Udall returns with questions | SummitDaily.com

Udall returns with questions

SUMMIT COUNTY – U.S. Congressman Mark Udall returned to the United States Tuesday with a “kaleidoscope of images and impressions” from a four-day whirlwind visit to Iraq.The El Dorado Democrat went to Iraq with a bipartisan congressional delegation to see firsthand how the reconstruction of that country is going amid continuing warfare.”I went over there with as open a mind as possible; I was interested in absorbing as many perceptions as I could,” he said during a teleconference Wednesday morning. “In summary, I came back with more questions and answers, and different questions than when I left about what’s really occurring over there.”The delegation, which was staged in Jordan, arrived in Baghdad in a C-1 aircraft – “a semi-truck with wings,” Udall said. Over the four days, the entourage spoke with Lt. Gen. David Petraeus about security forces in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli about the efforts in Sadr City where 2 million people are without running water or sewage treatment plants, and Gen. Geoffrey Miller in Abu Ghraib, where he watched intelligence gathering efforts among prisoners.They also met with embassy staff, spoke with Vice Adm. Dennis Mcginn who’s in charge of overseeing railroad, port and airport infrastructure reconstruction, and ate with enlisted personnel.”We got a decent feel for the country,” Udall said. “But we were never outside of the controlled areas in Baghdad.”

Udall made the news over the weekend when insurgents shot a mortar round at the embassy compound. No one was injured in the incident, and Udall said he didn’t hear about it until later.Personnel most lifted his spirits, he said.”Their esprit, their commitment is solid; they feel we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “Their can-do attitude is phenomenal, they’ve got incredible resolve. Their ingenuity and optimism pervades what we’re doing over there. But ultimately … can all that American spirit be successful?”Udall said there are many positive things to see in Iraq, including reconstruction efforts, patrols in the less stable parts of the country and preparations for elections in late January. Women are increasingly enlisting in the army, schools are being rebuilt and citizens are joining the police force. “But do they add to the strategy that adds up to the goal of a market-based, democratic beacon in the Middle East?” Udall said. “That’s a concern a lot of people have.”Udall repeatedly said there is no question that America could take Iraq militarily, but questioned if America can succeed politically.

“I believe this is a war of public relations, a war to win hearts and minds of the Iraqi people,” he said. “If instability is increasing, it affects the daily lives of Iraqis and their ability to rebuild the country. All those efforts don’t help us reach our goal of returning a stable Iraq back to the people. I think that mission is in question.”Udall still believes the United States would have been better served by developing international support for the invasion of Iraq, and could have avoided it altogether if U.S. officials had pressed Saddam Hussein harder to allow weapons inspections.He got the impression that the Republicans with whom he traveled felt efforts there are on track.And many said they wished the good news and accomplishments were emphasized in the media as often as the continued violence.Iraqis told Udall they wanted more of the reconstruction contracts to go to Iraqi businesses, he said. That will permit Iraqis to take more responsibility – and thus feel more vested – within their communities.”One businessman said they had security but not freedom under Saddam Hussein,” Udall said. “A few months after he was captured, he said they had freedom and a sense of security, but not the kind of security they want. If America doesn’t learn from these mistakes, they won’t have security and stability, and they won’t have freedom.”

In the short-term, Udall said the U.S. needs to determine what will happen after the elections in January, build up the army and national guard and ensure fair and open elections are held to legitimize the government and give Iraqi people the feeling they’re in charge.Part of ensuring fair elections will be getting Sunnis, who don’t live in the immediate area, to the polls.”An attack could come at any minute,” Udall said. “And if people are spending time focused on all that instead of rebuilding the country … it relates back to my concerns about winning the peace from the get-go, particularly if we didn’t get it right in first few months.”Troubles won’t end with the advent of a new government, however. Udall said he feels a stable Iraq is three to five years away.”That’s the obligation the President, whoever it is, has to meet,” he said. “And I don’t think the American people understand this is a long-term commitment. That’s why I was concerned about the resolution (to invade Iraq) in 2002.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at jstebbins@summitdaily.com.

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