Published on Tuesday, August, 12, 2003 by the Associated Press
Bush Administration Officials Hedge on Assessing Iraq Costs
by Alan Fram
WASHINGTON -- The US bill for rebuilding Iraq and maintaining security there is widely expected to exceed the war's price tag, but the Bush administration is offering only hazy details about the multibillion-dollar totals.
Private analysts have estimated that the cost of US military and nation-building operations in Iraq could reach $600 billion.
But the closest the administration has come to estimating America's postwar burden was the time L. Paul Bremer, the US administrator of occupied Iraq, said last month that "getting the country up and running again" could cost $100 billion and take three years.
He estimated that repairing Iraq's electrical grid alone will cost $13 billion and getting the water system in shape will require an additional $16 billion.
In a recent interview on CNBC's "Capital Report," Bremer said of rebuilding costs: "It's probably well above $50 billion, $60 billion, maybe $100 billion. It's a lot of money."
President Bush and other administration officials have refused to provide projections, saying too much is unpredictable. That has angered lawmakers of both parties, who are writing the budget for the coming election year even as federal deficits approach $500 billion.
"I think they're fearful of having Congress say, `Oh, my God, this thing is going to be very costly,' " said Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that controls foreign aid.
More than three months after Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, even the cost of the ongoing US military campaign remains clouded in confusing numbers.
Defense Department officials have said US operations are costing about $3.9 billion monthly.
But that figure doesn't include indirect expenses like replacing damaged equipment and munitions expended in combat.
Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's top budget official, has said that when all the costs are combined, he expects US military activities in Iraq to total $58 billion for the nine months from last January through September.
That includes part of the buildup, the six weeks of heaviest combat that began March 20, and the aftermath.
That sum, however, is what Congress provided this year for Defense Department activities not only in Iraq but also against terrorism worldwide -- including Afghanistan, where US military costs are running about $1 billion a month, according to officials.
In a report last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that Pentagon costs in Afghanistan and Iraq plus other US military efforts against terrorism around the globe could reach $59 billion next year.
"What is necessary is to achieve an overall strategy and whatever it takes to achieve the strategy, this administration is committed to," Bush told reporters Friday, adding that accurate cost projections would come "next year at the appropriate time."
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are girding for a White House request for another $40 billion to $50 billion for 2004.
While acknowledging the difficulty of predicting Iraq costs, even White House allies find political factors behind the administration's reluctance to discuss dollars.
"They've got one eye on the deficit and they're trying to make sure the conservatives stay with them," said James Dyer, Republican chief of staff for the House appropriations committee. "Having said that, we have to pay these bills whether there's a deficit or not."
Kolbe, who is traveling with other members of Congress to Iraq and Afghanistan later this month, said the administration's reticence is "undermining the credibility that might exist" for the US reconstruction of Iraq.
"We've got to get on with it here and start acknowledging what some of these costs are going to be," said Kolbe.
© Copyright 2003 The Asscociated Press