Senate Panel Blocks Money for Iraqi Reconstruction

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Senate panel has agreed to block U.S. funding for Iraq reconstruction projects worth more than $2 million and to try to force Baghdad to cover the costs of training and equipping the country's security forces.

The provision, included in a 2009 defense policy bill approved this week by the Senate Armed Services Committee, comes as Democrats draft a similar provision within separate legislation that would cover this year's war spending.

The efforts are part of the latest push on Capitol Hill to get Iraq to spend more of its own money and spare U.S. taxpayers. Democrats and many Republicans say it is unfair that Iraq is looking at pulling in as much as $70 billion in oil revenues this year while Americans grapple with soaring fuel prices at the pump.

The defense policy bill, which has not been approved by the full Senate, would not cut off smaller rebuilding projects. It specifically supports a program that allows military commanders to spend money on emergency relief projects, as well as an effort that dispatches civilian reconstruction teams to work with local provincial officials.

The bill would require the administration to work with Baghdad to obligate its own money for smaller reconstruction projects before U.S. money is used.

It also says the U.S. must initiate negotiations with Iraq on a broader agreement to share the costs of combat operations in Iraq.

The provision was proposed by Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana and Republican Susan Collins of Maine. The three met with Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the president's chief war adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan at the National Security Council, on Monday to discuss the provision.

At the time, the White House was open to the legislative proposal so long as it didn't go too far by severely restricting U.S. aid. Administration officials are concerned that refusing to pay for certain programs, such as training and equipping Iraqi security forces, could slow down the war effort and delay the transfer of the combat mission to the Iraqis.

Still, the administration has declared an end to the era of major reconstruction projects in Iraq and says Baghdad is already taking over those costs.

Collins said much of the discussion on Monday centered on what would qualify as a "major" reconstruction project.

The legislation proposed by the Armed Services Committee would not flatly prohibit aid to the Iraqi security forces. Instead, the bill says the U.S. "shall take actions to ensure that Iraqi funds are used" to cover the costs, including the salaries of the forces and any payments to Sunnis who are part of the Awakening Movement.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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