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Bush may ask Congress for up to $95 billion for war

Rumsfeld says cost 'not knowable'

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there are too many variables to provide an estimate for the cost of war with Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there are too many variables to provide an estimate for the cost of war with Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House is working on an emergency spending plan for a war with Iraq and may ask Congress for as much as $95 billion to cover its costs, administration sources said Wednesday.

Pentagon sources put the likely request at closer to $60 billion, a figure also cited by some officials at the White House.

The White House refused to discuss publicly the spending plan, but said the cost of any war is ultimately up to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Administration officials have repeatedly said Saddam only has weeks to disarm and comply with U.N. resolutions.

"The choice is Saddam Hussein's to make," President Bush said Wednesday in a speech to Hispanic supporters. "It's been his to make all along. He gets to choose between war and peace."

Bush met Tuesday with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Mitch Daniels, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to talk about possible costs, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer confirmed.

Administration sources said two months of war would cost as much as $40 billion and that a peacekeeping force in Iraq would cost at least $6 billion a year. The administration is also planning to deliver billions of dollars in aid to Turkey, Jordan, Israel and other countries in the region.

A shorter war would mean less spending, but the costs could be higher if Iraq uses chemical or biological weapons on U.S. troops, or if it sets fire to oil fields as it did in Kuwait in the Gulf War.

At the White House, Fleischer refused to cite specific figures. "It is too soon to say with precision how much this war will cost."

He added, "At the appropriate time, and if the president makes the determination to use force, a request for the funding will, of course, be sent up to the Congress and then it will be based on the latest information that is available."

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Rumsfeld also dismissed questions about the cost of a war with Iraq, saying there were "so many variables" that it would not be a "useful exercise" to speculate on what that might be.

He also said the cost to the United States depends on how much other nations contribute to the war effort. The cost, Rumsfeld declared, was "not knowable."

But Pentagon sources said the Pentagon portion of any supplemental request would be on the order of $60 billion and would cover costs through the end of September.

The sources said the money would cover the costs of the war itself, improvements to Turkish military bases, maintaining troops in the region, as well as providing for post-war security, and locating and destroying weapons of mass destruction.

Administration sources noted that any supplemental request could be higher if the costs for various reconstruction projects in a post-war Iraq -- which wouldn't fall under the Pentagon portion -- are included.

The United States and Britain have amassed a force of more than 200,000 troops around Iraq in preparation for war if they determine Iraq is refusing to disarm as required by U.N. resolutions. In the aftermath of a war, a force about a third of that size could be left behind to keep the peace and help the country rebuild.

"The president has made clear that in the event of hostilities in Iraq, the United States will stay for as long as is necessary, but not a day longer," Fleischer said.

Iraq's oil reserves could be used to pay for long-term reconstruction costs, but the White House says oil money would not be used to pay for the war itself.

The administration's $2.2 trillion budget proposal for the 2004 fiscal year, which projects a record federal deficit of $304 billion, does not include the cost of a war with Iraq in its $380 billion Pentagon request.

In September, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey estimated the cost of a war at more than $100 billion. After Lindsey was asked to resign in December, Daniels said it was impossible to know how much a war might cost.

The 1991 conflict cost about $60 billion, but U.S. allies paid more than 80 percent of the cost. Administration officials said they're not expecting that kind of help this time.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Byrd, a leading critic of the administration's policy toward Iraq, said the White House has an obligation to divulge its best estimate for the cost of war with Iraq.

"The people have a right to know," the West Virginia Democrat said. "They're going to suffer the costs. Congress must not accept the answer, 'not knowable.' "

A report from the Congressional Budget Office released last fall was far more modest in its estimate of the cost of war with Iraq. That report said it would cost between $9 billion and $13 billion to deploy troops to Iraq and that it would take up to another $9 billion a month to run the war.

-- CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King and Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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