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US House of Representatives to Debate Iraq, Afghanistan Funding Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday begins debating President Bush's request for nearly $82 billion to support U.S. troops and pay for other needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. House action comes as lawmakers ask more questions about the success the United States and its coalition partners have had to date in training Iraqi military and police forces.

After making its way through various levels of scrutiny by congressional committees, the legislation as it will be debated beginning Tuesday contains $81.3 billion in spending.

Most of this will go for defense and troop-related requirements, including military equipment and the upgrading of armor for soldiers and vehicles.

This includes more money for body armor, and modifications to and replacement of Humvees and other vehicles, as well as radios, night-vision goggles, and equipment needed to jam radio-controlled roadside bombs.

Just over $5.5 billion is devoted to training Iraqi military forces and the goal of turning over more of the security burden to Iraq's developing democratic government.

The State Department says that, as of February, about 82,000 Iraqi police, and 60,000 military forces have been trained and equipped.

However, politics swirl around this latest of several Iraq spending bills since 2003, all of which the Bush administration has held outside of the regular fiscal year budget process for the U.S. government.

The strongest complaints come from Democratic lawmakers who say the Bush administration has not been honest about the pace of training Iraqi security forces.

The intensity of feelings was clear during a congressional hearing Monday.

Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich questioned U.S. defense and military officials about a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office regarding Iraqi military training.

"GAO has pointed out that there is no means in place to even measure the success of the Iraqi security forces. You should be embarrassed to be here. This is like fantasyland," he said. "This is as fictive as the weapons of mass destruction are."

Joseph Christoff is Director of International Affairs and Trade at the U.S. Government Accounting Office. "Data on the status of Iraqi security forces is unreliable, and provides limited information on their capabilities. And the coalition must fight a growing insurgency while overcoming problems in the force structure, readiness and leadership of Iraqi troops," he said.

Left-of-center Democrats are not the only ones asking tough questions. "(We are) trying to make sure finally that we have transparency in these large amounts of money that Congress is sending the Defense Department outside the budgeting process to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan," said moderate Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman at a news conference in early March urging more accountability for spending.

Republicans too are concerned about how money is being spent, especially against the background of various investigations alleging waste of funds in Iraq.

Congressman Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican, says there is no question the Pentagon must be given what it needs to take on the security burden, but Congress needs to have more and clearer information. "Numbers do matter. We need to know how many have been trained, how many will be trained, and how they will be deployed by the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior to secure their nation," he said.

Since 2001, Congress has approved $231 billion for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iraq-Afghanistan war spending bill also contains one-point-seven billion dollars in foreign aid, most of this to support counter-narcotics, reconstruction, and training in Afghanistan.

Also in the bill, Jordan would receive $100 million and Pakistan $150 million. The Palestinian Authority would get $200 million funneled through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

There is $150 million proposed for food assistance for Sudan's western Darfur region, and $656 million for disaster relief in countries devastated by last December's tsunami in the Indian Ocean.