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US Lawmakers Criticize Iraqi Reconstruction Efforts - 2003-05-23

U.S. lawmakers criticized the Bush administration's handling of the reconstruction effort in Iraq during testimony by a senior U.S. official before a Senate panel Thursday.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed concern to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz about the precarious security situation in Iraq, saying it is hindering humanitarian aid and threatening the country's future.

Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican who is chairman of the panel, said "I am concerned that the administration's initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate. The planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war."

The comments by the top Democrat on the committee, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, were even more pointed. "I have to say Mr. Secretary, in my view, there is a real danger in that if we do not recover quickly, the damage may be irreparable," he said.

The Deputy Secretary defended the administration's role, saying the situation is not as dire as depicted in news reports. He said problems that do exist stem from the regime of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "A regime that had tens of thousands of thugs and war criminals on its payroll does not vanish overnight," he said. "The people who created the mass graves that are now being uncovered in Iraq still represent a threat to stability that was not eliminated automatically when the statues came tumbling down in Baghdad."

Mr. Wolfowitz said electric service is gradually being restored, the water system is at 60 percent of prewar levels, and primary schools have reopened. He said there is no humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

Lawmakers also expressed concern that the administration is not being forthcoming with Congress about the costs, methods and goals of rebuilding Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz agreed to a request by Senator Biden to submit to the committee a timetable of what the administration plans to do in Iraq over the next three months. In addition, he offered to have administration officials brief lawmakers about the reconstruction efforts on a more frequent basis.

Congress has allocated $2.5 billion toward rebuilding Iraq, and some estimates put the total cost at more than $100 billion over five years or more.