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Bush expected to ask for an extra $80 billion for Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON—The Bush administration is completing work on a request to Congress for about $80 billion in new funds for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, administration and congressional officials said Monday.

The package, which administration budget officials were expected to unveil as early as Tuesday, would be in addition to $25 billion already approved for 2005.

The administration request is significant not only because it illustrates the extent of military needs in Iraq, but also because it's likely to affect congressional debate on other big-ticket legislative initiatives this year at a time when the federal budget deficit remains high.

The Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday is expected to project that this year's deficit will be around $300 billion, around $40 billion less than CBO projected last September.

The new estimate, however, won't include money for the war in Iraq or other top Bush administration priorities, such as the costs of overhauling Social Security and extending federal tax cuts.

Most of the new money would go to Army operations in Iraq, where U.S. forces are battling to contain a growing insurgency by minority Sunni Muslims, said the administration and congressional officials, who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak on the matter.

The request for the additional money, first reported Monday afternoon by Reuters, is among the latest signals that the administration expects the bloodshed in Iraq to continue well beyond Sunday's election for an interim Iraqi assembly.

In another indication that serious turmoil is expected to persist, a senior Army general said Monday that the service is planning to maintain its current level of 120,000 troops in Iraq for the next two years.

The number, however, could be reduced as more Iraqi security forces are trained and assume greater responsibility for their country's security, said Lt. Gen. James Lovelace, Army deputy chief of staff for operations.

The 120,000 Army troops are part of a 150,000-strong American force in Iraq that also includes Marines and some Air Force and Navy personnel.

Another 18,000 U.S. soldiers are helping to bolster the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai against remnants of the Taliban, the radical Islamic militia that the United States helped drive from power in 2001, and the al-Qaida terrorist group.

The new package also would contain about $10 billion for other purposes, including about $600 million for reimbursing the military for the costs of aiding the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, said the administration and congressional officials.

Some of the $10 billion would also go to new aid to the Palestinians, to the newly elected government of Ukraine and to Afghan reconstruction efforts, they said.

Bush isn't expected to send Congress the request for the so-called supplemental appropriation until after he presents his proposed 2006 federal budget early next month.

During the presidential campaign, Bush promised to cut the deficit in half by the end of his second term. The deficit grew to $412.5 billion in fiscal 2004.

The so-called supplemental spending bill for Iraq is considered "must-pass" legislation in Congress.

"As members of Congress ... we have pledged to give our armed forces the support they need in these difficult and dangerous days—both to win this war and to win the peace," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. But she said Congress needs to "critically examine President Bush's request and ask: What are the goals in Iraq, and how much more money will it cost to achieve them?"

Congress passed its first spending measure for Iraq in April 2003, setting aside $62.4 billion for military operations. In October 2003, Congress passed an $87.5 billion emergency spending measure, which included $65 billion for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The last supplemental request, for $25 billion, was included in a defense spending bill last summer.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents James Kuhnhenn and Ron Hutcheson contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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