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Tuesday, April 22

Lugar focuses on what happens next in Iraq

By Maureen Groppe | GNS

WASHINGTON - As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar is in a position to be a leading voice in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq.

How much the Bush administration will listen is still in question.

Lugar, a Republican, repeatedly has warned that the administration faces a potential backlash from lawmakers and the American people unless it is up front about what will be needed to keep Iraq stable after the war.

"It is not clear to the Congress or to the American people what the cost of this will be,'' Lugar said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press.''

Last month, the administration turned down Lugar's request for officials to appear before his committee to talk about reconstruction. Asked whether he felt the administration wasn't ready to discuss its plans or was reluctant to involve Congress in the decisions, Lugar said probably both.

Others agree with that assessment.

"I think it's a combination of they're not being prepared and they're being secretive, maybe some paternalism mixed in - 'Trust us. Everything's OK,' '' said Rick Barton, co-director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project. "(Lugar's) instinct is absolutely right that it should not be so secretive.''

Congress will have to be involved if only because it will be approving or denying requests for money for continued involvement in Iraq.

Lugar said he and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, the committee's top Democrat, will try again to get officials to testify before his committee after Congress returns next week from its spring recess.

Lugar also wants the administration to provide regular briefings on reconstruction efforts just as it has on the war.

The White House didn't return calls asking about Lugar's concerns.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 10 that ``events have outpaced any planning that we've done'' on rebuilding Iraq.

Beyond the immediate challenges of providing basic security and services to the Iraqis - food, water, electricity and medical care - the United States has to help the Iraqis form some sort of government. Lugar points out that it will be tricky getting a governing body to be representative of the three main ethnic groups - Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds - in a way that will give all Iraqis ``a sense of nationhood.''

The role of other countries in reconstruction also must be worked out.

And then there's the price tag. While Iraq's oil fields and frozen assets have been talked about as the funding source for reconstruction, Lugar cautions that tapping those resources will not be easy. There's the question of who owns rights to the assets since there likely will be no official surrender or treaty ending the war. And it will be several months before the oil reserves are operating at pre-war capacity, which still will not be enough to pay for everything.

Lugar said the White House needs to be forthright about the costs of the war and what will have to be cut from or left out of the U.S. budget to pay for it.

Barton said Lugar realizes that major reconstruction projects, like the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, require a ``presidential-like campaign'' to sell the plan to the public.

"And that has not happened,'' Barton said.

If the public isn't prepared, Lugar argues, they could compel a premature withdrawal. If Iraq is left to its own devices too early, Lugar warns, it could be a destabilizing force in the region and an incubator for terrorist cells.

Most attempts to foster democracies after regime changes have not worked well, Lugar said.

He estimated it would take at least five years before Iraq has a democracy.

"This is going to require attention,'' he said. "And that means time and expense.''