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US Official Outlines New Iraq Reconstruction Strategy to Congress

Members of Congress are vowing to hold the Bush administration accountable for U.S. funds used in reconstruction projects in Iraq. Lawmakers are concerned about the mismanagement of millions of dollars in reconstruction funding, and some say they may think twice before approving more money for the effort. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

The United States is moving away from large reconstruction projects in Iraq in favor of smaller efforts that would target local needs, after a number of ambitious projects were never completed amid security threats and poor management by U.S. officials.

The U.S. State Department's senior adviser on Iraq, David Satterfield, outlined the Bush administration's new plans at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. He said the number of provincial reconstruction teams, or PRT's, would double from the current 10 to 20.

"The PRT's will have a role beyond simple development assistance," Satterfield said. "They will support local, moderate Iraqi leaders with targeted assistance, such as microloans, grants to foster new businesses, create jobs, and develop provincial capacity to govern in a sustainable manner."

Satterfield said some 300 additional civilian personnel would be sent to Iraq.

"We will augment our existing PRT's in the country with specialized technical personnel, such as irrigation specialists, veterinarians, agricultural experts, based on local needs," Satterfield said.

The reconstruction plan is part of the administration's new strategy toward Iraq, which also calls for sending another 21,500 troops to the country.

Satterfield said the success of the reconstruction effort depends on Iraqis taking the lead. He noted that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is committed to spending $10 billion of Iraqi funds to create jobs and move forward on national reconciliation.

The State Department official said progress on reconstruction would also depend on Congress approving what is expected to be an additional $1.2 billion requested by the administration in the coming weeks.

But a number of lawmakers said they would be reluctant to approve more funding unless they received strong assurances from the administration that the money would not be mismanaged.

Senator James Webb, a Virginia Democrat who delivered a strongly worded statement in opposition to Mr. Bush's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq in his party's response to the president's State of the Union address this week, had an equally tough response to Satterfield.

"This has been the most poorly managed reconstruction program in recent memory," Web said. "The inspector general has dozens of cases pending regarding fraud and abuse, the worst blunders have been made by the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] and the Department of Defense. I want you to know that I am not inclined to support any additional funding in this area without strong assurances that this sort of mismanagement has been alleviated."

The top Republican on the committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, expressed similar concerns about the U.S. track record on Iraq reconstruction.

"We have achieved some successes. Children are being immunized, the deep-water port near Basra has been rebuilt, thousands of schools have been rehabilitated," he said. "But overall the results have been disappointing to the Iraqi people, to Congress and to American taxpayer. Electricity remains in short supply, oil production is far below its potential, scores of health clinics remain unfinished, most roads still need repair. The economy is encumbered by high unemployment, high inflation, widespread poverty, all of which contribute to conditions that intensify the urgency."

Lugar notes that Congress has already approved $35 billion in reconstruction funding.

The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, acknowledged the importance of the reconstruction effort, but said he wants better oversight of how U.S. funds are being spent.

"There is a correlation here between the standard of living for Iraqis increasing, and the likelihood of them wanting to shoot at our men and women in uniform. I do think there is a correlation," he said. "But thus far, I am very skeptical of taking very limited resources and assigning them to a worthy goal without much, much, much harder data, much tighter reasoning, and much closer oversight on a monthly basis about what is going on."

The Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq reconstruction came a day after the panel voted 12-9 to oppose President Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq, saying it is not in the national interest. That resolution is to go to the full Senate for debate as early as next week.