WASHINGTON, July 10 — The Pentagon's new estimate that military costs for Iraq would average $3.9 billion monthly for the first nine months of this year produced surprise and anger today among Congressional Democrats, who said the amount was not only more than they had been told, but far too large given the budget deficit.
"It is a lot more than I expected," said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. "Obviously the Iraqi occupation is bogging down, and the cost is substantially higher than we were earlier advised. So the problems are mounting, and I got a real earful from parents of soldiers when I got home about the lack of a plan for the postwar."
The Pentagon comptroller today stood by the concepts that produced the initial estimate in April that military costs would average just over $2 billion monthly, and said he had kept Congress informed of increases, testifying in early June that estimates of war costs had exceeded $3 billion monthly.
"Numbers change over time because they reflect the reality," Dov S. Zakheim, the comptroller, said in an interview today.
"We didn't draw down troops nearly as quickly as we thought we were going to do," Mr. Zakheim added. But he said that the overall budget estimates for war costs were sufficiently accurate that the Pentagon does not anticipate requesting any additional funds for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, as some members of Congress have predicted.
Administration officials disclosed, meanwhile, that the cost of running the civilian parts of the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq also are increasing, and that the roughly $7 billion available to pay for much of these costs is expected to run out near the end of the year.
When Baghdad fell in April, the United States tapped billions of dollars in Iraqi bank deposits as well as stolen public funds found in hiding places in Iraq and accumulated revenue from prewar oil sales to pay for the civilian reconstruction effort.
Some of that money has been flown from the United States to Iraq by Air Force transports in pallets containing bales of $20 bills, which were then used to pay for such items as salaries and pensions of Iraqi police and soldiers.
Officials involved in financing the nonmilitary part of the stabilization effort say that once Iraq's oil industry is restored sometime next year, it may produce two million to three million barrels of oil a day, yielding $15 billion to $20 billion in annual revenue.
But sabotage and troubles repairing the oil fields make that goal uncertain.
Across Capitol Hill today, debate focused on the price of the Iraq mission, and even some Republicans expressed dismay at the estimate for military costs announced Wednesday by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said the American people would support continued troop assignments in Iraq if they were given all the facts. But he expressed annoyance that it had taken so long to learn the true costs of the postwar period.
"I think the American people need to be told, `Look, we're going to be there for quite a while, and it's going to cost us quite a bit of money,' " said Mr. McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "People should be given some estimate of what we can expect. Americans will support the president, in my view, if he just talks straight to them and tells them what the challenges are we face. We got some of that, albeit reluctantly, yesterday from Rumsfeld."
There was a burst of Democratic criticism of the postwar effort in Washington, led by some of the presidential contenders. "It's time for the president to tell the truth that we lack sufficient forces to do the job in Iraq and withdraw in a reasonable period, to tell the truth that America should not go it alone," said Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, said: "What is now clear is that there are those in this administration that misled the president, misled the nation, and misled the world in making the case for the war in Iraq. They know who they are. And they should resign today."
The most pointed critique came from Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, who pressed Mr. Rumsfeld during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday to produce the best estimate of military costs for Iraq. Mr. Byrd said his warnings about the failure to assemble an international coalition before the war had proved true, as American lives are lost in the postwar period and as allies continue to be reluctant to volunteer large numbers of troops to replace battle-weary Americans.
"This administration should think hard about whether we have the money to single-handedly pay for the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq," he said. "At a time when the United States is running record-breaking deficits of $400 billion each year, the administration has not even included these $58 billion in occupation costs in its budget. In sharp contrast to the 1991 Persian Gulf war, where our allies contributed $54 billion of the $61 billion cost of that war, the American taxpayer is virtually alone in bearing the burden for the staggering cost of this most recent war with Iraq."
One conservative Republican, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he thought the expenditure was justified to make certain the nation wins the peace in addition to the war. But he said there was a limit to his patience.
"There's no doubt in my mind it will be money out the door at least for months," he said. "I'm not willing to say years at this point."
Mr. Zakheim, the Pentagon comptroller, said the Defense Department's prewar budget planning was based on the assumption that the conflict might last three to six weeks, followed by six months of stabilization and transition. Approximately $13 billion was set aside for that, he said, which produced his rough estimate in April of $2.1 billion to $2.2 billion in monthly war expenses.
By the time he went to Capitol Hill in June to testify on war costs, Mr. Zakheim said: "I already knew the numbers were rising. Sure enough, when you looked at the actual costs from January to the end of April, that number was about $4.1 billion per month."
Mr. Zakheim said the unknown course of postwar stabilization in Iraq, and the uncertainties of allied troop contributions, made it impossible to predict exact military costs for Iraq into the next fiscal year.
The estimates of military costs for Iraq do not include such items as salaries for active-duty military personnel, which would have to be paid regardless. The projections do include costs for special wartime salary bonuses, as well as fuel, food, ordnance and transportation costs related to the war effort, and the costs of mobilizing reservists.
One Republican with close ties to the White House, Representative Rob Portman of Ohio, defended the expenditures.
"Clearly there will be lots of pressure to get out," said Mr. Portman, who is chairman of the House Republican leadership group. "But we started something we have a commitment to finish. It would be a mistake for us to get into this kind of engagement without being willing to stay there for a while and see it through."
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company