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Plans are sketchy for Iraq after war

Officials in charge of such plans are full of ''uncertainties,'' including how long a U.S. occupation would last and cost.

By SARA FRITZ, Times Washington Bureau Chief
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 12, 2003

WASHINGTON -- How much will it cost the United States to support a postwar Iraq? And how long will U.S. troops be forced to remain in the region?

Those were among the many questions, posed by both Republicans and Democrats, that top Bush administration officials were unable to answer to the satisfaction of the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Under intense questioning, the two officials in charge of postwar planning for the administration replied that most of the answers sought by the committee members were either "unknowable" or could not be disclosed because of government secrecy.

"We live in a world filled with uncertainties," Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith said repeatedly.

"You are not giving us much," declared Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. ". . . You've used the word 'uncertainties' more than any other word."

Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman said he could not confirm estimates that the costs for maintaining order in postwar Iraq could be about $45-billion a year.

"Secretary Powell said he didn't know the answer to that question; if he didn't know it, I don't know it," he said.

Nor could the two men say how long a U.S. occupation of Iraq would last. Grossman described an estimate of two years as a "rosy scenario," and quoted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as saying it could be "four days, four months, four years."

Former Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, later told the committee the occupation could last at least a decade. Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., indicated he agreed.

Frustrated by the lack of information from administration officials, the usually mild-mannered Sen. Lincoln Chaffee, R-R.I., demanded: "Do you have a plan if this (war) turns into a debacle?"

The two administration officials replied that such a plan had been drafted, but they could not tell the committee about it.

When the four-hour hearing ended, Lugar observed that most committee members were disappointed by the administration's lack of progress in preparing for the major role the United States will play after the war.

"What we have heard is not good enough; we are way, way behind," Lugar said.

"Who will rule Iraq and how? Who will provide security? How long might U.S. troops conceivably remain? Will the United Nations have a role? Who will manage Iraq's oil resource?" he added. "Unless the administration can answer these questions in detail, the anxiety of Arab and European governments, as well as that of the American public, over our 'staying power' will only grow."

The hearing represented the latest challenge to President Bush's effort to go to war with Iraq with the support of the United Nations, the allies and the Congress. While members of Congress are beginning to ask tougher questions of the administration, opposition to the war from European leaders also has stiffened.

Feith acknowledged that while the Defense Department has been moving U.S. troops into position to attack Iraq for many months, it opened its office for postwar planning only three weeks ago.

It is called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian, and it will depend heavily on the expertise of nongovernmental aid groups.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., asked about Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would cost as much as $4-billion a month to keep 200,000 Americans stationed in the region.

Grossman, who declined to confirm those numbers, replied that American taxpayers should understand that domestic programs will suffer because of the high price of the war with Iraq.

"There are things in our own country we're not going to be able to do because of our commitment in Iraq," he said.

"Bingo," Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., shouted in agreement.

Zinni noted that 60 percent of all Iraqis depend upon the "oil for food" program administered by the government in Baghdad for their nutrition. He said no one in the U.S. government knows whether this program could continue to feed people after a war.

Anthony Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for International and Strategic studies, said he agrees with Bush that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein poses a danger to the United States, but he doubts that a war will end the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the region.

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