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Rebuilding Iraq


US aides sidestep queries on cost of rebuilding Iraq

By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff, 02/12/2003

WASHINGTON -- Rebuilding basic services in a postwar Iraq would take at least two years, but it is impossible to predict how much money or time the United States would have to commit to provide security and restore stability there, a senior State Department official told a skeptical Senate committee yesterday.

Sketching out a postwar vision, Bush administration officials said that General Tommy R. Franks, commander of US Central Command, would oversee the transition period in Iraq, after which the government, economy, and oil supply would be controlled by the Iraqi people.

But Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith said they could not offer a timeline for the plan or detail its costs, angering senators of both parties on the Foreign Relations Committee.

"If you have a problem getting into it now, what the hell do you think you're going to have a problem with when you get in there?" asked Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska.

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said the American public has a right to know what the mission will cost, because it could interfere with domestic plans to cut taxes and pay for programs in education and health care. The most conservative estimates predict that it will cost $15 billion a year to rebuild Iraq after a war, the senator said.

"We're giving the president the authority to go in before we really know what we're getting into," said Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin.

Anthony Zinni, a retired US Marine general and former commander of the US Central Command, said that Franks should not be saddled with the job of running Iraq after waging war there.

The head of Central Command "has a region to run that just happens to have a few other problems in it," Zinni told the committee. "He has more things to do that just run a post-conflict Iraq."

Pressed for answers, Grossman said that one study estimated that it would take two years to restore such services as sanitation and water to Iraq. But Feith said the government could not estimate the total cost, because it is impossible to know how long a war would continue or how badly the nation will be damaged.

Both officials stressed that war was not an inevitability, but both the witnesses and the senators at the hearing discussed armed conflict as though it were a certainty.

While opposition to war has been muted in Congress, law makers in both parties have worried about the heavy burden a postwar Iraq would place on the United States, particularly if US allies fail to help.

Grossman said the first course of action after a war would be to assure stability in the country, including securing Iraq's borders. Securing Iraq's oil wells, assuming they were not destroyed in battle, would cost $8 billion to $10 billion, Feith said.

As a second step, the US would provide humanitarian assistance to help the Iraqis in a political and developmental transition. During that time, most members of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which would work with nongovernmental organizations to provide assistance, would be deployed to Iraq, Feith said.

US officials would ask Iraqis to serve on a consultative council and help create a constitution and legal system and to prepare for district and town elections, the US officials said.

But the committee was largely not persuaded. Several senators pointed to experiences in the Balkans, where troops are still keeping an uneasy peace years after the cease-fires in Bosnia and Kosovo, and in Afghanistan, where competition among warlords threatens to undermine efforts to build a democratic state.

In Iraq, US or coalition forces could face trouble from feuding ethnic groups, and Americans may not be welcomed by the Iraqi people after a war, senators on the panel said.

"It was all so rosy," said Senator Lincoln D. Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island. "Suppose we democratize, and an anti-American government is elected?"

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