WASHINGTON – Iraq (search) could become a haven for terrorists if the United States does not provide money needed to help rebuild the country, the U.S. administrator told senators Monday as he urged them to approve an $87 billion spending request.
"If terrorists cannot find a congenial state sponsor, they thrive in chaotic environments with little or no effective government," L. Paul Bremer (search) told the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Bremer's appearance before the committee began a weeklong push by the Bush administration for approval of its $87 billion request for Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. said he hopes to begin debate on the Senate floor next week.
Bremer was defending the part of the request receiving the most scrutiny from lawmakers: $20.3 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. This includes $5.1 billion for training Iraqi security personnel, $5.7 billion for rebuilding the electricity system, $3.7 billion for water treatment and other public works and $2.1 billion for oil facilities.
He said the request was just as urgent as the $66 billion being sought for military operations.
"Some Iraqis are starting to regard us as occupiers and not liberators," he said, adding that faster progress on reconstruction will help change that.
Anticipating lawmakers' criticism about no-bid contracts that have already been awarded in Iraq, Bremer promised "prudent transparency" and said every contract will be competitively bid.
He also rejected suggestions from lawmakers that some money be provided as loans instead of grants. He said Iraq already has debts totaling almost $200 billion.
"Iraq is in no position to service its existing debt let alone take on more," he said.
On the Senate floor, Frist said the money was to "create a stable environment in which (Iraq's) newfound freedom will be allowed to flourish."
Democrats have questioned investing billions more in the Iraq economy while there is not enough money to pay for schools, roads and other needs in the United States. Though they say they are likely to support the request, they said they will demand a detailed accounting of how the money will be spent.
The $66 billion for military programs has generated less debate than the reconstruction money. Even war opponents say the United States can't simply pull out its troops now.
But Democrats are using the debate over the funding to criticize the Bush administration for failing to anticipate the war's costs and the bloodshed that would continue even after the fall of Saddam.
The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Robert Byrd (search) of West Virginia, called the spending request eye-popping. Americans "are questioning the wisdom of a policy that has our soldiers serving as sitting ducks in an Iraqi shooting gallery," said Byrd, the Senate's most vocal critic of the war.
Bremer said the continued U.S. casualties, "painful as they are, are not senseless."
"They are part of the price we pay for civilization, for a world that refuses to tolerate terrorism and genocide and weapons of mass destruction," he said.