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US Senate Approves Funding for New Iraq Embassy

The U.S. Senate has approved $592 million for a new embassy in Baghdad as part of an emergency spending package for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the fate of the provision remains uncertain, as the House of Representatives last month voted to remove the funding from its version of the bill.

The money for the Baghdad compound, which is expected to be the largest U.S. embassy in the world, divided Republicans, who control the Senate.

Conservatives, concerned about the growing U.S. deficit, sought to reduce the amount of funding for the embassy.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma unsuccessfully pressed his fellow lawmakers to trim the construction funds to $106 million over two years and decide on the rest of the money later.

“The emergency supplemental should only contain items that we need right now in order to fight the war on terror,” he said.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran of Mississippi said the full $592 million was needed now to provide a safer working environment for American diplomatic personnel in Iraq.

“We have people trying to carry on the work of our United States embassy in a palace that was formerly occupied by Saddam Hussein that is not safe from border attacks or other military action, terrorist activities; there is a perimeter that is very difficult to defend,” he explained.

The Senate passed the measure on a 54 to 45 vote.

But the House of Representatives, when it passed the emergency funding bill last month, removed the money for the embassy.

After the Senate approves the overall legislation, House and Senate negotiators will have to reconcile differences in both versions of the bill before sending it to President Bush for his signature.

Meanwhile, the Senate also approved an amendment to the emergency funding bill that would provide $390 million to boost U.S. border security.

Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, is among the sponsors.

“The amendment begins to address the security gap on our borders by funding the hiring of 650 new border patrol agents,” said Mr. Byrd.

Mr. Byrd criticized the Bush administration for not funding two-thousand border patrol agents in its budget proposal for next year as called for by intelligence reform legislation signed by President Bush last year.

But at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing earlier in the day, the Secretary of the Homeland Security Department Michael Chertoff defended the president's request to fund 200 border patrol agents next year.

“We need to be better about keeping our borders policed, we need to be better about tracking absconders, we need to be better about getting people removed more efficiently,” he said.

The Senate's overall emergency funding bill also includes nearly $1 billion to help victims of last December's Indian Ocean tsunami.