WASHINGTON—A debate about who will pay to rebuild Iraq flared anew Wednesday as the White House suggested that Iraqis may foot some post-war costs, and a blue-ribbon panel warned that U.S. taxpayers could get hit with bills of $20 billion a year.
The Bush administration must "stay the course" in reconstructing Iraq after a war even though it may tie up some 75,000 U.S. troops in a multiyear effort, top foreign policy experts said in the report. The Army's top officer, Gen. Erik Shinseki, has told Congress that as many as 200,000 U.S. troops may be needed to police post-war Iraq.
The differing estimates of the cost of a war and of reconstructing Iraq underscore the broader issue of whether the Bush administration is thoroughly prepared for the war and reconstruction and whether administration officials are downplaying the potential costs in an effort to muster political support for war
The nonpartisan panel, led by James R. Schlesinger, a former CIA director and defense secretary, said the Bush administration has yet to fully describe to the U.S. public the "magnitude of resources" that will be needed after a war to topple Saddam Hussein.
Schlesinger called on President Bush to approach Congress right away for an initial financial commitment of $3 billion.
At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said he had not seen specific estimates of how much Iraqi reconstruction might cost but indicated Iraq, which has the world's greatest proven oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, may bear some of the price.
"In terms of the reconstruction of Iraq, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi nation (have) many resources of their own that would contribute toward the rebuilding of Iraq," Fleischer said. "As would be expected, the Iraqi people have much at stake in their own future, and they'll be able to contribute greatly to it."
But Schlesinger said that in the early years of reconstruction, "the revenues of the oil industry will be insufficient to cover the costs of our actions."
Differing estimates of the cost of a war and reconstruction of Iraq underscore a broader issue of whether the Bush administration is as thoroughly prepared for the multiple challenges of tumultuous post-war reconstruction as it is for the military operation to topple Saddam.
Post-war reconstruction was the theme of the nonpartisan report that 25 senior foreign policy experts and former senior government officials under Republican and Democratic administrations wrote under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations, a centrist group.
The report said Iraq would have to invest between $5 billion and $7 billion to boost production capacity beyond the current 2.8 million barrels per day in order to generate additional revenues for reconstruction.
"It is important that Iraqis believe that the United States will not walk away once the military tasks are completed," Schlesinger, co-chairman of the task force along with former U.N. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, said at a news conference.
The group also included Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, former U.N. ambassador during the Reagan administration; Ellen Laipson, a former senior CIA official; former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John K. Shalikashvili; and Gordon R. Sullivan, former chief of staff of the Army.
The panel said the estimate that 75,000 U.S. troops may be needed for the post-war period could be low, and that any increase would boost costs beyond $20 billion a year. "If the troop requirements are much larger than 75,000—a genuine possibility—the funding requirement would be much greater," the report said.
Among the urgent tasks for U.S. troops after a war is protecting Iraqis from lawlessness, cleaning up residues of chemical and biological weapons, protecting refugees and maintaining a U.N.-sponsored oil-for-food program that feeds some 16 million of Iraq's 25 million people, the report said.
"All of our actions will be carefully scrutinized," Schlesinger said, and any perception that human suffering has increased in a post-war period would give Washington a black eye.
Building a government could require many years, he said.
"There are those who think of this as an instantaneous transformation into a Jeffersonian democracy," Schlesinger said. "That will not be the case."
Pickering called on the Bush administration to mend fences with allies quickly to ensure that other nations will help shoulder the financial burden of reconstruction.
The panel called on the Bush administration to create an independent oil oversight board to help run the Iraqi oil industry, assuring that the Iraqi people benefit.
"In the early years, the revenues of the oil industry will be insufficient to cover the costs of our actions," Schlesinger said.
The panel's 59-page report is available at the Web site
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.