Udall heads out for mission in Iraq
SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Rep. Mark Udall is taking four days off from campaigning to take a “little weekend jaunt” to Iraq.The Eldorado Springs Democrat, who represents Summit County and the 2nd Congressional District, said he’s been trying to visit the war-torn country since the spring, and hasn’t been able to join a Congressional delegation until now.He faces Republican Michael Kennedy in the Nov. 2 election.”I’m going with some trepidation,” he said. “It’s a dangerous part of the world. But I think it’s important to make the trip there. I’m a visual, experiential learner. You can only read and watch TV so much. I need to go to the place.”Although Udall is opposed to the war, he said he needs to visit Iraq to better determine the successes and challenges the United States faces in trying to rebuild the country.Reports indicate 1,037 soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the war began. In addition, two civilian workers have been beheaded in the last two days.
“I sit here in judgment of our policy; I’ve raised a set of questions that needed to be asked,” Udall said. “It’s just as important for critics of this effort as it is for supporters to be on the ground and get a feeling for it. A few days won’t be a substitute for being deployed there for a year, but I can pick up quite a bit,” Udall said.He is traveling with Reps. Ernest Istook, R-Okla.; Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D.; and Tom Osborne, R-Neb.While there, Udall also wants to hear firsthand from leaders what he might not be getting from official reports sent to the United States.”I want to hear what they think is the best prescription to move us into a more stable Iraq,” he said. “Until we stabilize the situation, we can’t build the infrastructure, we can’t hold elections.”Udall won’t know his itinerary – other than that he will enter the country through Kuwait and Jordan – until he leaves tonight. But he hopes to talk with military and civilian leaders and thank some of the 130,000 American troops for their efforts. He returns to the United States next Tuesday.
“I want to provide a morale boost and give a thank you,” he said. “Whether or not I think the mission is right, I have a lot of respect and admiration for the men and women who put their lives on the line.”Having attended other congressional trips to India, Pakistan and Tibet, among other countries, Udall expects to attend a lot of formal briefings from which he will receive the “official point of view.” But, he noted, he has in the past been able to find people that will talk off the record to give him a sense of where the official reports match up with what’s going on on the ground.Udall admits he’s still in opposition to the war, believing U.S. leaders should have first focused its efforts on North Korea’s interest in developing nuclear weapons, the standoff in Kashmir between India and Pakistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.But now that the U.S. is firmly entrenched in rebuilding Iraq, he wants to do what’s best.”It’s the old story,” he said. “There’s a man who’s lost and he runs into a policemen and asks directions and the policeman says, ‘If I was going there, I wouldn’t start from here.’ But that’s the past.
“Clearly there have been some success stories where we have rebuilt schools, helped rebuild the infrastructure that was damaged,” he continued. “But I think there’s grave concern among nonpartisan experts that we have an even more difficult job to meet the goals of the administration to build a stable, democratic and free Iraq that actually contributes to the war on terrorism.”Udall said he’d rather focus on “staying the goal,” rather than President Bush’s statement to “stay the course.””We know where we have to go,” he said. “But it’s not real clear (how to go about it.) That’s an indictment of this administration. It was given advice the entire year about what it would take to win the peace, and from every report I’ve read, they’ve ignored it.”Udall admits he’s a little nervous about heading to the war-torn country.”But in a way, I’m excited,” he said. “When climbing, I bring my expertise, my experience and my equipment to the mountains, and they’re dangerous. I’m going to feel more dependent on the people I’m with, but I think common sense will play a part in coming back healthy and in one piece.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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