Lawmakers want Iraq to start paying the bills
By Richard Cowan Thu Apr 17, 4:23 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq should start paying the costs of its own rebuilding, fuel costs for U.S. military vehicles conducting security operations there and other expenses now being borne by American taxpayers, a group of Democratic and Republican senators said on Thursday.
Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska, said he and other lawmakers will try to attach legislation requiring Baghdad to begin shouldering these costs to a war-funding bill that will move through Congress in coming weeks.
Noting that Iraq is running a higher-than-expected budget surplus because of the rising price of its oil exports, Nelson said, "It's time now for Iraq to assume responsibility for its future with its own investment."
Nelson, who serves on a committee that oversees the U.S. military and another that dispenses money for the Iraq war, added, "The American public is growing weary of financing every aspect of Iraq's future."
At the outset of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, some Bush administration officials said Iraq might be able to finance its own reconstruction using oil revenues. But the administration it later opposed legislation requiring that.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine complained that the Pentagon is paying about $153 million a month to fuel its vehicles Iraq, while Iraqis "heavily subsidize oil for their own citizens but do not so for our troops in defending Iraq."
As a result, said Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, the U.S. military is paying about $3.23 per gallon for gasoline, while Iraqis pay about $1.30.
The senators said they might include other costs, which Iraq would pay directly or through loans. These might include the cost of some weapons as well as the cost of training Iraqi forces and salaries of security forces known as Sons of Iraq.
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, already is looking at Iraqi oil revenues to determine how much money Baghdad is contributing to its own security and reconstruction efforts. The probe was requested by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan and Sen. John Warner of Virginia.
Levin has complained that Iraq is earning interest on funds from its budget surplus that are deposited in foreign banks while U.S. spending in Iraq contributes to mounting budget deficits and debt at home.
Nelson said the United States has spent about $45 billion on Iraqi reconstruction projects and Collins noted that Iraq might enjoy a $60 billion budget surplus this year.
The Bush administration's budget director, Jim Nussle, said the White House might be open to considering ways for Iraq to take more responsibility for its own expenses.
But the senators told reporters the administration would probably embrace fewer shifts in costs than they wanted.
Legislation providing more than $100 billion in new war funds for Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to be debated in Congress later this month and in May.
It's ironic because I can't seem to wrap my head around the idea that because Iraq was fine before the US invasion (with accompanying other countries, I might add), how is it that these senators can't seem to fathom that it should be their responsibility to clean up their own mess, not Iraq. It's ironic because normally I would say that a country is responsible for themselves, but in this case, it doesn't compute for me. Let's see, we're going to invade your country, take all of your oil, ruin your infrastructure, but then you have to be responsible for the cleanup and restoration yourselves. Wow! Assinine.