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Bush administration criticized for underestimating postwar costs

WASHINGTON—Democratic senators charged Tuesday that President Bush's request for $87 billion, most of it for Iraq, illustrates how badly the administration misjudged the costs of the war.

The criticism wasn't confined to Democrats. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., accused the administration of failing to "anticipate the size of the challenge we would face" and deploying too few troops.

Other Republicans, while defending the administration, expressed concerns about a decision extending the tours of some 20,000 Army National Guardsmen and reservists deployed in and around Iraq from six months to one year.

The decision is aimed at easing the serious strains the regular Army is suffering from the occupation of Iraq, operations in Afghanistan and other overseas missions.

While Congress is expected to approve Bush's request for more money for Iraq, the lawmakers' criticisms at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing indicated growing discomfort among their constituents over the costs of the occupation.

"When will we know we have succeeded and no longer need to support Iraq financially and militarily? American families want to know that," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz, a leading advocate for invading Iraq, and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified two days after Bush announced he would seek $87 billion for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan.

The request and Bush's recent decision to seek a larger U.N. role in Iraq are seen as acknowledgements of the difficulties facing his goal of transforming the former dictatorship into a model democracy.

Loyalists to Saddam Hussein, foreign Islamic extremists and angry Iraqis are staging guerrilla attacks and bombings that are impeding political and economic reconstruction and fueling discontent with the U.S. occupation.

Most of the money Bush is seeking—$51 billion—would support U.S. military operations in Iraq. Another $20 billion would go to reconstruction, including $5.5 billion for training a new Iraqi army, police force, border security force and civilian defense corps.

Myers and Wolfowitz said conditions would improve as Iraqis assumed more responsibility for security. There are now 55,000 Iraqi security personnel working with the U.S.-led coalition.

Wolfowitz defended the Pentagon's postwar planning, saying "no one said we would know anything other than this would be very bloody, it could be very long and by implication, it could be very expensive."

He said the U.S.-led military and civilian authorities were making major strides in rebuilding Iraq and rooting out guerrillas who have killed 69 U.S. soldiers since Bush declared an end to major combat operations May 1.

Congressional approval of the new money for Iraq would "send the message to the world, especially our enemies, that we have the staying power to finish the job," Wolfowitz said.

On the wider war against terrorism, he cited a newly declassified CIA assessment that "two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, al-Qaida's central leadership is reeling from the impact of the counterterrorism successes of the U.S. and our allies. The central leadership of al-Qaida is at risk of breaking apart."

Democrats were unimpressed, and expressed deep skepticism about his assessment of Iraq.

They said the need for more money for reconstruction and military operations—on top of $79 billion that Congress already has approved—showed that the administration had gravely miscalculated the costs and scale of the occupation.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he would push for hearings to examine the administration's Iraq strategy, including how the new money would be spent.

"I, for one, will not be a rubber stamp for this request," he said. "Congress is not an ATM. We have to be able to explain this new, enormous bill to the American people."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Armed Services Committee's senior Democrat, noted that Lawrence Lindsey, a former top White House economic adviser, drew condemnation from other administration officials a year ago when he projected the costs of the war at $100 billion to $200 billion.

"We are already in the upper reaches of that estimate for the first two years of a long commitment," Levin said. "Mr. Wolfowitz, you, yourself, told Congress in March that `We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.' Talk about rosy scenarios."

He also recalled that Wolfowitz and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had "ridiculed" retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, who recently retired as Army chief of staff, for saying that occupying Iraq would require several hundred thousand U.S. troops.

McCain, who called the invasion to depose Saddam "a wise and humane decision," nevertheless accused the administration of miscalculating the costs of repairing Iraq's decrepit infrastructure.

"The decay is truly staggering," he said.

He also noted that the Pentagon had projected that only 60,000 U.S. troops would be needed in Iraq by now, nearly six months after the invasion. There are 130,000 American troops in the country.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq-defense

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030908 USIRAQ spending