- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008


Iraqis would be forced to pay for U.S. efforts in their country directly or with loans from the United States if any of at least five similar pieces of legislation introduced on Capitol Hill this month are approved.

“Whether or not you support the war strategy,” said Rep. Ron Klein, Florida Democrat, “the Iraqi government needs to pay for its fair share after five years and $600 billion in American taxpayer expenses.”

Members of Congress are pushing the legislation as Americans deal with — and politicians respond to — an unpopular and expensive war, a sinking economy and record gas prices.

Mr. Klein’s resolution would require Iraq to repay as a loan any U.S. funds for Iraq reconstruction and security forces training, as well as the cost of fuel for U.S. operations.

“What this resolution does is put the burden on the Iraqi people to say, ‘No more free lunches from the American public,’ ” Mr. Klein said. “It’s not some benefactor from the outside who just keeps writing more and more checks every month.”

Four other pieces of related legislation have been referred to either the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations or House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Two are similar to Mr. Klein’s. Another also would restrict much of the State Department’s Iraq assistance to “dollar-for-dollar” matches from Iraq. The other bill would prevent U.S. military commitments under the longer-term security agreement Washington and Baghdad are negotiating unless Iraq agrees to reimburse all costs related to troop presence.

The Washington Times reported recently that Iraq is spending billions of dollars in windfall revenues from high oil prices on U.S. Treasury securities instead of reconstruction projects.

The U.S. auditor of Iraq reconstruction efforts said in a January report that more Iraqi funds have been allocated for reconstruction than U.S. funds through last year.

According to The Times report, Iraqis were having trouble getting the money to planned reconstruction projects and that by August of last year, less than 5 percent of more than $10 billion had been spent. The remainder was invested in U.S. securities.

Yahia Said, Middle East and North Africa director for the Revenue Watch Institute, an international watchdog on the flow of oil revenues, said he agrees with the legislators’ efforts to end U.S.-funded Iraq reconstruction projects.

“These guys are just kicking in an open door,” said Mr. Said, who is regularly in Iraq. He supports the new Bush administration strategy, which is dedicating its funding to building up the administrative and institutional capacity of the Iraqi government to spend reconstruction funds.

Iraq allocated $13.1 billion in its 2008 budget for capital projects — a 22 percent increase from 2007, according to the State Department.

State Department officials were not available for comment yesterday.

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