Facing rising criticism in Congress, the Bush administration sought to put a patriotic face on its $87 billion request for Iraq and Afghanistan Friday by calling it a wartime measure essential for the battle against terrorism.

The rhetoric appeared intended to counter congressional skepticism about $20 billion for rebuilding Iraq, including $100 million for an Iraqi witness protection program, $290 million to hire, train and house thousands of firefighters and $9 million to modernize the postal service, including establishment of ZIP codes.

"This is a wartime supplemental. Make no mistake about it," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

L. Paul Bremer (search), the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, was sharply questioned about the money when he appeared before Congress this week. Lawmakers questioned about giving billions to Iraq when spending is being restrained for programs for Americans.

Bremer met with President Bush (search) at the White House on Friday.

With soaring budget deficits, the administration is under pressure to find savings. The White House said it did not want to split up the Iraq spending into separate pieces, which would make it easier for Congress to kill programs that lawmakers deemed unnecessary.

"This whole package is part of a wartime supplemental to make sure our troops have the resources they need to do their job and make sure we create a secure environment for our troops to succeed," McClellan said. "This is about prevailing in the central front in the war on terrorism."

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) said Thursday that "significant forces" from the United States probably will remain in Iraq through the end of next year.

Pressed by House Democrats about whether the administration planned to withdraw U.S. troops right before the 2004 presidential election, Wolfowitz assured them that no decisions were being made on political grounds.

"These are national security decisions, they have to be made on that basis," he said.

Wolfowitz said that doesn't mean that "we're not trying to, in fact, get more Iraqis on the front lines, get them dying for their country so fewer Americans have to."

While he declined to estimate how long troops would have to remain, Wolfowitz said "certainly no one I know believes that we are not going to be in Iraq with significant forces right through the end of next year."