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Friday, April 23

Iraq to siphon troops, tax dollars even after power transfer

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - June 30 is a critically important date for the Bush administration.

Itís when U.S. officials in Iraq plan to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis, at least technically ending the U.S. occupation.

But that doesnít mean much to Vicky Monk of Bellevue, Wash.

Itís just another day her 21-year-old son, U.S. Army Spc. Tim Monk, will spend patrolling the embattled supply routes in southern Iraq. Tim Monk is among the 20,000 soldiers ordered to serve extended duty in Iraq to help establish security as the date for the power handoff approaches.

"He doesnít say much about it, but I know this extended duty gets him down," Monkís mother said. "Iím very concerned theyíre going to completely burn out the Army doing this."

If the transfer of authority goes as planned, Bush will be able to proclaim that his Iraq plan is on track.

But little will change tangibly for Americans like Monk.

Indeed, the situation in Iraq could easily get worse.

The number of U.S. troops - now about 135,000 - could increase substantially if Iraqís fledgling government is seen as illegitimate, which could prompt rebellion.

Meanwhile, taxpayers can expect another major hit soon in the form of another special spending request to pay for stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq.

On top of all that, questions swirl around the transition itself.

Iraq is steeped in violence and terrorism. Can it be ready for a power transition in less than 10 weeks? Who will take the reins?

Bush has yet to announce a plan for setting up the new Iraqi government.

Still, the president is resolved the transfer will go forward, insisting "We must not waver."

Regardless of what happens, Americans can count on sending a lot more money and perhaps many more troops.

A case for more troops

During the recent wave of violence that turned April into the bloodiest month of the Iraq campaign for U.S. troops, many of the countryís rapidly trained security forces collapsed or joined the insurgency.

If thatís a sign of things to come, large numbers of U.S. troops will be performing security duty in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Paul Bremer, the top civil administrator in Iraq, has acknowledged that the Iraqi security forces won't be up to the task of securing their country anytime soon. But he has carefully left talk of U.S. troop levels to the field commanders.

So far, the generals have requested only to keep some of the forces scheduled to return home. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said heís prepared to send more, if asked.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties already are asking.

"We have to acknowledge we went with too little power," said Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. "We need to establish an environment where the American people think this is doable."

Estimates by military experts and lawmakers calling for troop increases vary from 7,000 more to as many as 60,000.

Between the 3rd Infantry Division, now back from Iraq, and some of the divisions designated for possible conflict in Korea, the Pentagon could amass 50,000 troops fairly quickly if necessary.

Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an independent committee that counsels the Pentagon, argues Iraqis need to step up and secure their own country. Increasing the number of U.S. troops would only contribute to the impotence of the Iraqi forces.

"Adding Americans will not produce more Iraqis," said Perle, a staunch backer of Bush on the war. "Indeed, it may discourage Iraqis from facing up to their responsibilities."

If more troops are needed, U.S. forces are not likely to get help from allies anytime soon.

Spain is pulling out its 1,300-soldier contingent and Honduras has said itís withdrawing its 370 troops. These numbers are hardly crippling, but theyíre moving in the wrong direction.

The Bush administration intends to seek a new U.N. resolution on Iraq in the hope of putting a more international face on the situation there. But thatís not likely to persuade allies to send troops as long as violence continues unabated.

"There are quite a few countries who aren't going to come in until it's safer," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told lawmakers.

Costs continue to climb

Financially, June 30 will do little to lighten the war burden for U.S. taxpayers.

Congress has already approved two supplemental spending bills to pay for the campaign in Iraq, totaling almost $150 billion.

A third bill, estimated at between $50 billion and $70 billion, may be sent to Congress before January.

It isn't likely that establishing a sovereign Iraqi government will do much, if anything, to hold those additional costs down.

If the transfer of sovereignty exposes vulnerabilities that attract more violence, the costs will rise.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimates that keeping the additional 20,000 troops in Iraq for three months after June 30 will cost $700 million. The Army and Marines are currently waiting for $6 billion in additional funding for parts and other basic equipment.

Pentagon officials insist they have enough money to cover war costs. But some lawmakers fear theyíre getting it by siphoning funds from other important military programs to avoid making additional funding requests before the election.

Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs acknowledged, "We believe a supplemental (bill) will be required."

The amount and timing, he said, "will be determined by the president."

(Contributing: Jon Frandsen, GNS)