Fri, Oct 06, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Congress allocates US$20 million for victory party

AP , WASHINGTON

The US military's top generals have warned Iraq is on the cusp of a civil war and that US troops must remain in large numbers until at least next spring. But if the winds suddenly blow a different direction, Congress is ready to celebrate with a US$20 million victory party.

Lawmakers included language in this year's defense spending bill, approved last week, allowing them to spend the money. The funds for "commemoration of success" in Iraq and Afghanistan were originally tucked into last year's defense measure, but went unspent amid an uptick in violence in both countries.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the second-ranking Republican senator, originally sponsored the provision, which Democrats agreed to add to last year's defense bill.

Senate Republicans kept the authorization in the 2007 bill, and with elections five weeks away Democrats are pointing to it as another example of where the ruling party has gone astray in its handling of the war in Iraq.

"If the Bush administration is planning victory celebrations, Americans deserve to know what their plan is to get us to a victory in Iraq," said Rebecca Kirszner, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, said he thought the finger pointing was silly because the provision was added last year by unanimous consent, which means without a recorded vote.

"Apparently [Democrats] were for honoring the troops before they were against it," Stewart said.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are at stake in the voting although only about a dozen races are competitive because districts are mapped to favor incumbents. In the Senate 33 seats are on the ballot. The Republicans control both the House and the Senate.

Carolyn Weyforth, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said, "Republicans are confident we will be victorious in the ongoing war in terror, and we look forward to a time when those funds can be used to honor the men and women who have risked and given their lives."

Under the language, President George W. Bush could "designate a day of celebration" to honor troops serving in the two wars.

Bush could also call on the nation "to observe that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities" and issue awards to troops who have served honorably.

The Pentagon could spend up to US$20 million of its US$532 billion budget next year for the commemoration. The money will be available for the 2007 budget year, which began Oct. 1.

Proclaiming victory in the Iraq war has already proven to be tricky business. Bush was criticized for delivering his "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003 aboard an aircraft carrier.

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