Pentagon sees US war cost in Iraq rising

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WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) The steadily rising Iraq war price tag will reach about 8.4 billion dollars a month this year, Pentagon spokesmen said yesterday, as heavy replacement costs for lost, destroyed and aging equipment mount.

The Pentagon has been estimating last year's costs for the increasingly unpopular war at about 8 billion dollars a month, having increased from a monthly ''burn rate'' of around 4.4 billion dollars during the first year of fighting in fiscal 2003.

During testimony at a House Budget Committee hearing, Deputy Defence Secretary Gordon England said that nearly four years into the war, the Pentagon's war costs were rising because it was having to replace big-ticket items such as helicopters, airplanes and armored vehicles that are wearing out or were lost in combat.

''We have a backlog and are seeing an increase,'' England told the panel.

When factoring in US combat costs in Afghanistan, the Pentagon will spend about 9.7 billion dollars a month during the fiscal year that ends on September 30, according to Pentagon spokesmen.

Early next month, the administration is expected to ask Congress for a further 100 billion dollars in ''emergency'' war money, on top of the 70 billion dollars already approved for this year. The request comes as President George W Bush has sketched out an increase of 21,500 US troops in Iraq that could cost about 5.6 billion dollars.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat, said he hoped Congress could avoid recurring emergency funding bills for the war. ''We would like to get a better grasp of the cost of the Iraq war and the global war on terrorism - a way of accounting of costs to date and projecting costs to come.'' Since fiscal 2001, Congress has approved 503 billion dollars to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other aspects of the US ''global war on terrorism,'' according to Congressional Budget Office testimony. Of that, 344 billion dollars has gone for military, diplomatic and other security costs in Iraq, the CBO said.

Most of the funds have been provided on an emergency basis, outside regular budget procedures. Critics say that obscures the true cost of the war and results in less congressional oversight.


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