Bipartisan Call to Expand Inquiry Into Occupation
By Elizabeth Becker
WASHINGTON, May 23 -- Senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers asked today that a Congressional investigation into how federal contracts were awarded for the reconstruction of Iraq be expanded to include nearly every aspect of the American occupation.
It was another sign of Congressional displeasure with the administration's plans for rebuilding Iraq and what lawmakers perceive as administration reluctance to give them a full role in overseeing those plans.
In an unusual show of bipartisan cooperation, the ranking Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International Relations Committee sent a letter today to the head of the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, asking that he immediately begin assessing the security efforts, relief programs, economic development, procurement and political operations in Iraq.
The letter to David M. Walker, the comptroller general of the G.A.O., was signed by Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware and the committee's ranking minority member, by Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican who chairs the International Relations Committee and by Representative Tom Lantos of California, the committee's ranking Democrat.
More than a month after President Bush declared "the regime of Saddam Hussein is no more," Congress is more vigorously questioning why the administration's plan has failed to provide basic security and services in Iraq.
"The members gave up on getting the administration to share information so they asked for this full investigation," said a senior Congressional staff member, a Democrat.
In the letter, the lawmakers said that they "recognize the complexity and sensitivity of this assignment" and asked Mr. Walker to force the administration to give him the information that they have been requesting from the White House and Pentagon for months. This includes some idea of how long the United States plans to occupy Iraq and how much it will cost.
They also said they would do all they could to ensure that the investigators were allowed into Iraq as soon as possible.
The United Nations is also seeking more influence in Iraq. Edward Mortimer, the chief speechwriter and a senior adviser to the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, met with several leading nongovernment organizations in Washington today to promote greater cooperation between the United Nations and the administration.
Democratic lawmakers have argued that the United Nations should be welcomed in Iraq for the aid it can offer and for its expertise in rebuilding nations.
With the lifting of United Nations sanctions and the naming today of SÚrgio Vieira de Mello as the United Nations special representative to Iraq, Mr. Mortimer argued that the United States and the United Nations might be able to help each other save their reputations as well as the people of Iraq.
"If there is a failure in Iraq, both sides lose," he said.
For its part, he said, the United Nations has been "damaged but not destroyed" by the schism over Iraq, which left France, Germany and Russia at odds with the United States over going to war. This lifting of sanctions this week, however, won broad support at the United Nations.
Mr. Mortimer said he expected Mr. Vieira de Mello to arrive in Baghdad within days and begin working with L. Paul Bremer III, the new civilian administrator in Iraq.
The investigation requested today would cover "the U.S. agencies, offices and international organizations involved in rebuilding Iraq" and their "roles in the procurement process," the administration's plans for security, reconstruction of the economy, the creation of a new Iraqi government and "progress in meeting ongoing humanitarian and security problems."
With such a sweeping mandate, the lawmakers said the G.A.O. could expect more requests as the oversight continued.
Two Democratic lawmakers first asked the G.A.O. to investigate how contracts were being awarded to rebuild Iraq. Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, voiced concerns over a contract that was awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers without competition to Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, to fight oil well fires in Iraq.
Mr. Waxman as well as Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, asked the G.A.O. to determine the validity of "allegations that Halliburton has received special treatment from the administration."
Vice President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive from 1995 until 2000. The White House said it had no involvement in that or any other of the contracts that were awarded for postwar reconstruction.
During his investigation, Mr. Waxman said he learned that the contract with Kellogg Brown & Root was worth as much as $7 billion over two years.
"I find it perplexing and inexplicable that we are not getting information except in drips and drabs," he said in an interview. "And with each new piece of information the whole notion of the contract is changed."
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, announced last week that he had asked the Senate to hold hearings on the contract.