Senators demand Iraqi cost estimates

By MICHAEL HOFFMAN, UPI Correspondent  |  June 4, 2003 at 6:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 4 (UPI) -- A month after the end of combat in Iraq, administration officials told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday no estimates have been reached for the overall cost of reconstruction in Iraq or how much of the bill the United States will shoulder.

U.S. senators repeatedly asked the four officials for an estimate -- however rough -- on a total cost for reconstruction, becoming visibly frustrated with the lack of information provided during the hearing.

"I would argue its irresponsible to wait to provide an estimate," said Sen. Joseph Biden D-Del.

Replying to Biden's remarks, Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim said he couldn't provide an estimate because it was too early and he couldn't "look to the future."

The committee further questioned the four on the percentage of reconstruction costs they foresaw the United States would need to take on, compared to the rest of the international community.

Noting the G8 summit, ending Monday, in which members pledged support for the reconstruction process, the committee said they had hoped the administration would have a better grasp on how much the United States would need to spend.

"My constituents want to know how much they are going to have to pay," said Sen. Russ Fiengold, D-Wis.

The committee witnesses pointed to a planning conference with the United Nations and World Bank on June 24, at which they would have a better understanding of the reconstruction process, but not yet the cost.

"June 24 is pretty early for a good estimate because I have people just getting on the ground," said John B. Taylor, undersecretary for International Affairs in the Department of the Treasury.

Another conference will follow in September where donor countries will pledge support for Iraq reconstruction. The Senate committee heatedly questioned why the United States would not supply the rest of the international community with a percentage of how much of the bill they expected to take on.

When Zakheim said the United States would probably absorb the highest percentage and would ask the rest of the world to take on as much as possible, Feingold said it was a "complete non-answer."

The work in Iraq is not the only reconstruction process the United States is burdened with now. The United States is also a year-and-a-half into the reconstruction process of Afghanistan.

Zakheim, who worked on the reconstruction process in Afghanistan, said from past experience, presenting the percentage of expenses the United States expected to take on might cause some leaders to ask: "'Who are you to fix percentages?'"

"If we lay out percentages, we run the risk of scaring people off," Zakheim said.

Undersecretary of State Alan P. Larson said oil revenues from the sale of Iraqi reserves would help pay a large chunk of reconstruction costs. These funds would only come, however, after an investment of close to $3 billion to get the Iraqi oil industry running at its full potential again.

Before the war started, the Iraqi oil industry produced between 2 and 3 million barrels of oil per day in 2002. As of May 21, Thamir Ghadhban, chief executive officer of the Iraqi Oil Ministry, said the industry was producing 800,000 barrels per day.

Although still at a fraction of the potential production, Larson did say the Oil Ministry is improving and expected a production of 1.5 million barrels by the end of the month and 2 million by the end of the year.

"It doesn't make sense to use U.S. tax money when Iraq has this money," Zakheim said.

Larson also said the reconstruction process has made progress in the effort to supply the country with safe water, Larson said. The water in Baghdad is back at 75 percent of prewar levels.

While the north and central regions of Iraq have made significant progress in supplying safe water, the south still has a lot of work to do, Larson said.

More work needs to be done since Saddam Hussein used the water supply as a weapon against the mostly Shiite population in the South, which makes up 60 percent of the population, officials said.

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