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Democracy In Iraq Not A Priority in U.S. Budget

President Bush has requested $63 million in fiscal 2007 for democracy promotion in Iraq.
President Bush has requested $63 million in fiscal 2007 for democracy promotion in Iraq. (Pool Photo)

"Elections start the process. They're not the end of the process," Bush told Freedom House last week. "And one of the reasons I respect the Freedom House is because you understand that you follow elections with institution-building and the creation of civil society."

Money flowed to such programs in the beginning of the Iraq enterprise. The National Endowment for Democracy, which supported projects in the Kurdish north of Iraq even before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, found itself soon after Baghdad fell with $25 million to expand elsewhere in the country and eventually received a total of $71 million. It distributed some to IRI and NDI and some to groups such as the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights in Babylon and the Organization for a Model Iraqi Society.

Last month the endowment received the final $3 million owed on past allocations, with no further funding identified. "It does feel like everybody's getting squeezed in this area," said Barbara Haig, the endowment's vice president. "There probably is a commitment to these programs in principle. I don't know how much commitment there is in specificity."

IRI and NDI, which are affiliated with the two U.S. political parties, will lose USAID financing April 30. The two party institutes led a coalition to educate Iraqis before last year's elections. An evaluation commissioned by USAID in December called it "essential" that the program "be continued for at least another 24 months."

The party institutes will be able to continue some programs for now only because of a special earmark inserted into legislation last year with $56 million for the two groups. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) sponsored the earmark with support from Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) after it appeared that NDI and IRI would run out of money last year.

"The solution to Iraq lies in the political process, and it's reckless for the White House to cut funds to strengthen democracy in Iraq at this time," Kennedy said yesterday.

At current spending rates, the earmark will run out this year. After that, the Bush administration has included just $15 million for the two party institutes as part of the $63 million for Iraqi democracy in next year's budget, which would require most programs to be cut.

The U.S. Institute of Peace faces similar cutbacks to its program. "It's just vital," said Daniel P. Serwer, an institute vice president. All the democracy programs in Iraq combined, he noted, cost less than one day of the U.S. military mission. "Am I absolutely sure that we will shorten the deployment time of American troops enough to justify the cost of the program? Yes," he said.

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