WASHINGTON — White House officials this week privately cautioned lawmakers not to go too far in restricting U.S. aid to Iraq, warning that doing so might only prolong the war, now in its sixth year.
The Bush administration didn’t slam the door on proposals in Congress that would insist Iraq do more to pay for its rebuilding efforts. In the meantime, independent investigators conclude in a report that substantial U.S. support continues despite Baghdad’s anticipated $70 billion windfall in oil revenues.
The soaring cost of fuel prices and duration of the war have spurred the latest effort in Congress to get the Iraqis to pay more toward rebuilding efforts. Democrats and even some Republicans say American taxpayers are footing too much of the bill, including an expensive and painfully slow operation to train and equip Baghdad’s security forces.
“There’s going to have to be some honest-to-goodness pressure” to get the Iraqis to take charge, said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Administration officials are concerned that cutting U.S. aid, particularly for rebuilding Iraq’s security forces, would only slow the war effort and delay the homecoming of troops.
“We’re funding things that are in our interest to fund, that help us meet our goals and that we can do in the most efficient way,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
There are certain projects, to ensure speed and efficiency, “it’s better for us to spend the money,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the president’s war adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, met on Capitol Hill behind closed doors Monday with three senators — Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrats Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana — who have proposed a prohibition on spending for major reconstruction projects.
Their proposal also would require the Iraqis to pay for the training and equipping of its security forces and to reimburse the U.S. military for the estimated $153 million a month it spends on fuel in combat operations in Iraq.
“We obviously didn’t see eye to eye on everything,” Collins said after the meeting. But the administration seemed “open to some of it,” she said.
Federal investigators estimate that Iraq’s oil revenues will top $70 billion this year — twice what was initially expected. If oil prices stay high and the revenues produce a surplus, Iraq has promised to revise its annual budget and spend more.