WASHINGTON – A decision to shift money from Iraqi electricity and water projects to boost security spending has many in Congress and the Bush administration worried that the move could make a growing insurgency worse.
"It grieves us deeply," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (search) said, even as he argued for the trade-off at a recent Capitol Hill hearing.
"I admit I am concerned," agreed Rep. Jim Kolbe (search), R-Ariz. "But I see no alternative."
Lawmakers this week approved the administration plan to spend more money on security in Iraq, even as many cited grave fears about cutting back on improvements in average Iraqis' lives.
With Iraq's planned election only months away, Thursday's slaughter of three dozen children in Baghdad bombings was just the latest in a series of kidnappings, beheadings and other attacks. The U.S. commander in the region, Gen. John Abizaid (search), says more troops are needed to secure Iraq's scheduled January elections and he hopes he'll get them from other countries or by hastening the training of Iraqi security forces.
He has not ruled out sending more Americans, if those efforts fail.
But hastening reconstruction, slowed by the insurgency, is also important to Iraqis and to U.S. stabilization efforts.
A key reason Iraqis haven't helped the coalition more against insurgents has been the resentment over slow progress on solving soaring unemployment and improving living conditions, U.S. officials say.
Grass-roots support is needed even more now that Saddam Hussein's loyalists have become more dispersed and embedded and international fighters have infiltrated the country, David Gompert, senior security to former occupation head J. Paul Bremer (search), told a Senate committee hearing.
Pentagon generals also warn that the guerrilla war in Iraq cannot be won with military might alone. U.S. forces have been using the promise of improved services as a bargaining chip with militants - as they did when launching a new campaign in September to wrest control of the Sadr City slum from the forces of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search).
The Baghdad slum is one of the centers of rebellion that the military says may have to be subdued before the election. In the end, only better living conditions will wean the populace from al-Sadr - and hamper his efforts to recruit angry, impoverished men, officers in the mission told an Associated Press reporter there.
"We say, `If you lay down your arms you will be able to flush your toilet,' literally," said Lt. Dan Lucitt, a military engineer working on the slum's trash, sewage, water and electric power.
Although there was little debate when the Senate and House approved the spending shift late Wednesday, the proposal drew heated comment as it passed through congressional committees in recent weeks.
It shifts $3.46 billion out of the $18.4 billion budgeted a year ago for Iraq reconstruction. Small portions of the shifted money will go for debt forgiveness, creation of private sector jobs and improvements to oil industry infrastructure.
But more than half of the shift - $1.8 billion - is for security costs, including expanding programs and facilities needed to train Iraqi forces.
It raises security spending to roughly $5.1 billion from the $3.2 approved last year. It cuts to $7 billion from $10 billion the amount budgeted for improving electricity, water and sewage treatment over the next two years.
Armitage said he'll try to get money for those services at an upcoming international donors' conference, where he hopes even countries that opposed the U.S.-led war will help on humanitarian grounds.
The State Department devised the proposal after taking the lead in Iraq from the Defense Department at the formal end of the military occupation in June.
Lawmakers have long criticized what Kolbe called the "lamentably slow" pace of reconstruction spending. Only about $1 billion of the $18 billion had been spent in a year, said New York Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking Democrat on Kolbe's foreign operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., called it exasperating that the administration was still trying to figure out its spending priorities.
"If the shift of these funds slows down reconstruction, security may suffer in the long run," Lugar said.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., described the request as "an acknowledgment that we are in deep trouble" in Iraq.
And both Democrats and Republicans said the request demonstrates the administration's poor prewar planning and its unrealistic optimism that U.S. forces would be greeted as liberators and that Iraqis could pay for their own rebuilding.
"Blindly optimistic people" inside and outside the administration are to blame, Lugar said. The "lack of planning is apparent."