A U.S. Senator says the Bush administration should seriously consider calling up members of the former Iraqi army to help keep order in Iraq. The statement comes as the Senate delayed final approval of about $87 billion in spending for troops and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, after the House acted earlier on the measure.
Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat and key critic of Bush administration planning for Iraq, says the suggestion by a member of the governing council about using members of the Iraqi army warrants serious examination.
Mr. Levin says former members of the Iraqi military, particularly those in the upper officer corps, that were hard-core supporters of Saddam Hussein could not be reconstituted. Nor could members of the Special Republican Guard and the Fedayeen Saddam.
However, Senator Levin said bringing back Iraqi soldiers who were not part of Saddam's repressive apparatus could do much to relieve the burden now shouldered by U.S. troops. "That regular army, below the mid-officer level, after vetting, could serve a useful role by putting trained Iraqi forces into the field to more quickly enhance overall security," he noted.
Senator Levin said he hopes the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, will ascertain how much support the proposal, by Governing Council member Ayad Alawi, would have among all members of the council.
The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq disbanded Iraq's military after Saddam Hussein's ouster, and has paid tens of millions of dollars, using Iraqi funds, to former government troops.
Mr. Levin argues that bringing back trustworthy members of Iraq's military to shoulder a major part of the burden of maintaining security might be more cost-effective and a better way to maintain order:
"Would it not be possible that recently-disbanded Iraqi army units would be able to more quickly assume duties for which the border patrol, the facilities protection service and the civil defense corps are intended, including patrolling Iraqi streets with our own soldiers?" he asked.
Meanwhile, the Senate has put off until Monday a final vote on the $87 billion spending bill to pay for troops and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Earlier, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the bill, about $18 billion of which goes for Iraq's reconstruction, with another $65 billion or so to pay for U.S. military operations.
After House-Senate negotiations, and against objections of Democrats and some Republicans, the bill designates all funds as a grant rather than a loan.
Republican Congressman Bill Young, who heads the House Appropriations Committee, rejected Democratic suggestions that the bill was a "blank check". "The pages are full of detail in this bill," he asserted, "and for someone to stand here and say no one knows where the money is going, it is just not accurate! And I really don't mind the political comments that are made here, but don't distort the facts!"
The Senate is expected to vote late Monday to approve the Iraq-Afghanistan funding bill, setting the stage for President Bush to sign it.