Congressional dems visit to Iraq encourages support of Bush $81B "reconstruction" plan

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A visit to Baghdad’s “Green Zone” on two separate days last week (March 22 and 24, 2005) has convinced Washington’s Democratic senators and representatives that things are going well.

The Senate delegation, led by Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev), visited on Tuesday. The House delegation, led by Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), visited two days later. They all came away from their whirlwind visits with opinions that although conditions were improving there would still be many years of American occupation before Iraq could be a true democracy.

"Although progress has been made, there is a significant way to go until the Iraqis are capable of providing for their security," said Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. She led an eight-member group that included seven Democrats and Republican Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista)(San Diego County).

The delegations spent their one day in Iraq’s Green Zone, the heavily protected area in downtown Baghdad that serves as headquarters for the 150,000 U.S. military forces and diplomats and the Iraqi government. They headed to their other stops in Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt. Security was tight and didn’t allow for any additional travel in the war torn nation.

The sole Republican in the Congressional delegation, Issa, said "I believe it will be a fairly long stay."

Pelosi’s comments echoed Issa, and added "the cost of this war is huge to the American people," citing 1,500 service personnel the Bush administration has admitted were killed in action, and the estimated $500 million-a-day price tag. "The message some of us had for our military leaders and Iraqi leaders is that whatever it takes to transfer security responsibilities should be applied now. It's long overdue," she added.

An emotional trip to Beirut, Lebanon, by the congressional delegation included a visit to the grave of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a Feb. 14 bombing that is blamed, but not substantiated, to have been committed by Syrian agents. Darrell Issa, of Lebanese descent, noted "there's a huge permanent group of mourners at his grave, with hundreds of tents set up.'’

Senator Reid stressed the need for continued U.S. support for reconstruction efforts, along with training Iraqi security forces to replace U.S. military personnel and help bolster the Iraqi economy and political structure. "Everyone understands that reconstruction is an important part of the U.S. mission here," he added.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) agreed: "I believe what we are seeing here is good."

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a leading critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, seemed upbeat about the future of the new Iraq government. Iraq's future stability "greatly depends on the training of Iraqi security forces."

"We got a very, very upbeat report from the top U.S. military officials,” she added.

All of the delegation seemed to agree that their trip enforced the enormity of the challenge and the financial need to help the Iraqi people. This would require a continued input of American taxpayer dollars and left little doubt that they would line up to support the Bush administration’s proposed new $81 billion dollars (US) in expenditures there.