Reconstruction of Iraq to Cost $7.3 Billion This Year; Administration Refuses to Make Longer-Term Projections
Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Bush administration officials yesterday pegged this year's costs for relief and reconstruction in Iraq at $7.3 billion but refused to project expenses for the next fiscal year or further in the future.
"We don't know what they will be," Joshua Bolten, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senators from both parties yesterday questioned the administration's commitment to the Iraqi reconstruction effort and demanded to be told its long-term costs, asking Mr. Bolten and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to "fill in the blanks" for the coming months and years.
Mr. Bolten said the reconstruction work would cost $7.3 billion this year and confirmed that troops stationed in Iraq, the biggest expense for the Middle Eastern operation, cost about $4 billion per month.
The administration's refusal to project budget figures, even for fiscal 2004, which starts Oct. 1, angered some senators.
"When are you guys starting to be honest with us? Come on. I mean, this is ridiculous," said Delaware Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
"I'm hopeful we can begin to fill in the blanks and take seriously this thought of a plan that we have some confidence in," said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the committee.
The reconstruction efforts are meant to restore such essential services as water and electricity, create conditions for economic growth and start the transition to a democratic government.
The military is working to establish a safe and secure environment in the country, but the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, the governing authority in Iraq, has faced enormous challenges and found difficult the restoration of some basic services.
Uncertainties and setbacks have made problematic any cost projections, administration officials said.
"At this stage, it is impossible to estimate what recovery in Iraq actually will cost," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
Mr. Wolfowitz, who recently returned from a tour of Iraq, outlined some progress and steps that would be taken to improve reconstruction efforts and emphasized the administration's commitment to rebuilding the country.
But he acknowledged the "enormous need in Iraq for basic services to be restored, for jobs to be restored. I think everywhere I went I heard the plea for more electricity."
Restoring electricity has been particularly problematic because Saddam Hussein's government left behind a dilapidated system and because of continuing sabotage, Mr. Bolten said.
Iraq produced about 4,400 megawatts of electric power before the war, and as of this week produces nearly 3,250 megawatts, said Ellen Yount, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
USAID is overseeing much of the reconstruction effort carried out by private-sector companies.
While Baghdad still suffers power shortages, Ms. Yount said the southern city of Basra for the first time in a decade has power 24 hours a day.
"We're almost there. We're about where we said we were going to be," she said of the overall reconstruction effort.
Before the war, the country required, but could not produce, about 6,000 megawatts of power per day, a level still out of reach. …