WASHINGTON - Congressional Democrats yesterday decried tens of millions of dollars of waste in Iraq reconstruction aid, as a new government report underscored a need for closer scrutiny of how the costly war is being handled.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate said they planned hearings or legislation to address what they said was a growing problem of abuse as the Bush administration struggles to get a handle on both a spiraling war and the contractors who help run it.

"Our troops are going without even as government funds go to pay for such boondoggles as an Olympic-size swimming pool in an unused training camp," said a statement issued by the Senate Democratic Communications Center, directed by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

"As the president is planning to send 21,500 more American service members into Iraq and asking for $1.2 billion in new reconstruction aid, Americans have every reason to question his spending priorities," the statement said.

The quarterly audit released yesterday by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, found the $300 billion U.S. war and reconstruction effort continued to be plagued with waste, spiraling violence and corruption.

The audit comes as President Bush is pressing Congress to approve $1.2 billion in new reconstruction aid as part of his broader plan to stabilize Iraq by sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Baghdad and Anbar province.

In the House, at least two committees said they planned hearings to examine spending waste and abuse.

The new report "shows that Congress' work examining Iraqi reconstruction is far from finished," said Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "The billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars sent for reconstruction have clearly not always been spent as we intended."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, plans three days of hearings next week on Iraq contracts. One area of focus: Halliburton Co., the oil-field-services company once headed by Vice President Cheney, which has received millions of dollars in government contracts.

According to Bowen's report, the State Department paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International Inc. for the residential camp for police training personnel outside of Baghdad's Adnan Palace grounds, which has stood empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool, all ordered by the Iraqi Interior Ministry, but never authorized by the United States.

U.S. officials spent an additional $36.4 million for weapons such as armored vehicles, body armor and communications equipment that cannot be accounted for. DynCorp also may have prematurely billed $18 million in other potentially unjustified costs, the report said.

Meanwhile, nine major U.S. companies with multimillion-dollar contracts for Iraq reconstruction - including Bechtel National Inc. and Kellogg, Brown & Root Services Inc. - say they are being forced to devote 12.5 percent of their expenses for security because of spiraling violence in the region.

Calling Iraq's sectarian violence the greatest challenge, Bowen said in a telephone interview that billions in U.S. aid spent on strengthening security were having limited effect. He said that management of reconstruction now would fall largely on Iraqis and that they were not ready for the task.

The State Department and other agencies say they are working to improve spending controls.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, cochairman of the Iraq Study Group, said Bowen's report illustrated the uphill battle for the United States and the international community in their efforts to bring stability in Iraq.

"There are very, very few things that hurt our effort more in trying to succeed in Iraq than that kind of performance, because it turns all people off," Hamilton told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Other Fronts: Syria Action, Maliki Backs Surge

Iraq has indefinitely halted all flights to and from Syria and closed a border crossing with

Iran as the government prepares for a new security crackdown aimed at crushing violence in the capital and surrounding regions, a member of parliament and an airport official said yesterday.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered a new endorsement yesterday of President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to help stem the violence in Iraq, but he stressed that he considered it "a support to our Baghdad security plan," which would be an Iraqi-led operation.

Forty-two Iraqis were killed or found dead yesterday. Among them were 20 bodies, many bearing signs of torture, apparently the latest victims of sectarian

death squads.

A U.S. soldier was killed yesterday in fighting in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. On Tuesday, three service members died in combat west of the capital, the military said.

- Associated PressEndText

To read the audit report

on Iraq reconstruction, go to http://go.philly.com/iraqrebuildEndText