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Bremer Tries to Sell Spending Plan for Iraq to Congress

Times Staff Writers

The United States should invest $20.3 billion now to rebuild Iraq, lest the nation become a haven for terrorists or sink into the economic despair and extremism that helped produce fascism in Germany, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq told Congress on Monday.

The appeal from L. Paul Bremer III came just hours after a suicide bomber struck the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, killing an Iraqi guard and injuring about a dozen other people. It was the second attack on the building in just over a month.

Although less deadly than the August truck bomb that killed more than 20 people, Monday’s assault could lead the U.N. and other aid groups to further lower their profiles in Iraq. The U.N. Staff Union urged Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday to withdraw all employees until Iraq is safer and aid workers are better protected.

Bremer testified for nearly four hours before the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is considering President Bush’s $87-billion request for military and reconstruction activities in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year.

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Although the Bush administration is trying to persuade other nations to contribute troops, specialists and money for Iraq’s reconstruction, the $87 billion -- and probably more -- will come from the U.S. Bremer compared the funding request for rebuilding Iraq to the successful Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II.

Terrorists “thrive in chaotic environments with little or no effective government,” Bremer said. “A sovereign, democratic, constitutional and prosperous Iraq deals a blow to terrorists. It gives the lie to those who describe us as enemies of Islam, enemies of the Arabs or enemies of the poor.”

Bremer also argued that the $20.3-billion reconstruction package, part of the $87-billion request, must not be a loan -- as some members of Congress have suggested -- but a grant.

Iraq owes almost $200 billion in debts and reparations for Saddam Hussein’s wars and economic follies, which it is in no position to repay, Bremer said. “Mountains of unpayable debt contributed heavily to the instability that paved Hitler’s path to power,” he added.

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Bremer told senators that the U.S. intends to spend $1.2 billion of the $20.3 billion to return Iraq’s oil production capacity to the prewar level of 3 million barrels per day. But even then, he said, oil revenue will not begin to exceed the government’s operating costs until at least 2005.

Arguing that money spent securing the peace is just as important -- and as urgent -- as funds spent on the U.S. military force, Bremer noted: “Some Iraqis are beginning to regard us as occupiers and not liberators.”

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the committee chairman, told Bremer that not one member of the panel had indicated opposition to the military portion of the request. But Republicans urged Bremer to do a better job of communicating the plan.

In exchanges that exposed the increasingly partisan character of the debate on Iraq, Democrats asked if the U.S. could afford the deficit spending necessary to rebuild Iraq at the expense of America’s electrical infrastructure, homeland security and other domestic needs.

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An impassioned Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who voted against the Iraq war, railed against Stevens and the administration for invading Iraq when the U.S. faced no imminent threat from Hussein, then trying to push a mammoth bill through Congress with little debate.

“The American people are being given kind of a snow job,” Byrd said, warning that once the United States commits itself to rebuilding Iraq’s army, infrastructure and economy, it will be forced to remain in the country for years to come.

Byrd said the U.S. occupation is being called by some “compassionate colonialism,” a jab at the president’s “compassionate conservatism” slogan. He said it had become “painfully obvious” that America cannot continue to run Iraq alone. “We ought to seek help before we completely alienate the international community and give Iraq a future of chaos instead of stability.”

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) demanded to know why the White House did not seek international forgiveness of Hussein’s debts, especially from nations that hope to do business with postwar Iraq. Bremer said Iraq’s largest creditors are France, Russia, Germany and Japan, in that order, and that debt forgiveness is an issue for the new Iraqi government.

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The $20.3-billion package translates into $800 per Iraqi, Bremer said, about what the U.S. spent per capita in Kosovo. He stressed that all contracts would be awarded after competitive bids and that under U.S. law, American companies must be the primary contractors.

Republicans on the Appropriations panel indicated a willingness to pay the Iraq bill. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) predicted the request will pass.

In Baghdad, U.S. and U.N. officials alike condemned Monday’s suicide bombing. But while U.N. officials said the attack demonstrated how dangerous Iraq remains, American authorities called it a desperate attempt to divert attention from progress in the country.

“This incident today once again underlines that Iraq remains a war zone and a high-risk environment, particularly for those working to improve the lives of the Iraqi people,” Kevin Kennedy, the top U.N. official in Baghdad, said in a statement.

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But U.S. Army Lt. Col. George Krivo, a military spokesman, said the car bomb was intended “to distract the world from the progress that is being made inside Iraq.”

Krivo also chided the media for focusing on violence and said there have been recent false reports of Iraqi civilians being killed or injured by U.S. forces. He specifically denied a widely reported story that U.S. soldiers killed a teenage boy last week when they opened fire on a wedding party in Fallouja after hearing celebratory gunfire, which they mistook for an attack. Those stories were based on claims by local residents.

“As far as the ‘celebratory fire incident’ is concerned, we know where the units are operating,” he said. “And there was no unit where this supposedly occurred.”

On another issue, Krivo said troops followed military rules Aug. 17 when they fatally shot Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana by Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. He called the shooting “a regrettable incident” but said an investigation found it “within the rules of engagement.” The military has said Dana’s video camera was mistaken for a rocket launcher.

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As for Monday’s car bomb, some saw a silver lining in the tragedy, which occurred in a parking lot as Iraqi guards were checking cars entering the complex. Some regarded the fact that the bomber was prevented from reaching the building as evidence that stepped-up security measures were working.

Efron reported from Washington and Holley from Baghdad.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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Paying for the new Iraq

Here are highlights of the Bush administration’s request for $20.3 billion to rebuild Iraq:

* $2.9 billion to rebuild the country’s damaged electrical system, install at least 11 40-megawatt gas-turbine generation plants and several larger units, and replace power lines and towers.

* $2.8 billion to provide potable water to 90% of the population.

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* $1.2 billion to rebuild Iraq’s oil industry, including $55 million for a pipeline repair team that could respond quickly to sabotage and other problems.

* $290 million to hire, train and house thousands of firefighters.

* $150 million to hire and train 2,000 border police and renovate their offices.

* $150 million to start building a new children’s hospital in Basra.

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* $130 million for 10 major irrigation and drainage projects.

* $125 million to rebuild railroad tracks.

* $100 million to build 3,500 housing units.

* $100 million to protect witnesses and their families who testify against former government officials, terrorist groups or organized crime figures.

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* $100 million to retain 500 experts to investigate crimes against humanity by Saddam Hussein’s government.

* $99 million to build or modernize 26 jails and prisons for 8,500 inmates.

* $67 million to hire, train and equip 20,000 guards to protect Iraqi government facilities.

* $35 million to subsidize on-the-job training for businesses.

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* $9 million to modernize the postal service, including the establishment of ZIP Codes.

Sources: Associated Press, Times staff

Los Angeles Times


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