WASHINGTON – The Bush administration wants Congress' permission to shift nearly $3.5 billion of the $18.4 billion in Iraqi reconstruction aid to security and faster economic growth, documents submitted to lawmakers show.
The request, which the administration was expected to formally announce Tuesday, underlines how initial plans for rebuilding the country have had to be reshaped to cope with a violent insurrection that has show little sign of abating.
The U.S. role in reshaping Iraq (search) is an issue in the presidential campaign, with Democratic candidate John Kerry criticizing President Bush for having inadequate postwar plans for the country. Bush has defended the invasion but has acknowledged that the administration miscalculated how difficult the aftermath might be.
Last April, American officials said the violence was forcing private contractors to spend up to one-quarter of their funds to provide security for their projects and workers. That was far above initial estimates that such spending would consume 10 percent of the money.
Overall, the administration wants permission to shift $3.46 billion of the $18.4 billion that Congress provided last fall for Iraqi reconstruction. Because of constraints lawmakers imposed when they originally approved the funds, the White House could shift only $800 million of the funds without Congress' approval, the documents said.
The rebuilding money was part of an $87 billion package for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (search) that Congress approved and Bush signed last Nov. 6.
In further evidence of how slow progress has been, the administration's latest report to Congress said only $930 million of the $18.4 billion for Iraqi reconstruction had been spent as of Aug. 28.
The biggest shifts the administration is proposing would take nearly $2 billion from the $4.2 billion originally provided for water projects, and $1.1 billion from the $5.5 billion approved for the country's electric system. Progress in both areas has been slow.
Instead, security and law enforcement spending would grow by $1.8 billion, to $5 billion. Included in the extra funds is money to hire, train and equip 45,000 new police officers; add 20 battalions to the Iraqi National Guard (search); and improve Iraqi border protection, Iraqi Army special operations and protection of dignitaries.
Of the $1.7 billion for restoring Iraq's oil industry, $450 million would be shifted to projects for spurring increased petroleum output next year, including expanded production at Kirkuk (search).
About $4 billion in debt Iraq owes the United States would be forgiven, at a budget cost to the United States of $360 million.
Other proposed expenditures include $286 million to quickly provide jobs for Iraqis; an extra $100 million to develop Iraq's agriculture; another $100 million to help train local government officials; and $60 million for administering and monitoring national elections scheduled for January.