WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday he appreciates "what the United States is contributing to help Iraq" but said his country is "shouldering the main burden" of its reconstruction projects.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says his country is not "standing by."
He was replying to Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who last week complained that after five years of war, "it is still the American taxpayer who is shouldering the greatest economic burden in Iraq."
Levin, a key congressional Democrat, made the comment during a series of hearings last week in the House and Senate on the status of the war.
With the 5-year-old war's cost to U.S. taxpayers now estimated at more than $600 billion, the Iraqi windfall provoked sharp questions from lawmakers to the top U.S. general in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who were among those who testified.
"This nation's facing record deficits, and the Iraqis have translated their oil revenues into budget surpluses rather than effective services," Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday.
Without providing numbers, Zebari contended that the U.S. contribution to the war effort is declining, "but the end goal is that we should take whole charge in spending and looking after our people."
"We are not standing by. This is our country, and we are spending money on ourselves," Zebari said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."
Crude oil futures topped $112 in Wednesday's intraday trading in New York -- up from about $35 a barrel before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Though Iraq's oil exports have yet to top pre-war levels, the result of the price rise has been a $6.4 billion surplus for the Iraqi government, according to the Pentagon's last quarterly report on the war.
During his testimony, Petraeus recommended that the administration's open-ended commitment in Iraq continue, with a pause after some troop withdrawals so assessments can be made on a timetable for further reductions.
"It is also clear from Ambassador Crocker's testimony that after five years of training and equipping the Iraqi security forces, and after five years of reconstruction, it is still the American taxpayer who is shouldering the greatest economic burden in Iraq, while tens of billions of dollars in Iraqi money sit in bank accounts around the world," said Levin, of Michigan.
"To maximize success in Iraq, the Iraqi government must take control politically, economically and militarily. The Iraqis must make the political compromises to bring all factions into the political system and effect political reconciliation," Levin added.
The United States has committed about $45 billion to Iraq's reconstruction since the March 2003 invasion, according to a report last month from the Government Accountability Office. The agency, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that Iraq's oil revenues could top $100 billion in 2007 and 2008.
Zebari also discussed meetings he's had with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stressing that it is not in Iraq's best interest for Iran to intervene in the war. The Iraqi foreign minister said he will be meeting Iranian officials April 22 in Kuwait to discuss such issues.
The United States has accused Iran of helping to arm and equip insurgents in Iraq, although Iran has denied any involvement.
Zebari said he believes Iran's interest is political.
"They don't want to legitimize this new regime that has been established with the help of the U.S. intervention with this new, open democratic form of government. We have to be patient with them. We have some pledges from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain to send ambassadors and re-establish embassies" in Iraq, Zebari said. E-mail to a friend
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