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Report: Reconstruction in Iraq could cost up to $20 billion a year

Think tank says American support critical to mission

From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

A new report from a think tank calls on President Bush to win public support for a post-war reconstruction operation in Iraq.
A new report from a think tank calls on President Bush to win public support for a post-war reconstruction operation in Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Iraq could cost up to $20 billion a year for several years, according to a report released Wednesday by a think tank.

The report from the Council on Foreign Relations urged President Bush to "make clear" the U.S. intention to "stay the course" in any post-war operation and win the support of the American public for such an endeavor.

The council -- comprised of experts from the government, the military and academia -- based its estimate on an assumed deployment of around 75,000 troops throughout a post-war period.

"Winning the peace is task number two," said retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, a member of the task force that drafted the report, "Iraq: the Day After." Sullivan described a military victory in Iraq as the first goal.

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The report says the president "should announce a multibillion dollar, multiyear post-conflict reconstruction program and seek formal congressional endorsement."

That program should commit at least $3 billion a year to the reconstruction of Iraq, the report says, in addition to the estimated $17 billion-a-year cost of 75,000 troops.

The report called on Bush to stress two messages: Explain the United States' vital interest in Iraq's future to the American people, so they will be willing to bear the cost of reconstruction; and to make the public commitment, so Iraqis understand the United States will not walk out before job is done.

Task force co-chairmen Thomas Pickering -- who served in the Clinton administration-- and James Schlesinger -- who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations -- said at a news conference that Americans should not assume Iraq's oil wealth will be available in the early years to help pay for Iraq's reconstruction.

"In the early years, oil revenues will be insufficient," Schlesinger said, noting that Iraq's oil infrastructure is in dire need of refurbishing and that the country's oil revenues are committed to supplying food and essentials.

The report also says that if the United States has to keep more than 75,000 troops in Iraq, which it calls "a genuine possibility," then the funding requirement "would be much greater" than $20 billion a year.

The Bush administration has refused to publicly say how much it thinks a war or reconstruction effort would cost in Iraq. Some administration sources say the White House is likely to ask Congress for between $60 and $95 billion to pay for a war and reconstruction.

Various administration figures have said there are too many variables to make such an estimate worthwhile. The lack of any number has frustrated many lawmakers, particularly Democrats, who say the U.S. public has a right to know what a war and cleanup operation in Iraq would cost.

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