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US Officials Deny Political Motivation in Iraq Budget Planning - 2004-02-11

The Pentagon's chief financial officer has denied politics is a factor in the Bush administration's decision not to seek additional funds for military operations in Iraq until after this November's presidential election.

When President Bush last month released a $400 billion defense spending proposal for the coming fiscal year, the Pentagon made clear the plan did not contain funds for military operations in Iraq. Officials said the Bush administration would probably ask for an additional appropriation to pay for those activities next year, that is, after the November elections.

But when the chiefs in charge of the country's armed services were questioned on budget issues by Congress this week, most expressed concern about how they would pay for their Iraq operations if supplemental funds are not approved by the end of September.

For example, the chief of staff of the Army, General Peter Schoomaker, said he is wondering how to financially bridge the gap between the end of the fiscal year on September 30 and the time a supplemental appropriation is approved in 2005. "I do not have an answer on how exactly we would do that," he said.

The chiefs' remarks fueled accusations by Democrats that by leaving funding of the Iraq operation out of the formal budget, the administration is trying to hide the financial costs of the missions in an election year.

"It's a deceptive way to finance the operations of the military," said Democratic Senator, Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

But the Pentagon's top financial officer appeared before reporters Wednesday to deny there was anything deceptive or political about what was going on financially.

Dov Zakheim says defense funds are routinely transferred from one account to another to cover shortfalls. He says that is how the Pentagon plans to bridge any funding gaps that might emerge later this year for operations in Iraq.

"I don't see that [politics] as an issue. I mean, having dealt with, I've already dealt with six supplementals, we don't think of it in terms of politics, we think in terms of how do we manage the fund and this is a reasonable way," he said.

Mr. Zakheim also indicates another reason for waiting to seek funding for military operations in Iraq involves uncertainties about predicting the actual costs of the operation.

He says, for example, that more foreign troops could take up duties in Iraq later this year, easing the burden on U.S. forces and reducing overall Pentagon costs.