The White House has informed congressional leaders that it is preparing a new budget request for between $60-billion and $70-billion to help cover the mounting costs of the reconstruction and military occupation of Iraq, the Washington Post reported, quoting unnamed sources on Capitol Hill as saying Wednesday night.
The request - which congressional budget analysts said would be nearly double what Congress expected - reflects the deepening cost of the 5-month-old U.S. occupation and serves as an acknowledgement by the administration that it vastly underestimated the price for restoring order to Iraq and rebuilding the country's battered infrastructure.
The request for new money, which has yet to be sent formally to Congress, follows a $79-billion wartime budget supplement for Iraq and Afghanistan that Bush signed in April.
Also Wednesday, the United States, eager to share security duties in Iraq, handed military control over a large swath of the country to a Polish commander during a ceremony in the ruins of an amphitheater built by Alexander the Great.
In Najaf, the brother of slain Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim said Shiite Muslims would not take up arms against the U.S.-led occupation force, but suggested his Badr Brigade had been rearmed in defiance of American orders to "defend ourselves."
Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a member of the U.S.-picked Governing Council, also said it still was not known who was behind the car bombing that killed the ayatollah and 85 to 125 others at Friday prayers in Najaf.
Al-Hakim, who succeeded his brother as chief of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, blamed the attack "on enemies of Iraq," saying they were followers of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. Police have said some Iraqis and foreigners with admitted ties to the al-Qaida terror network have been arrested in connection with the blast.
Asked if the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of the Supreme Council, was back in operation, al-Hakim said: "The Badr Brigade is more and more organized and will defend Iraqi interests and will share in the rebuilding of Iraq."
"If the allied forces are unable to take actions against such crimes, we will defend ourselves," al-Hakim said. U.S. troops ordered the brigade disarmed and disbanded early in the occupation.
Military control was passed to the Poles in a 31,000-square mile belt of Iraq south of Baghdad.
However, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the area in and around Najaf, the holiest Shiite city in Iraq, will be turned over "once things settle down a little bit."
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said Marines would be needed in Najaf for at least two more weeks.
"It's absolutely clear to a military commander that the most vulnerable period is when he is in a period of transition," Sanchez told reporters. "We will reassess the situation in about two weeks."
The Polish military is leading the 9,500-strong international force that includes troops from 21 countries. In addition to U.S. and British forces, there already were small forces from seven other nations.
- Information from the Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.