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Senators probe costs of Iraq Rebuilding

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Restive Senators Seek Tally

Of Costs of Rebuilding Iraq



WASHINGTON -- Impatient senators are pressing the Bush administration to provide a tally of Iraq's rebuilding costs and to get other countries to share the burden.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, lawmakers from both parties expressed exasperation that senior administration officials don't have a firm grip on the potential costs of the reconstruction and military stabilization efforts, or how much of the expense they expect other nations to bear.

"My constituents want to know what we're going to pay," said Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who asked the Bush team what share of the total bill they think the U.S. should foot.

Dov S. Zakheim, the Pentagon's comptroller, warned that the U.S. would "run the risk of scaring" off potential donors if it announced the desired U.S. share before approaching other nations. The administration will seek "as much as we can" from other governments, the United Nations and other donors, he said.


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"That was just a complete nonanswer," Mr. Feingold shot back.

The U.S. is organizing a preliminary meeting of potential donors in New York on June 24. But it doesn't expect to seek formal pledges until a later cabinet-level session, probably in September. In the interim, the World Bank and U.N. Development Program are supposed to compile an assessment of Iraq's economic needs.

"I cannot give you a figure on how much it will cost to rebuild Iraq," Alan P. Larson, undersecretary of state for economic, business and agricultural affairs, told the senators. Donors, he added, "will want to see what the needs are" before making firm pledges.

The administration team outlined the resources that are currently available. Iraq's own oil revenue could reach $5 billion for the second half of the year, and perhaps hit $14 billion to $15 billion for all of next year. Some $2.5 billion of Iraqi government assets are in Western hands, though some already has been spent. Other countries have pledged $2 billion, largely for humanitarian purposes. The U.N. has at least $1 billion from the sale of Iraqi oil. And Congress has allocated $2.5 billion to $3 billion for reconstruction and the oil industry for the year.

While senators praised the administration for steps taken so far to restore basic services to Iraq, they clearly were eager for faster action. "I don't know what the mystery is here as to the help that we need" to stabilize and secure the country, said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Neb.).

Several senators focused on what other countries might do to ease Iraq's foreign-debt load, estimated at $60 billion to $130 billion. The Treasury Department has secured agreement from major industrialized nations to shelter Iraq from collection of those debts through the end of 2004. The Treasury is working on a strategy to deal with the debt burden after that ends, and administration officials said they expect to get other creditors' cooperation.

Write to Michael M. Phillips at [email protected]

Updated June 5, 2003

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