As the Bush administration prepares to ask Congress for $1.7 billion more to carry out a revised plan for continuing reconstruction in Iraq, a top State Dept. official has made clear that local firms will take the lead in carrying out the rebuilding. But Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats also said they want the administration to provide more information and assurances about the plan before they endorse additional funds.
"We're getting out of the reconstruction business in Iraq," David M. Satterfield, the State Dept.'s coordinator for Iraq, told a Foreign Relations hearing on Jan. 25. In early phases of the rebuilding, mostly financed by the $20.9-billion Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, the contracts were large and generally went to large U.S. or multinational firms. But in summer 2005, officials began rethinking the approach and have since been moving more work to local Iraqi contractors.
As the new program moves forward, Satterfield said that "it's not going to be big-ticket reconstruction anymore. It's going to be small projects, micro-enterprise lending, job generation." A main focus of the revised strategy, announced by President Bush Jan.
10, will be Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), State Dept.-led groups that provide small loans, grants and other assistance to create jobs and build Iraqi government capacity. Satterfield, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, said the plan calls for doubling the number of PRTs, to 20, adding more than 300 personnel. The department wants to move quickly, aiming to put nine new PRTs in place over the next three months.
Six of the new teams will be in Baghdad and three in Anbar. Those groups would be located with brigade combat teams.
Teams would include U.S. Agency for International Development staffers as well as Dept. of Defense civil affairs officers and bilingual advisors.
Future phases involve setting up a 10th PRT, in North Babil, and adding technical staff, such as specialists in irrigation and agribusiness as well as veterinarians, to other teams. Satterfield said the department is aiming to complete its PRT expansion by the end of December, but noted that hinges on how much funding Congress approves and the situation in Iraq.
Also coming into clearer focus is how much money the administration will seek for the new reconstruction effort. Satterfield said the department has some funding available to launch the program, but will request $538 million through a continuing spending resolution "to avoid a shutdown of mission-critical programs "
Beyond that, President Bush also will propose a supplemental funding request that includes $1.2 billion for Iraq reconstruction, said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on Foreign Relations. He said that will include $414 million for the PRTs, $350 million for the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which funds small-scale projects in Iraq, and $400 million for a "civilian version of CERP."
Committee Democrats told Satterfield that they want more data about the program and indications that it will be well-run. Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) criticized the rebuilding programs as having been "plagued by miserable planning." Webb said," I want you to know that I am not inclined to support any additional funding in this area without strong assurances that this sort of mismanagement has been alleviated."
Lugar said that as Congress weighs the funding request, lawmakers must know how U.S. officials will guard against funds being "stolen or siphoned off for other purposes."
Satterfield said that particularly over the last 18 months, the program has undergone "a steady shift," with more than 80% of the U.S.-funded work now going to Iraqi firms.
Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said that the more than $1 billion the administration plans to request "would go a long way" to provide housing in New Orleans' Ninth Ward that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina or to add police in many U.S. cities. Biden says he's skeptical about providing added funding for Iraq rebuilding "without much, much, much harder data, much tighter reasoning and much closer oversight" about the program.