US senators cut funds for Iraq police training program

Tue May 22, 2012 5:59pm EDT

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* Proposed U.S. aid for Afghanistan, Pakistan also cut

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By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON, May 22 (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday voted to eliminate funding for a police training program for Iraq, saying the danger and expense were just too great after the American troop pullout last year.

"Why keep throwing good money after bad?" asked Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign aid.

The panel refused to provide $850 million that President Barack Obama's administration requested for fiscal year 2013 for the program, in which U.S. security advisers are training Iraqi police. It has been seen as a key component of the U.S. civilian aid mission to Iraq now that U.S. troops are gone.

The subcommittee's decision must still be ratified by the full Senate and the House of Representatives for it to become law.

The cut was part of an attempted re-ordering of U.S. aid priorities by the Senate appropriators in a time of budget austerity. The lawmakers opted to slash U.S. aid programs in battle-scarred countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to preserve some cash for foreign aid elsewhere.

The panel slashed the Obama administration's request for spending on aid to Afghanistan by 28 percent, for Pakistan by 58 percent, and for Iraq by a whopping 78 percent, including the police program.

Aid to Pakistan and Iraq have been controversial for some time in Congress. But Leahy said: "There is less and less support for giving aid to Afghanistan."

"I've asked them (the State Department) to look at what aid programs are sustainable," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"If the idea is you can have two aid workers, provided you have 20 highly paid security people, I don't see that that accomplishes a great deal," Leahy said.

SECURITY EXPENSES

The Iraqi police training program has been sharply criticized by American auditors for its overhead expenses.

Just 12 percent of the money is spent on advising, mentoring and developing the Iraqi forces, while the "vast preponderance" is on security and support for the U.S. trainers in the still-violent country, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said last October.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the leading Republican on the Senate foreign aid subcommittee, said Tuesday that U.S. trainers were not able to go outside to work in Iraq "without being attacked."

A recent New York Times story said the training program was being scaled back after many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating suddenly refused to attend.

Iraq is plagued by violence from al Qaeda affiliates, Sunni Islamists, fighters tied to Saddam Hussein's Baathist party, Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias and criminal gangs.

The Senate foreign aid subcommittee approved a total of $52.1 billion for the State Department and U.S. foreign aid for fiscal 2013 that starts in October. That was $2.6 billion below the Obama administration's request. House appropriators recently approved even less money - $48.3 billion.

The senators subtracted $5 million from aid provided to Egypt, to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for money it paid to bail out U.S. pro-democracy activists facing charges there earlier this year.

"I'll be darned if I am going to give them (the Egyptian government) that money," Leahy said.

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