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The Conflict in Iraq

White House to Divert $3.4 Billion to Security

The shift, which was expected, affects about 20% of the funds appropriated last year to rebuild Iraq's shattered economy.

September 15, 2004|Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration Tuesday announced plans to divert $3.4 billion in Iraq reconstruction money to shorter-term programs primarily aimed at improving security.

The expected shift of funds affects just under 20% of the $18.4 billion approved by Congress in November for rebuilding Iraq's shattered economy. The majority of the diverted money -- $1.8 billion -- was originally intended for big-ticket infrastructure projects but now will go toward training and equipping new police, border patrol and Iraqi national guard units.

The switch comes after a review of the reconstruction budget following the handover of sovereignty by U.S. occupation authorities to an interim Iraqi government in June. While significant chunks of the shifted $3.4 billion will go to boost oil production, spur economic development and prepare for January's election, the emphasis was clearly on security.

Congressional approval for the changes is widely expected by the end of this month.

"The [budget review] team decided that without significant reallocation of resources to the security and law enforcement sector, short-term stability would be compromised and long-term prospects for a free and democratic Iraq would be undermined," Marc Grossman, undersecretary of State for political affairs, said at a briefing on the changes.

Grossman described improved security as "the key to everything."

Nearly all of the redirected money had been intended for electricity, water or sewage-treatment projects -- all desperately needed to improve the quality of life for ordinary Iraqis. State Department officials said "very few" Iraqis had access to potable water and that electrical service averaged only 10 to 14 hours a day throughout the country.

Despite the shift, officials stressed that these projects would still receive nearly $10 billion of reconstruction money.

Although the spending review has been underway for several weeks and initial details of the new plan first came to light last month, an escalation of violence in Baghdad in recent days -- including a bombing Tuesday that killed 47 people -- has underscored the urgency of shoring up law and order, especially in the capital.

In the wake of the bombing, Arab League chief Amr Moussa told Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo that "the gates of hell are open in Iraq and the situation is getting more complicated and tense."

Meanwhile, in New York, Iraq's U.N. representative, Feisal Amin Istrabadi, urged the Security Council to send guards to protect U.N. staff so that elections could be held on time.

Istrabadi said Iraq needed technical support from U.N. experts to hold free and fair elections and that the current ceiling of 35 U.N. international staffers allowed in the country was inadequate. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said about 200 U.N. staffers would be needed in Iraq to help conduct elections.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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