USA Today features IRI in Article on Iraqi Democracy

Push begins to boost funds to support Iraqi democracy
USA Today
By Barbara Slavin

WASHINGTON — U.S. groups that promote democracy in Iraq will run out of money early next year unless the Bush administration pushes Congress for more cash or takes it from other programs, representatives of the groups and four key senators said Thursday.

So far there’s no money definitely set aside to continue democracy programs in Iraq, said Les Campbell, who heads Middle East and North Africa programs for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), a government-supported non-profit group that promotes democracy abroad.

Two similar groups — the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) — also say they lack money for the budget year that starts Oct. 1. IRI President Lorne Craner said his organization received $30 million for Iraq this year that paid for extensive polling and voter education, while a third went for security.

Campbell said NDI also is spending about $30 million this year. The groups conduct polling and run political party training seminars and conferences for young Iraqis to educate them about democracy.

The NDI and IRI are affiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties, while USIP has a bipartisan board with 12 members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

A bipartisan group of four senators wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday asking her to find the money. A certain money source is critical, the letter said, because “the unique challenges of working in Iraq” require constant and expensive planning. NDI and IRI employees work outside the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad, the letter said.

Republicans Richard Lugar of Indiana and John McCain of Arizona signed the letter with Democrats Joseph Biden of Delaware and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. A copy of the letter was provided by Biden’s office. McCain is an IRI board member.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “We will be working with Congress as we move forward on Iraq as well as on other budget issues.”

State Department records show the United States has spent almost $1 billion since 2003 to try to turn Iraq into a democracy.

The Senate last week passed a $31 billion foreign operations bill that contains an amendment suggesting that $56 million go to IRI and NDI for Iraq programs. The House has no new money set aside for Iraq democracy programs.

Craner said he isn’t worried now about the money, but if it isn’t there two months from now, “I might get uptight.”

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