WHITE HOUSE Bush to seek $80 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan
The Bush administration plans to announce today it will request about $80 billion more for this year's costs of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, congressional aides said Monday.
The request would push the total provided so far for those wars and for U.S. efforts against terrorism elsewhere in the world to more than $280 billion since the first money was provided shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, airliner attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
That would be nearly half the $613 billion the United States spent for World War I or the $623 billion it expended for the Vietnam War, when the costs of those conflicts are translated into 2005 dollars.
White House officials refused to comment on the war spending package, which will be presented as the United States confronts a new string of violence in Iraq as that country's Jan. 30 elections approach.
The forthcoming request underscored how the war spending has clearly exceeded initial White House estimates. Early on, then-presidential economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey placed Iraq costs of $100 billion to $200 billion, only to see his comments derided by administration colleagues.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday it was Congress' "highest responsibility" to provide the money that American troops need. But in a written statement, she said Democrats would ask questions about Bush's policies there.
"What are the goals in Iraq, and how much more money will it cost to achieve them? Why hasn't the president and the Pentagon provided members of Congress a full accounting of previous expenditures?" Pelosi added.
She also said she wanted to know why Iraqi troops aren't playing a larger role in security there.
The package will not formally be sent to Congress until after President Bush introduces his 2006 budget on Feb. 7, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said White House budget chief Joshua Bolten or other administration officials would describe the spending request publicly Tuesday.
Meanwhile in Iraq, an Al-Qaida lieutenant in custody in Iraq has confessed to masterminding most of the car bombings in Baghdad, including the bloody 2003 assault on the U.N. headquarters in the capital, authorities said Monday.
Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf, also known as Abu Omar al-Kurdi, "confessed to building approximately 75 percent of the car bombs used in attacks in Baghdad" since the Iraq war began, according to the interim Iraqi prime minister's spokesman, Thaer al-Naqib.
Al-Jaaf was taken into custody Jan. 15 and confessed to 32 car bombings, a government statement said, including the bombing of the U.N. headquarters that killed the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 other people.
The suspect, a top lieutenant of Al-Qaida's Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also built the car bomb used to attack a shrine in the Shiite holy city of Najaf that killed more than 85 people, including Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, in August 2003, the statement said.
It said he also assembled the car bomb used in May to assassinate Izzadine Saleem, then president of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Two other militants linked to al-Zarqawi's terror group also have been arrested. They included the chief of al-Zarqawi's propaganda operations and one of the group's weapons suppliers, the government statement said.
The government offered no evidence to support its claims, and the announcement followed a series of car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations of Iraqi security personnel, all of which have lowered public morale as the nation prepares for elections next weekend.
Since June 28, when the interim Iraqi government took power, there have been about 70 car bombings reported in or around Baghdad, according to an Associated Press tally. At least 372 people were killed and 1,038 were wounded.
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has been promising to crush the insurgency and restore public order if he holds onto his job in the new government.
In the latest attack, a suicide bomber blew up a carload of explosives Monday outside the headquarters of Allawi's party, wounding at least 10 people in the latest blast claimed by Al-Qaida in Iraq. The violence raised fresh fears about the safety of voters in Sunday's national elections, which Sunni Muslim insurgents have threatened to sabotage.
Al-Zarqawi has been trying to incite Sunni Arabs against the Shiite majority, playing on Sunni fears that the elections will spell the end of their privileged position in Iraq.
Monday's car bombing struck at a police checkpoint near the offices of Allawi's party, the Iraqi National Accord. Police said the guards opened fire moments before the blast, a thunderous explosion that reverberated throughout the city center.
Eight policemen and two civilians were wounded, according to Dr. Mudhar Abdul-Hussein of Yarmouk Hospital. It was the second suicide attack on the office this month.
In an Internet posting, Al-Qaida in Iraq said the attack was carried out by "one of the young lions in the suicide regiment" against the "agent of the Jews and the Christians."
An audiotape posted on the Internet a day earlier, purportedly from al-Zarqawi, declared "fierce war" on democracy and said anyone who takes part in the elections would be considered "an infidel."
The authenticity of the tape could not be verified. Al-Zarqawi's group has been behind many car bombings, beheadings, assassinations and other attacks in Iraq. The United States has offered a $25 million reward for his capture or death -- the same amount as for Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Many Sunnis are expected to boycott Sunday's elections, either to express opposition to the process or for fear of reprisals. Shiites and Kurds are expected to vote in huge numbers.
Iraqis are to choose a 275-member National Assembly and legislatures in each of the 18 provinces. Voters in the Kurdish-ruled area of the north will also elect a new regional parliament.