Senators slam administration on Iraq|
By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Senators from both parties accused the Bush administration Wednesday of incompetence in its efforts to rebuild Iraq and said the United States could lose the war unless it improves security and gets more money into the Iraqi economy.
Among those harshly criticizing the White House at a hearing were the two top Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
Of the $18.4 billion Congress approved last year for Iraqi reconstruction, only $1.1 billion has been spent because of violence and other problems. Hagel called that record "beyond pitiful and embarrassing; it is now in the zone of dangerous."
Even Lugar, who is not usually given to strong rhetoric, said the failure to inject funds into the Iraqi economy quickly was "exasperating for anybody looking at this from any vantage point."
The hearing was called to discuss a new administration plan to reallocate $3.5 billion in reconstruction funds, primarily to Iraqi police and military training.
Hagel told two State Department officials they had "inherited a mess" from a year of Pentagon-supervised government in Iraq and expressed doubt that the United States was winning the war. "It's not a pretty picture," he said.
The two witnesses — Ronald Schlicher, deputy assistant secretary of State for the Iraq bureau, and Joseph Bowab, deputy assistant secretary for foreign assistance programs and budget — conceded under questioning that the administration has fallen short of benchmarks touted over the past year:
• None of the 32,000 Iraqi police put on the beat since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has gone through a full training program, Bowab acknowledged.
• Of $13 billion pledged by other countries to aid Iraq's reconstruction, only $1.2 billion has been spent.
• The administration has created only 110,000 jobs for Iraqis, leaving a pool of unemployed young men, many of whom have become willing recruits for insurgents. The new reallocation is intended to provide 800,000 jobs, but many are short term, some for as little as one month.
Schlicher said the amount of money spent since the transition to an interim Iraqi government in June had doubled. But he added, "We have to do much better, and we will."