Wed, Jan 04, 2006 - Page 1 News List

White House to let Iraq reconstruction program lapse

THE GUARDIAN , WASHINGTON

The Bush administration has scaled back its ambitions to rebuild Iraq from the devastation wrought by war and dictatorship and does not intend to seek new funds for reconstruction, it emerged Monday.

In a decision that will be seen as a retreat from a promise by US President George Bush to give Iraq the best infrastructure in the region, administration officials say they will not seek reconstruction funds when the budget request is presented to Congress next month, the Washington Post reported yesterday.

The US$18.4 billion allocation is scheduled to run out in June next year. The move will be seen by critics as further evidence of the administration's failure to plan for the aftermath of the war.

A decision not to renew the reconstruction program would leave Iraq with the burden of tens of billions of dollars in unfinished projects, and an oil industry and electrical grid that have yet to return to pre-war production levels.

The decision is a tacit admission of the failure of the US rebuilding effort in the face of a relentless insurgency. Nearly half the funds earmarked for reconstruction were diverted toward fighting the insurgency and preparations to put Saddam Hussein on trial.

At least US$2.5 billion earmarked for Iraq's dilapidated infrastructure and schools was diverted to building up a security force. And funds originally intended to repair the electricity grid and sewage and sanitation system were used to train special bomb squad units and a hostage rescue force. The US also shifted funds to build 10 new prisons to keep pace with the insurgency, and safe houses and armored cars for Iraqi judges, the Post said.

The reconstruction fund was tapped for the hundreds of millions of dollars required to hold elections and for four changes of government. It also helped pay to establish a criminal justice system, including US$128 million to examine several mass graves of Saddam Hussein's victims.

While 3,600 projects will be completed by the end of the year, the cost of security accounted for as much as 25 percent of each project, according to the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction.

The cut-off to reconstruction programs adds to increasing speculation that the administration is planning at least a partial withdrawal of troops from Iraq before November's US mid-term election.

It marks a retreat from a promise by Bush in 2003 to provide Iraq with the best infrastructure in the region. On Monday, however, a Pentagon official disavowed that ambition.

"The US never intended to completely rebuild Iraq," Brigadier General William McCoy, the Army Corps of Engineers commander overseeing the work, was quoted in the Post as saying.

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