Officials say Iraq reconstruction will be lengthy, costly

Continuing violence and looting are delaying U.S.-led reconstruction efforts in Iraq and will require troops to stay for an extended period, Bush administration officials told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.

Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and ranking member Joseph Biden, D-Del., both warned that public support for U.S. policies in Iraq may erode over time, especially if costs mount and other nations do not help foot the bill.

"Up until now, the support of the American public for the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism has been strong," Lugar said at the hearing. "But as we move into the expensive and complicated process of rebuilding Iraq, Americans will want to know that their money is being spent effectively and that other nations are contributing a fair share."

Biden predicted U.S. troops would remain in Iraq next year, perhaps beyond; he and others on the panel were upset when Defense Undersecretary Dov Zakheim and other witnesses offered few details about the costs of reconstruction and a continued military presence.

Zakheim refused to tell the committee how many U.S. troops were in Iraq, saying the information was classified, and he told Biden he did not have an estimate for how much it would cost to keep U.S. troops on the ground during fiscal 2004. His general statement on the topic, however, suggested that the end of U.S. involvement would come later rather than sooner. "There's no doubt success will be very expensive and will take years, not months," Zakheim said.

Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, offered a similar assessment. "We have no illusions that this will be quick or easy," he said. While the emergency phase of the operation is winding down without widespread health and hunger problems that some had feared, "We are a long way from completing the reconstruction, for our goal is nothing less than the transformation of Iraq into a functioning, stable state that poses no threat to its own citizens or its neighbors and serves the interests of the Iraqi people."

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