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Administration to request at least $50 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration will ask Congress for at least another $50 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, a top Defense Department official said Thursday.

Both Republican and Democratic senators said in response that Congress would exercise much stricter oversight over any more money given for Iraq than it had in the past, because lawmakers are angry at reports that the administration used defense funds in ways Congress never approved.

President Bush asked Congress on Wednesday for $25 billion more by October, in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. On Thursday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee the administration will ask for even more after New Year's, and "it will surely be much larger than $25 billion." He didn't give an exact number, but estimates range as high as $80 billion.

In another dispute Thursday, Wolfowitz and Marine Gen. Peter Pace contradicted testimony Wednesday from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld had said Defense Department lawyers had approved of all the interrogation techniques employed by U.S. forces against Iraqi captives, and that those techniques complied with the Geneva Conventions.

Wolfowitz and Pace said they were unaware of any American military rules for interrogations that would permit putting captives in stressful positions, depriving them of sleep for up to 72 hours or threatening them with dogs. Both said they thought such techniques violated the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of enemy prisoners of war, and that they didn't know who approved them.

As for how much more money will be needed to fight the war in Iraq, the administration said it's too early to estimate an annual cost, but a recent report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said it's likely to cost at least $60 billion for fiscal 2005, which starts Oct. 1.

Congress already has approved $166 billion for earlier fiscal years.

Senators of both parties said they'd give the administration all the money it needed to fight the war, but that they were unwilling to write a "blank check," as Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., put it.

"I'm going to support this $25 billion," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., a strident critic of the war, "but we're going to put limitations on it."

In a statement released by his campaign, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential candidate, said he too would vote for the $25 billion.

"I will support the administration's request for emergency funds for our troops. The situation in Iraq has deteriorated far beyond what the administration anticipated. This money is urgently needed, and it is completely focused on the needs of our troops. We must give our troops the equipment and support to carry out their missions in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.

Kerry voted against the administration's request last fall for $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, arguing that approval of that money should be contingent on rolling back Bush's tax cuts for the very wealthy to cover the costs.

Senators questioned the wisdom of giving the Defense Department the wide latitude it asked for in spending the $25 billion. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., objected that the request "basically outlines some priorities and ... states it can be used for any fund."

Many lawmakers were angry on discovering that money given in 2001 for the Afghanistan war was diverted to prepare for the Iraq war without legislative approval, as journalist Bob Woodward claimed in his new book, "Plan of Attack."

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "Since Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has provided this administration with considerable sums of money and considerable flexibility in using that money. That flexibility has led to problems."

Wolfowitz said the administration would rework its funding request to acknowledge Congress' determination to oversee how the money would be spent.

Senators also questioned why the administration is asking for only $25 billion now and submitting another, higher bill next year. Many lawmakers have suggested that politics, not national security, is behind the administration's reluctance to ask for more money before the November elections. They noted that the administration's annual budget proposal didn't include any money for Iraq or Afghanistan.

Wars are unpredictable, Wolfowitz replied. The Defense Department will prepare cost estimates later, after there's a clear picture of what's needed, he said.

According to defense officials, the war is costing $4 billion a month in Iraq, and another $600 million in Afghanistan. At that rate, the annual cost would be $55.2 billion.

The actual cost, however, is likely to be higher, said South Carolina Rep. John Spratt, a senior Democrat on the House Budget and Armed Services committees. The monthly cost estimates, known as burn rates, were made before Rumsfeld announced that 20,000 more service members would be sent to Iraq and current tours of duty would be extended. Also, the estimate doesn't take into account money that's used to reimburse coalition forces, and other indirect expenses, Spratt said.

The administration's request seems "to fudge what the reality is," said Levin, the senior Democrat on Armed Services. "We ought to have an honest presentation of a supplemental request rather than presenting it this way."


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

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


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