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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > The Billions: Seeing Threat to Iraq Elections, U.S. Seeks to Shift Rebuilding Funds to Security

The New York Times > Washington > The Billions: Seeing Threat to Iraq Elections, U.S. Seeks to Shift Rebuilding Funds to Security

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 - The Bush administration said Tuesday that it would shift nearly 20 percent of its aid budget for Iraq out of reconstruction projects and into security and short-term job-creation programs, acknowledging that continued violence threatened its plans for elections early next year.

The State Department said it would ask Congress to take $3.46 billion out of the $18.4 billion aid package that President Bush signed into law last November and authorize its use to speed the training of Iraqi security and police personnel, create temporary public works programs and take other steps to help stabilize the country. Officials said the money would come mainly from allocations to build water and sewer systems and repair and modernize the electricity system.

"The security situation presents the most serious obstacle to reconstruction and economic and political development in Iraq," said Marc Grossman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, who said the decision was made after consultations with American military commanders and the Iraqi government.

"They decided that without a significant reallocation of resources to the security and law enforcement sectors, the short-term stability of Iraq would be compromised and the longer-term prospects for a free and democratic Iraq undermined," Mr. Grossman said at a news conference.

The announcement came on a day when attacks by insurgents left dozens of Iraqis dead, many of them police recruits or officers, underscoring the difficulties and dangers of trying to shift all responsibility for security to the Iraqis. Saboteurs also temporarily knocked out much of the nation's electricity supply through an attack on an oil pipeline.

Democrats said the change was evidence that the administration was grasping for solutions to a situation that was not getting any better.

The announcement "is an acknowledgment that the current situation in Iraq represents a failure of the administration's plan to bring stability and democracy to Iraq," Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee's foreign operations subcommittee, said in a statement.

Noting that the United States has spent only about $1 billion of the $18.4 billion aid package so far while the costs of the war are running billions of dollars a month, she added: "This has not gotten results. Right now, violence is rampant, many Iraqis live without basic services, and we have failed to turn Iraqi public opinion in our favor."

But the administration's package appeared likely to win the backing of the Republican-controlled Congress. Rep. Jim Kolbe, the Republican from Arizona who is chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee, backed the proposal. He said that it was unclear whether the money could make a difference quickly enough to ensure that elections go ahead as planned, but that the United States had to recognize that it was facing a different situation from what it had assumed when it drew up reconstruction plans last year.

"The most important thing is that it clearly represents a shift that reflects the reality of what we're dealing with today," Mr. Kolbe said in an interview.

The plan was drawn up by John D. Negroponte, the United States ambassador to Iraq. It would decrease the budget for water and sewer projects by $1.935 billion, electricity projects by $1.074 billion and purchases of refined oil by $450 million.

Those reductions would go to offset a $1.8 billion increase in spending on law enforcement and security. Among other programs that would get more money are several intended to create jobs. Iraq's official unemployment rate is 28 percent.

The administration is also requesting that Congress allocate $360 million to wipe from the books Iraq's debts to the United States, which total $4.4 billion but have been largely written off. It also asked for $450 million to invest in Iraq's oil production capacity, with a target of increasing production by 650,000 barrels per day within 10 months.

Mr. Grossman said the money would ultimately help train 45,000 new Iraqi police officers and 16,000 new border control officers, plus a substantial number of additional Iraqi national guardsmen. Robin Raphel, the department's coordinator for Iraq assistance, said that in the short run the money would help increase capacity at police training academies to 5,300 per month from 2,300. She said the Iraqi police force now numbers 82,000.

The officials said that there was still plenty of money available for rebuilding projects in the long run, but that the immediate focus had to be on creating conditions that would allow elections to proceed as planned.


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