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Congress Heads Off Permanent Iraq Bases

September 30, 2006|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — Congress on Friday moved to block the Bush administration from building permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq or controlling the country's oil sector, as it approved $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats and many Republicans say the Iraqi insurgency has been fueled by perceptions that the United States has ambitions for a permanent presence in the country.

The administration has downplayed prospects for permanent bases in Iraq, but lawmakers have called on President Bush to make a definitive statement that the U.S. has no such plans.

U.S. officials have predicted a lengthy American military presence in Iraq.

The restrictions were included in a record-high $447-billion military funding bill. The Senate unanimously passed the bill, sending it to Bush for his signature. The House passed it earlier in the week, 394-22.

Bush had complained that the bill's funding fell short of his request. But he issued a statement saying he would sign it.

With this bill, Congress has approved about $507 billion for the wars. The bulk of that has been spent in Iraq, where costs are averaging $8 billion a month, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Lawmakers called the $70 billion a "bridge fund" to last about halfway through the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

About $23 billion of that is to replace and refurbish equipment worn out in the two wars.

The military spending bill also funds a 2.2% military pay raise and provides $557 million more for the Army Reserve and Army National Guard than Bush sought.

With the military stretched by the Iraq war, the defense policy bill recommends raising the Army's forces by 30,000 to a force level of 512,400, and the Marines by 5,000 to 180,000.

The bill also blocks a move by the Pentagon to increase healthcare payments by service personnel.

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