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Washington squabbles over price of Iraq war and peace

WASHINGTON, Saturday (Reuters) While critics at home and abroad press the Bush administration to scrap any invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon and Congress are squabbling openly over the price of war - and peace when the shooting stops.

Cost estimates of $61 billion to $95 billion for a short, intense conflict and cleaning up the mess were leaked by unidentified administration officials on Monday, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said accurate forecasts were impossible despite sharp barbs from Democratic lawmakers. Even within the Defense Department, civilian leaders and the Army's top general were at odds this week over the size of any post-war occupying force of mostly-U.S. troops.

Some lawmakers warned that the cost of post-war peace could be even higher than the price for thousands of spent bombs and cruise missiles.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee he estimated it would take "something on the order of several hundred thousand" troops to keep the peace in a country the size of the U.S. state of California.

"We're talking about a post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems," the general said. A day later, Rumsfeld told reporters that figure - especially for U.S. troops - "is far from the mark," adding that other countries had promised to take part in any stabilization effort in the event of a war.

"Second, it's not logical to me that it would take as many forces ... following the conflict as it would to win the war," he added after defense officials said there were now over 200,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf region ready for any order from President George W. Bush to launch an invasion.

"People are entitled to their own opinions," Rumsfeld told reporters at a news conference on Friday when asked about the Shinseki estimate. He said he had not discussed the issue with the general, but laughed when pressed on whether the officer was in trouble with his civilian boss. "No. Come on, absolutely not. What are you trying to do, stir up trouble?," the secretary quipped.

But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also weighed in on Shinseki's remarks in testimony before the House of Representatives Budget Committee. "Way off the mark," Wolfowitz said, stressing that it was too early to predict the need.

And on the cost of a war, he added, this "is not a good time to publish highly-suspect numbers". The problem for Bush and Rumsfeld, however, is that they will have to soon go to Congress to seek funds for war, possibly right after any shooting starts.

"There's a lot of uncertainty here. And as long as there's uncertainty, predicting costs up front is next to impossible," analyst Steven Kosiak of the private Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment told Reuters. The center has put out a range of cost scenarios ranging from $20 billion for an intense one-month war using 175,000 U.S. troops to $85 billion for an unlikely six-months conflict requiring 350,000 American soldiers.

Veteran Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a thorn in the Bush side on budget issues, warned that the costs of war would be "staggering" at a time of rising U.S. budget deficits. Other senators noted that the United States, at odds with several big European allies over whether to invade Iraq, could not depend on large financial contributions to fight.

Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said the administration had to clearly explain to Americans where the money to fight would come from. Wolfowitz refused to be pinned down before the House Budget Committee despite an accusation from Rep. James Moran of Virginia that "I think you're deliberately keeping us in the dark."

Wolfowitz replied: "We have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground. Every time we get a briefing on the war plan, it immediately goes down six different branches to see what the scenarios look like. If we costed each and every one, the costs would range from $10 billion to $100 billion."

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