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US Lawmakers Seek Cost Estimates For Post-War Iraq Reconstruction

U.S. lawmakers are criticizing the Bush administration for failing to inform Congress about plans for reconstructing Iraq after possible U.S.-led military action to disarm that country.

Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have been pressing the administration to provide them with cost estimates for rebuilding civil and political institutions in Iraq.

They were especially disappointed when two administration officials failed to show up at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing to discuss the issue Tuesday.

The administrator for the Agency for International Development Andrew Natsios and the head of the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, General Jay Garner, were said to have had scheduling conflicts that prevented their appearance at the hearing.

"This in my judgment is a missed opportunity for the administration to communicate its views on Iraq's reconstruction," said Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Chris Dodd, a senior Democrat on the committee, said he is 'uneasy with the manner in which the administration has approached the issue'.

"The time has come for the administration to be fully candid with all of us," he said.

The witnesses who did appear offered their own assessments of the cost of Iraq reconstruction.

"If you estimate a requirement of about 75,000 peace stabilization troops at a cost judged by CBO [the Congressional Budget Office] of about $1.4 billion per month, and you add a first year U.S. contribution to humanitarian and economic assistance of about $3 billion, which is I would argue, is a very modest amount, then you are at about $20 billion a year, or more," said Eric Schwartz, director of the Independent Task Force on Post-Conflict Iraq at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Another analyst, Gordon Adams of George Washington University, says the cost estimates could vary widely.

"The costs of reconstruction are very, very wide-ranging with respect to estimates, from as small as $25-$30 billion on one end to a Marshall Plan-type exercise of $100 billion, all of that between five and 10 years in duration," he said.

The Bush administration has refrained from proposing cost estimates for rebuilding a post-war Iraq, saying a number of variables will affect such costs, including the extent of damage resulting from combat and whether Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sabotages oil fields.

The U.S. government announced Monday it had invited several companies, including the energy services company, Halliburton, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, to submit bids for a contract to do reconstruction work in Iraq.