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US Officials Defend Reconstruction Efforts in Iraq - 2003-05-15

U.S. officials, in testimony before the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, have defended coalition reconstruction efforts in Iraq against allegations of poor planning for post-war security and humanitarian challenges. Some lawmakers are demanding intense monitoring of U.S. and coalition efforts in Iraq.

State and Defense department officials say news reports about continuing security, health and other problems in Iraq do not give an accurate picture of the situation on the ground.

Undersecretary of State Alan Larson says there is a great deal of good news to report only eight weeks after coalition military operations in Iraq began. Iraqi civil servants and oil workers, he said, have returned to work. As for humanitarian concerns, he said, news reports have exaggerated difficulties.

"There is no famine, no shortage of food, no refugee crisis," he said. "Working closely with the World Food Program, the coalition is reestablishing food distribution throughout Iraq."

Mr. Larson, and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, said the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by General Tommy Franks, has succeeded in restoring some services to greater reliability in some areas than before the war.

However, referring repeatedly to recent media reports about humanitarian problems in Iraq, committee chairman Henry Hyde, listed some of his concerns.

"How long will it take for the lights to go back on and for the water to flow freely again, and what are you plans to accomplish that? Can we demonstrate to Iraqis that we will not be helping the well-off first? What will happen when people's hoarded food, from their saved oil-for-food rations begins to run out? What will be the basis of Iraq's economy for the next several years?," he said.

Lawmakers' calls for more information and transparency from the Bush administration about coalition efforts have led Mr. Hyde to ask Congress' investigative arm, the General Accounting Office, to begin broad monitoring of reconstruction, focusing on security, food, peacekeeping, and democracy building.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Congressman Tom Lantos, is most concerned about security. He reiterated a call for a NATO peacekeeping force.

"Deploying NATO would increase the number of countries with a direct stake in the success of nation-building in Iraq. It would ease the burden on the current coalition. And most important, it would provide more security for the Iraqi people."

Lawmakers' concerns about long-term planning for eventual elections in Iraq, as well as costs to American taxpayers, led to one especially testy exchange between Undersecretary Feith and Massachusetts Congressman William Delahunt.

Delahunt: Do you have an estimate of when an election in Iraq may occur?

Feith: We are very early in the process of ...

Delahunt: Do you have an estimate, Mr. Secretary? Time is limited!

Feith: No, we don't, we ...

Delahunt: Then, thank you I appreciate your answers.

Undersecretaries Feith and Larson took pains to reassure lawmakers on one major question, how Iraq's oil revenues will be used.

Mr. Larson says all decisions on future development of Iraq's oil sector will be left for a new Iraqi government. He says money flowing to a new fund in Iraq's central bank will be fully monitored and audited.