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U.S. can fund war in Iraq beyond September, Pentagon says

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon on Wednesday sought to allay concerns that the military would run out of money to pay for the war in Iraq beyond next September, saying it could take funds from other accounts until the White House asks Congress for the extra billions of dollars needed.

The Pentagon's $401.7 billion budget request for fiscal year 2005 doesn't contain money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That means the military will run out of cash to pay for the war after Oct. 1, when the current funding is expected to run dry. The White House isn't expected to ask Congress for extra money until January 2005—after the November presidential election.

On Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker and Marine Corps Commandant Michael Hagee told the Senate Armed Services Committee that they are concerned about how to fund the gap between Oct. 1 and when the White House's supplemental spending request is approved early next year.

But in a hastily called news conference on Wednesday, Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim said the Pentagon could dip into operations and maintenance accounts to pay for the war in Iraq and operations in Afghanistan during the four months between the end of September and January.

"Many of us believe we should hold off ... requesting any supplemental funds until the beginning of calendar year 2005," said Zakheim. "There are just so many uncertainties and variables between now and then."

Zakheim said the Pentagon has adequate funds in its $127 billion operations and maintenance budget to cover the war, and it can pay that money back after Congress approves the additional money.

He said such variables as how many additional foreign troops will be contributed to Iraq and the schedule of Afghanistan's elections, which have yet to be set for 2005, make it impossible to estimate the operational costs for those countries until July.

Some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have accused the administration of trying to hide the true costs of the war by financing them through emergency spending bills.

Last year, Congress approved two emergency requests totaling nearly $166 billion to finance the war and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week, Joshua Bolten, the White House budget director, said a supplemental spending bill for Iraq could run as high as $50 billion.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.