Leahy: Iraq should pay for reconstruction with oil profits

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says it’s time Iraq paid for its own reconstruction with money from its sale of oil.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) Senators discovered recently that Iraq has a budget surplus of $5 billion a month because oil prices have skyrocketed.

So Leahy says it’s time Iraq took more responsibility for its own reconstruction.

Leahy says he and New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg have drafted a plan to tap into Iraq’s bulging bank account.

(Leahy) “We’re saying if they’re going to have more American aid for reconstruction, at the very least they can match it dollar for dollar.”

(Sneyd) Leahy is chairman of a subcommittee that oversees foreign financial aid, and Gregg is the panel’s top Republican.

Even though the White House is opposed, they want their plan included in the next Iraq spending bill, which will be drafted next week.

Leahy says it’s only fair, given the price of fuel at home.

(Leahy) “We Vermonters are paying $3.50 and more for gasoline and projections are it could go to $4 this summer and even beyond. There’s just no way we can justify telling Iraq, when they have a huge surplus from their oil revenues, that they can’t pay for some of their own reconstruction.” (Sneyd) The bill that’s due for debate in the Appropriations Committee next week calls for the US to spend $700 million to $1 billion more on rebuilding Iraq.

Leahy says all of that American money would have to be borrowed. Iraq, he says, at least has cash on hand.

And he believes making Iraq take some financial responsibility might also begin to force political stability.

(Leahy) “Now, when we start saying, `OK, we’re going to leave. You’re going to have to start being on your own, we’re going to have to start taking care of our problems here in America.’ Then, they to have to sit down, the Sunnis and Shias are going to have to sit down. And they’re going to have to govern their own country.”

(Sneyd) Other lawmakers have suggested that future US aid to Iraq should be in the form of loans, instead of grants. But the Iraqi government and the White House have also resisted those proposals.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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