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Bremer Appeals to Senate for Approval of Funds for Iraq - 2003-09-23

The top U.S. official in Iraq has appealed to U.S. lawmakers to approve President Bush's $87 billion request for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ambassador Paul Bremer made his comments before a Senate panel Monday in the first of a series of hearings this week into the package.

The funding request includes $66 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rest of the money, some $20.3 billion to be used for the reconstruction of Iraq, was the focus of Ambassador Bremer's testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said the funding request should be enough to stabilize the country, but warned Iraq could become a haven for terrorists if the reconstruction money is not approved.

"If after coming this far we turn our backs and let Iraq lapse into factional chaos, some new tyranny and terrorism, we will have committed a grave error," he said. "Not only will we have left the long-suffering Iraqi people with a future of danger and deprivation, we will have sown the dragon's teeth, which will sprout more terrorists and eventually cost more American lives."

Lawmakers of both parties generally agree that the United States cannot abandon Iraq now. Republican leaders in the House and Senate predict Mr. Bush's funding request will pass before the next congressional recess begins October 3. But Democrats want to use debate on the package to demand an accounting of how the money will be used.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, used the hearing to criticize the administration's policy in Iraq. "The American people are asking questions about the reconstruction plan," he said. "They are questioning the wisdom of a policy of our soldiers serving as sitting ducks in an Iraqi shooting gallery."

Senator Byrd lashed out at the administration for failing to anticipate the mounting U.S. casualties and the costs of the U.S.-led occupation.

Ambassador Bremer later said the United States did anticipate post-war resistance by loyalists to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime. But he said, in his words, "the degree to which U.S. troops were threatened by terrorists, came as an unwelcome surprise."

Responding to calls from France and Germany for Washington to speed up the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people, Ambassador Bremer said Iraq was not ready to govern itself because he said the regime of Saddam Hussein distorted the political system. "The only path to full Iraqi sovereignty is through a written constitution, ratified, and followed by free democratic elections," he said. "Short-cutting the process, in my view, would be dangerous."

Ambassador Bremer said the United States has 279 foreign detainees in Iraq, although he said not all are considered terrorists. Most are from Syria, while a number of others are from Iran and Jordan.