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Iraq needs money to spend money, official says

March 28, 2007|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — Iraq's government has left about $12.5 billion in rebuilding funds from its 2006 budget unspent because it lacks the tools and expertise to allocate the money, the State Department's Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield, said Tuesday.

Satterfield argued that a recent request to Congress for an additional $4 billion in U.S. funding would help address the problem.

Lawmakers from the House Foreign Affairs Committee rejected the suggestion that Iraqis did not have the know-how to execute their own budget.

"That's the soft prejudice of low expectations," said Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.).

The United States has spent more than $21 billion in taxpayer money to rebuild Iraq, in a program that has been heavily criticized by Congress.

Several lawmakers pushed for Iraq to be given loans rather than grants for rebuilding and said Baghdad needed to do more to subsidize its own reconstruction. But Satterfield countered that the U.S. must continue its support, and that the $4 billion would focus on stabilization and building projects rather than actual rebuilding work. The difference was not specified.

Four years ago, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz predicted to Congress that Iraq would soon be able to fund reconstruction with oil revenue.

"Well, four years and $21 billion [in] U.S. assistance later, reality seems more like not relatively soon but relatively never," Ackerman said.

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