Washington — Iraq's financial free ride may be over.
After five years, Republicans and Democrats seem to have found common ground on at least one aspect of the war. From the fiercest foes of the war to the most steadfast Bush supporters, they are looking at Iraq's surging oil income and saying Baghdad should start picking up more of the tab, particularly for rebuilding hospitals, roads, power lines and the rest of the shattered country.
"I think the American people are growing weary not only of the war, but they are looking at why Baghdad can't pay more of these costs. And the answer is they can," said Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Nelson, a Democrat, is drafting legislation with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana that would restrict future reconstruction dollars to loans instead of grants.
Their bill also would require that Baghdad pay for the fuel used by American troops and take over U.S. payments to predominantly Sunni fighters in the Awakening movement. Plans are to propose the legislation as part of a war bill to cover spending through September.
On the surface, it looks as though the U.S. has about split the costs of rebuilding efforts with the Iraqis: Congress has appropriated about $47.5 billion since 2003 while the Iraqis have budgeted $50.6 billion. International contributions have totaled $15.8 billion.
However, there is a key difference: Whereas the U.S. has spent most of the money it has approved, Iraq hasn't, according to the watchdog agency that audits reconstruction efforts. In 2006 and 2007, for example, Iraq spent only $2.9 billion of its designated $16.3 billion capital budget, which is used to invest in reconstruction projects.