Wed, Sep 03, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Congress starts to grumble over Iraqi occupation

DOUBLE TROUBLE Both sides of the political spectrum are engaged in a debate over whether to send more troops, while others groan about costs


Once wary of criticizing a popular wartime president's handling of Iraq, members of the US Congress are shedding their inhibitions.

Returning to Washington this week after a summer break, some are questioning whether US President George W. Bush could do more to get help from other countries to secure and rebuild Iraq, whether he has enough US troops there and how much the war will cost in US lives and taxpayer dollars.

Frustrations over Iraq have increased in Washington and around the US as the American death toll has risen. Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike also have been concerned about the speed of setting up an Iraqi government and restoring basic services such as water and electricity.

"I'm not discouraged, but I'm disappointed," said Republican Representative Henry Hyde, the US House International Relations Committee chairman. "I think there was less thought given to the postwar, or the post-combat, aspect of the war than should have been."

A strong supporter of Bush, Hyde said in an interview that the US should be willing to cede some authority in Iraq if needed to attract military help from other countries. The Bush administration has indicated it might be willing to get the UN involved, but only if all military forces remained under US control.

"I think it is too great a burden to expect us to single-handedly reconstruct Afghanistan, Iraq, face the other problems in the world -- North Korea, Liberia and other troubled spots," Hyde said. "I think we need to look for reasonable compromises."

Hyde also said the US needs to send more translators, public affairs personnel and other civilians to Iraq. He plans to introduce a bill setting guidelines for US operations in Iraq.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will air concerns about Iraq as it calls Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and General Richard Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, for a hearing Sept. 9 on US military commitments.

Republican Senator John Warner, chairman of the committee, praises Bush's handling of the war, but has questioned whether US troops are being stretched too thin around the world.

The biggest debate will come when the administration submits a spending bill for Iraq. It is considering asking for a few billion dollars to cover expenses until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. It presumably will need tens of billions of dollars more sometime in the new fiscal year.

The US is spending about US$3.9 billion a month on military operations in Iraq, not counting funds to rebuild the country. None of that money is in next year's spending bills working their way through Congress.

Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said money for Iraq should be "in the form of a loan that's going to be paid back either from the oil revenues or from contributions from other countries."

"I believe that the citizens of America have paid their fair share and more of this part of the war on terrorism," said Hutchison, a US Senate Appropriations Committee member.

But Republican Representative Jim Kolbe, chairman of the House appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, said Americans should expect that billions of dollars will be needed to get basic services in place in Iraq and prepare an Iraqi police force.

He said if Bush is straightforward about what is needed "I think he can sell it to the American people and the Congress," Kolbe said.

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