady flow of revenue from oil and other sources to sustain the nation’s infrastructure.

The money would come in an Iraqi emergency, or supplemental, appropriations bill that also would finance military operations, which cost about $6 billion a month. Congress attached an extra $50 billion to this year’s Pentagon spending bill for that purpose, but officials say additional money likely will be needed. An administration official declined to comment.

Congress already has approved $24 billion for Iraq reconstruction, and some speculated that the White House would not ask for more. But in recent weeks, it has become evident that Iraq does not have the financial ability to sustain all its new properties, said officials familiar with the internal discussions.

The administration plans no more major requests for rebuilding because of deficit pressures and the realization that Congress likely would balk, two administration officials said.

Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said the administration should make one last proposal to Congress for $2 billion to fund sustainment and the transfer of operations from the U.S. to the Iraqi government.

“The bottom line is, I think, we should spend some more money,” Mr. Bowen told The Washington Times. “We need to allocate to ensure the success of the Iraqi project from a reconstruction perspective. I think the U.S. government needs to provide some sustainability funds. … It’s being considered.”

The issue of maintaining facilities has added importance in light of a report Mr. Bowen released last week. He said that because of rising security costs and other factors, the U.S. will be able to finish only 49 of 136 planned water projects and 300 of 425 electric projects.

If Iraq is to complete the U.S. building plan, it will need more money from the World Bank, donor nations and its own sputtering oil industry.

Mr. Bowen sends auditors as well as engineers to construction sites to determine whether projects are being built correctly.

“My mandate to those inspection teams is to identify whether there is a plan for sustainability at each project,” he said.

Just like the U.S. military is turning over the counterinsurgency mission to the Iraqis, he said, the State Department is entrusting facilities to locals.

“This will be the year of transition,” Mr. Bowen said. “We have to be ready to turn over operating and effective projects, and that means there has to be sufficient funding in place from both our side and the Iraqi side to secure sustainability.”

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