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US role in Iraq could cost $60b more

WASHINGTON -- The US government will need to spend as much as $60 billion to support its military role in Iraq next year, according to government officials as well as analysts and economists.

The funding would come on top of $62.6 billion that Congress approved in March. That installment, which analysts say should last until October, was intended to cover the cost of deploying and supplying about 140,000 troops in Iraq, as well as supporting a much smaller US force in Afghanistan. Included in those costs were all the expenses of waging war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime.

The Pentagon has not provided details about anticipated spending to continue the occupation in 2004. The overall estimates of $50 billion to $60 billion -- the first to be made public -- come from private institutes that specialize in defense-related issues.

The financial burden of stabilizing Iraq is expected to remain mostly on the United States because of the Bush administration's reluctance to share control of the occupation with foreign governments that opposed the war, according to economists, legislators, and administration officials. France, Germany, Russia, and other countries have said they would dispatch troops to Iraq only as part of a peacekeeping force acting with a United Nations mandate.

It is not clear how much the United States would save with the introduction of more foreign troops. Already, Poland has requested and received US compensation in exchange for its participation. Analysts say US troop levels would not necessarily be reduced even if the number of international forces increases.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell arrived in New York yesterday to lobby for a larger UN presence in Iraq as workers in Baghdad cleared the rubble from the bomb-damaged UN headquarters. Although he offered no sign the administration was prepared to yield even partial authority over the occupation, he said the United States was pursuing a UN resolution that might encourage other countries to send troops to Iraq.

Powell's visit and the attack Tuesday on the UN compound coincided with rising concerns in Congress over the costs of stabilizing Iraq. At an estimated billion dollars a week, all but a trickle of which is earmarked for the occupation, the Pentagon is spending as much each month in Iraq as it did waging the entire Gulf War in 1991, if inflation is not taken into account.

"We can't go on this way because the burden on the American taxpayer is unacceptable," said William D. Delahunt, a Democrat of Quincy who introduced a nonbinding resolution this week calling on the White House to give the United Nations a greater role in postwar Iraq. "If we are going to pursue a war on terrorism, we have to internationalize it and assemble a true coalition of the willing."

Delahunt's remarks followed similar comments late last month from Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Because of bureaucratic inertia, political caution, and unrealistic expectations left over from before the war, we do not appear to be confident about our course in Iraq," Lugar said at a congressional hearing.

The administration acknowledges the costs will be very large but has declined to provide anything close to a detailed accounting. Neither the Iraq campaign nor the peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan is included in the Pentagon's budget; they must be handled by supplemental requests to Congress.

Already under pressure to raise the salaries and bonuses of troops wearied by lengthening rotations abroad, the Pentagon has little it can cut in its $400 billion budget except weapons systems and improvements in military bases, analysts said. Congress also would have the option of increasing a record deficit of $410 billion.

"The Pentagon is under pressure from within and from without," said Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a private research institute that expects the Defense Department to ask Congress for an additional $50 billion in fiscal 2004.

Other researchers have estimated the cost could reach $60 billion.

Enlisting greater international support for the occupation, even among countries that did not support the war, was a key recommendation of a Pentagon-commissioned report assembled last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The White House was dealt a major setback last month when India refused to send 17,000 troops to Iraq without a clear UN mandate. Pakistan also has declined to send forces, and Turkey has yet to respond conclusively to American entreaties for help.

"It seems US negotiators [at the UN] have been instructed to preserve the status quo," said a European diplomat in Washington. "Authority for the occupation lies with the Americans, and that is how it will remain in the foreseeable future."

US troops, numbering about 140,000, account for 90 percent of the forces there. More than two dozen countries, ranging from Japan to Albania, have committed to the occupation about 22,000 soldiers; British forces account for about half of this total. Poland has sent about 2,300 troops to Iraq in a $200 million deployment the Pentagon has agreed to finance.

Lael Brainard, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written about the postwar price tag, calculates the burden at $1,000 per American household.

Few cost estimates include the expense of stabilizing a country ravaged by decades of war, tyranny, and sanctions. While the Bush administration has committed itself to establish free markets in what was once a highly subsidized Iraqi economy, it has been forced to revive the patronage systems employed by Hussein to pacify restive elements.

Although the United States has refused to compensate civilian victims of the war and its aftermath, it recently agreed to pay millions of dollars to the families of about 18 demonstrators killed by American forces in the city of Fallujah days after the fall of Baghdad. The government also is paying stipends to unemployed Iraqi soldiers and subsidies to grain farmers.

"I don't know if we have the political will and resources for a protracted nation-building exercise like this," Brainard said. "And it is that much harder to do it alone."

The ultimate casualty, say many analysts, could be the Defense Department's own procurement budget, which includes elaborate plans for a missile defense system, among other costly weapons programs.

Congress has mandated an annual increase in defense spending of 2 percent over the inflation rate until 2009, but the scheduled increases could be needed to cover the growing costs of occupying Iraq, analysts said.

"You can push back base improvement plans and procurement contracts, but at some point you can't do that anymore," said Frank Cevasco, vice president at Hicks & Associates, a defense consulting firm. "That's when Congress will start nibbling away at the budget."

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