WASHINGTON – Iraq (search) could become a haven for terrorists if the United States fails to provide money needed to help rebuild the country, the U.S. administrator told senators Monday.
"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 said failure in Iraq "would strengthen the terrorists morally and materially. Success tells not just Iraqis but the world that there is hope, that the future is not defined by tyranny on one side and terrorism on the other."
Bremer's appearance before the committee began a weeklong push by the Bush administration for approval of its $87 billion request. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), 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 to reconstruct Iraq after the U.S.-led war that deposed President Saddam Hussein. 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. Faster progress on reconstruction will help change that, he said.
Anticipating lawmakers' criticism about no-bid contracts in Iraq that already have been awarded, Bremer promised "prudent transparency" and said every new construction 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.
Bremer said that by 2005, Iraq should have enough oil revenue to pay operating costs of its government and have additional money left for capital investment, such as school construction.
Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., whether Bush would seek more money next year for Iraq even if its request is approved, Bremer said "we don't anticipate coming back for another supplemental [spending bill] of this magnitude."
Democrats have questioned the investing of billions of dollars more in the Iraq economy while the government lacks the money to pay for schools, roads and other needs in the United States. Although 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.
Still, Democrats are using the debate over spending in Iraq 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 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 casualties "are part of the price we pay for civilization, for a world that refuses to tolerate terrorism and genocide and weapons of mass destruction."
Questioned by Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, about whether the United States had anticipated terror attacks following the fall of Saddam, Bremer said, "I think we anticipated that there would be resistance by remnants of the former regime. The degree to which we are now threatened by terrorists, I think, has been an unwelcome surprise to some of us."
Bremer said the United States has 279 foreign detainees in Iraq, though he stressed not all are considered terrorists. Most are from three nations: 123 from Syria, 62 from Iran and 38 from Jordan.