U.S. Presses for Aid to Iraq, but Few Give -- or Give In

Times Staff Writer

Soldiers aren’t the only foreign contribution in short supply for the U.S. effort in Iraq. So is money.

U.S. officials are finding it hard to persuade allies to help underwrite the costs of policing and rebuilding the ravaged country, even as Congress steps up pressure on the administration to find a way to share the burden.

After months of appeals from U.S. and U.N. leaders, key foreign governments including Russia, China, France and Germany remain adamant that they will not contribute in those areas, U.S. officials say.

The issue has taken on new urgency in recent days as the Bush administration has begun preparing a supplemental budget request that officials say could reach as much as $3 billion. U.S. officials had expected that renewed Iraqi oil exports would help finance reconstruction, but exports have rebounded more slowly than expected, at least in part due to looting and sabotage.


The anticipated budget request is alarming lawmakers, who see it as evidence that the burden on U.S. taxpayers will far outstrip expectations.

To increase foreign contributions, U.S. officials have been working with the United Nations to arrange a “donors conference” in Madrid in late October that they hope will bring commitments of billions of dollars. Yet one U.S. official acknowledged the frustration of trying to gain aid commitments.

“We are really puzzled on how to get more aid from these countries, when they have been refusing now for such a long time,” the official said.

Officials of the reluctant countries, all of which opposed the Iraq war, insist that they intend to help the Iraqis. Several say they are already contributing to humanitarian relief. But they also say they cannot contribute to the reconstruction and security effort unless the United States agrees to give other governments a role, and agrees to more transparency on how aid money is used.


The issue has become entangled in an intensifying behind-the-scenes debate among diplomats over whether there should be a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would shift some authority in Iraq from the U.S. to the international community.

In the past week, U.S. diplomats have stepped up their efforts to find a compromise that would give other countries a voice in Iraq, and by doing so, bring in more foreign money and peacekeeping troops. President Bush has said that he wants to give the United Nations a “vital role” in Iraq. Yet it remains unclear whether the White House would agree to a new arrangement -- long opposed by the Pentagon -- that would divide decision-making in the country.

U.S. officials say their effort to secure more aid, which some jokingly call “Operation Tin Cup,” has been long and frustrating.

Before the war, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked countries for financial aid to deal with an expected humanitarian crisis in Iraq. His appeals were rejected by many opponents of the war, who believed they would be contributing to an effort of which they did not approve. After the war, Annan made new appeals as the U.N. opened an office in the country, and passed two Security Council resolutions that offered a limited U.N. blessing to what the U.S.-led coalition was doing there.

The United States has had support from some countries in its efforts. Britain has contributed millions of dollars in aid, in addition to the commitment of thousands of British troops. Japan has made contributions for humanitarian purposes and reconstruction, and has been considering sending troops.

A number of countries have provided aid for humanitarian needs, but not security or reconstruction. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are in this category, as are a number of European countries. A European Union official said that it has contributed $70 million in humanitarian assistance this year and that EU contributions will grow to $340 million if its member nations’ direct contributions are included.

Most Arab countries, where the U.S. occupation is highly unpopular, have been leery of contributing to the U.S. and U.N. reconstruction efforts. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage is due to visit a number of Middle Eastern countries in September, in part to seek more aid.

Yet one Arab diplomat said he believed that Arab countries would hold back -- at least until a new U.N. resolution gives some authority to other countries.


“Washington is pushing hard on that issue, but I’m skeptical,” the diplomat said. “To have commitments like that without the U.N. umbrella would be very difficult.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, backed the war but has pushed the administration to spread the postwar burden. He has said the United States still shoulders by far the largest share of the cost.

“Ninety percent of the forces on the ground are ours, 90% of the casualties are ours, and we are paying the vast majority of the costs of reconstruction, after you discount the Iraqi funds,” Biden said during a Senate hearing in July.

It is clear those costs are rising quickly.

In the current year’s federal budget, Congress appropriated $2.5 billion for reconstruction in Iraq. If the administration returns to Congress to ask for $3 billion more, it will be just to keep the reconstruction going until the next budget is introduced late this year.

“It will be tough for the White House,” said one State Department official. “Lawmakers are going to say, ‘Wait, you were just up here telling us $2.5 billion was enough.’ ”

The administration, after months of playing down the costs and refusing to provide concrete estimates, has this month begun trying to prepare the public for sobering news.

In an interview last week with the Washington Post, L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, said the country’s economic needs were “almost impossible to exaggerate.” Iraq would need tens of billions of dollars from outside sources just in the next year, he said.


The U.S. government is already paying about $4 billion a month to support its force of about 140,000 in the country. That’s on top of the $1 billion being paid to support U.S. forces still in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials say they hope the donor conference will prove to be an effective way to enlist other countries but acknowledge that they don’t know how successful they will be.

Technical specialists are studying Iraq’s future needs. They will report to the conference on what Iraq will require for agriculture, housing, education and other areas. Donors can contribute funds for specific needs to ensure that their money will go to expenditures that are most likely to be supported at home.