WASHINGTON, Sep 26 (Reuters) The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost at least 190 billion dollars in 2008, the Pentagon said today, making it the most expensive year in the wars since they were begun by President George W Bush.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked Congress to approve the funding after Bush this month beat back demands from Democrats for a quick end to the Iraq war and said the US presence there would go on after he leaves office in 2009.
The request was made as senators reached a rare -- but symbolic -- consensus on a proposal on how to proceed in Iraq, passing a nonbinding resolution calling for the creation of separate Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish ''federal regions'' with a weak central government in Baghdad.
The bipartisan 75-23 vote on a the proposal by Democratic Senator Joseph Biden may be Senate's best chance of influencing U.S. strategy in Iraq after frustrated Democrats failed repeatedly to get the votes for a troop pullout.
The issue has dogged Democrats vying for the party's presidential nomination in 2008, including Biden.
The Senate vote was ''the first time in four-and-a-half years in the war in Iraq where you had an overwhelmingly bipartisan consensus as to a recommendation to the president on how to proceed,'' Biden said.
''What we said today was, 'There is a way Mr President, in our view, to end this war in a way that we are able ultimately to bring our troops home but leave a stable Iraq behind.''' The proposal urged Bush to bring in the international community, including the United Nations and Iraq's neighbors, to support such a political settlement and convene a conference with Iraqis to help them reach it.
Senator John Warner of Virginia, an influential Republican voice on military affairs who supported the plan, said he hoped the Bush administration would examine it. He said it was unlikely Democrats would get enough votes in the Senate to force Bush's hand on the conduct of the war itself.
Warner insisted that a clause be added to Biden's plan that said it was not intended to diminish Iraq's sovereignty, a concern expressed by some opponents of the plan.
ANTI-WAR PROTESTORS Since September 2001, Congress has appropriated 602 billion dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Bush administration had already asked Congress to approve 147 billion dollars for the wars in the 2008 fiscal year starting October 1.
In testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee that was occasionally punctuated by shouts from anti-war protesters, Gates said it was seeking a further 42 billion dollars, bringing the total war funding request for fiscal 2008 to 9 billion.
The biggest chunk of the new request would go for force protection, including billion for fielding about 7,000 more of the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which have V-shaped hulls to disperse the impact of bomb blasts.
More money was also needed to train and equip Iraqi security forces as well as to improve US facilities in the region and ''consolidate our bases in Iraq,'' Gates said.
He also sought 6 billion dollars to support Army and Marine combat formations in Iraq, while taking into account President Bush's announced intention to withdraw up to 20,000 of those forces by next July.
Reuters KK VP0258