WASHINGTON – President Bush plans to sign this week the $87.5 billion supplemental aid package he requested for Iraq and Afghanistan, but he warned Tuesday that just because the money is in hand, doesn't mean loyalists to the old regime have given up yet.
"Saddam loyalists ... are the ones — some of the ones — creating the havoc, trying to create the conditions so that we leave," Bush told reporters after touring fire-ravaged portions of California.
Bush said the United States would continue to fight those groups as the Coalition Provisional Authority (search) and its forces prepare Iraqis for self-rule, but he has no concerns that Saddam Hussein will ever return.
"Oh, I'm sure he's trying to stir up trouble," Bush said, adding that Saddam no longer rapes girls, tortures citizens or dumps bodies into mass graves. "He is no longer in power, and we'll get him, we'll find him."
Congress forwarded the bill on Tuesday after the Senate approved the $87 billion by voice vote on Monday, which was three days after the House voted 298-121 to a compromise bill that gives the president much of the conditions he sought in September when he first made the request.
The bill provides $51 billion for U.S. military operations in Iraq and $18.6 billion for reconstruction projects there, including rebuilding the oil industry, training police officers and re-establishing an infrastructure, banking system and government among other things.
"Security brings stability, and stability fosters democracy," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (search), R-Alaska, who helped write the bill. That, he said, "offers the fastest way to get our military men and women home."
But Democrats, who for the most part conceded to much of the president's request, still pointed out what they say are the president's failures in Iraq, in particular his inability to foresee the resistance that still plagues U.S.-led troops there, and lack of planning for a post-Saddam Iraq.
"The administration's lack of postwar planning for Iraq is producing an erratic, chaotic situation on the ground with little hope for a quick turnaround," said Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va., the only senator to vote "Nay" in Monday's floor proceedings.
"We appear to be lurching from one assault on our troops to the next while making little if any headway in stabilizing or improving security in the country," Byrd said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), D-S.D., and four other top Democrats also wrote Bush urging him to work harder to get multinational help and mobilize former Iraqi Army units. They said those and other steps would help in "securing and sustaining the support of the American people," as would "leveling with them about the stakes and costs of this effort."
The letter was delivered as news broke of the worst casualties to American forces since the war started. Nineteen Americans died Monday, including 16 soldiers killed when an Army transport helicopter was shot down. On Tuesday, explosions again rocked the capital of Baghdad nearby U.S. headquarters there.
On Tuesday, Bush said he mourned the death of the soldiers, but they had not died in vain.
The soldiers "died for a cause greater than themselves," Bush said, referring to the Chinook crash. "We are at war. There are people that hate us. ... The fallen soldiers were making America more secure."
Among the money pledged by Congress Monday, about $13 billion will go to military operations in Afghanistan and other places and will pay the salaries owed to reservists on active duty, the cost of aircraft parts, missiles and extra body armor.
In April, Congress approved a $79 billion bill that included $62.4 billion for the war in Iraq, which had just begun, plus other money for Afghanistan, tightened security at home and help for financially ailing U.S. airlines. That money was applied to the 2003 fiscal year. The current bill will be added to the 2004 fiscal year with some of it being applied to 2005.
The voice vote enabled lawmakers to sidestep the process that requires they attach their name to support for the bill and underscored the political struggles taking place on Capitol Hill and among lawmakers trying to appease their constituents. The public has strongly supported continued support for U.S. troops, while many have begun to question Bush's policies in Iraq, still stricken by near-daily casualties.
Refusing to suggest that the United States is returning to major combat six months after he declared such operations over, Bush said he is seeking more international financial and military assistance, even as he tries to shift the security burden to Iraqis.
Bush said he expected future generations will "say thank goodness we did that in Iraq."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.