U.S. Said To Use "Money As Weapon" In Iraq

A U.S. Army program in which soldiers pay cash to Iraqis to help with expenses, large and small, has spent $2.8 billion in five years, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The Post reviewed records of the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which was intended for short-term humanitarian relief and reconstruction. The field manual laying out the guidelines for the program is called "Money as a Weapon System," pointing up the effectiveness of cold hard cash in winning over the hearts and minds of Iraqi civilians.

The largest sum of CERP money, $596.8 million, was spent on water and sanitation projects, the Post reported. Three other categories each received more than $300 million: electricity; protective measures, such as fencing and guards; and transportation and roads.

But the Army also spent lesser sums on smaller acts of largesse, including $48,000 for children's shoes; $50,000 for 625 sheep; $100,000 for dolls; and $500,000 for action figures designed to look like Iraqi security forces, the Post reported.

The newspaper reported that soldiers and their commanders say the program works because there is little red tape, allowing them to fill immediate needs in their assigned towns and cities. Few in Washington will openly criticize the popular program for fear of alienating the troops, the Post reported.

CERP was recently given an additional $1.2 billion - to be split between Iraq and Afghanistan - according to a July report by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Post reported.

Lawmakers also have proposed to exempt it from restrictions on the spending for large reconstruction projects in Iraq in the future. But after reports that the Iraqi government is running a budget surplus of up to $50 billion, Sens. John W. Warner, R-Va. and Carl M. Levin, D-Mich. have asked the secretary of defense to review CERP oversight and regulations and said they want Iraq to shoulder more of the rebuilding costs, the Post reported.