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Rebuilding Iraq likely to top war's cost
( 2003-08-12 10:58) (Agencies)

The U.S. bill for rebuilding Iraq and maintaining security there is widely expected to far exceed the war's price tag, and some private analysts estimate it could reach as high as $600 billion.

The Bush administration is offering only hazy details so far, and that is upsetting Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers.

The closest the administration has come to estimating America's postwar burden was when L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of occupied Iraq, said last month that "getting the country up and running again" could cost $100 billion and take three years.

He estimated that repairing Iraq's electrical grid alone will cost $13 billion and getting the water system in shape will require an additional $16 billion.

In a recent interview on CNBC's "Capital Report," Bremer said of rebuilding costs: "It's probably well above $50 billion, $60 billion, maybe $100 billion. It's a lot of money."

President Bush and other administration officials have refused to provide projections, saying too much is unpredictable. That has angered lawmakers of both parties, who are writing the budget for the coming election year even as federal deficits approach $500 billion.

"I think they're fearful of having Congress say, 'Oh, my God, this thing is going to be very costly,'" said Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls foreign aid.

More than three months after Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, even the cost of the ongoing U.S. military campaign remains clouded in confusing numbers.

Defense Department officials have said U.S. operations are costing about $3.9 billion monthly. But that figure excludes indirect expenses like replacing damaged equipment and munitions expended in combat.

Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's top budget official, has said that when all the costs are combined, he expects U.S. military activities in Iraq to total $58 billion for the nine months from last January through September. That includes part of the buildup, the six weeks of heaviest combat that began March 20, and the aftermath.

That sum, however, is what Congress provided this year for Defense Department activities not only in Iraq but also against terrorism worldwide including Afghanistan, where U.S. military costs are running about $1 billion a month, according to officials.

In a report last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that Pentagon costs in Afghanistan and Iraq plus other U.S. military efforts against terrorism around the globe could reach $59 billion next year.

"What is necessary is to achieve an overall strategy and whatever it takes to achieve the strategy, this administration is committed to," Bush told reporters Friday, adding that accurate cost projections would come "next year at the appropriate time."

Lawmakers, meanwhile, are girding for a White House request for another $40 billion to $50 billion for 2004.

While acknowledging the difficulty of predicting Iraq costs, even White House allies find political factors behind the administration's reluctance to discuss dollars.

"They've got one eye on the deficit and they're trying to make sure the conservatives stay with them," said James Dyer, Republican chief of staff for the House Appropriations Committee. "Having said that, we have to pay these bills whether there's a deficit or not."

Kolbe, who is traveling with other members of Congress to Iraq and Afghanistan later this month, said the administration's reticence is "undermining the credibility that might exist" for the U.S. reconstruction of Iraq. "We've got to get on with it here and start acknowledging what some of these costs are going to be."

Private groups have produced their own estimates on postwar costs in Iraq.

Brookings Institution fellows Lael Brainard and Michael O'Hanlon said in a Financial Times article this month that military and reconstruction costs could be from $300 billion to $450 billion.

Taxpayers for Common Sense said postwar costs over the next decade could range from $114 billion to $465 billion. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences projected 10-year expenses from $106 billion to $615 billion.

Whatever the costs, administration officials have resisted making estimates on how much of them will be shouldered by U.S. taxpayers. They cite several uncertainties: the future numbers and missions of U.S. troops, contributions by allies, and revenue from the hobbled Iraqi oil industry and seized Iraqi assets.

 
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