One Day in Iraq

From Holden:

Representative Jim McGovern vists our fifty-first state.

I was in Iraq as part of a delegation of eight members of Congress, led by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. Everything we have been told about Iraq by the Bush Administration has either been an outright lie or overwhelmingly false. There were no weapons of mass destruction; we have not been greeted as liberators; and the cost in terms of blood and treasure has outpaced even their worst-case scenarios. Trust is something I cannot give to this Administration.


We were in Iraq for one day–for security reasons, it is US policy that Congressional delegations are not allowed to spend the night. We spent most of our time in the heavily fortified Green Zone, which serves as coalition headquarters. It’s the most heavily guarded encampment I’ve ever seen–and it still gets attacked. I even had armed guards accompany me to the bathroom. The briefings we received from US military and diplomatic officials were, to say the least, unsatisfying. The Nixonian approach that our military and diplomatic leaders have adopted in dealing with visiting members of Congress is aimed more at saving face than at engaging in an honest dialogue. At first, our briefers wanted to get away with slick slide presentations, but we insisted on asking real questions and attempting to get real answers.


I asked both General Petraeus and our embassy about US plans to build military bases in Iraq, which in my view would indicate a prolonged US presence. I was told–emphatically–that there are no plans to construct military bases. Yet Congress recently passed a huge supplemental wartime appropriations bill that includes, at the request of the Bush Administration, $500 million for military base construction. In Iraq.


And while US officials point to a declining number of coalition casualties, there is still an unacceptably high level of violence in Iraq. One military leader told us they can tell that things are changing for the better because when US helicopters fly over certain areas of Iraq, Iraqis wave. Well, I took a helicopter ride (it’s too dangerous to drive) from the Baghdad airport to the Green Zone wearing an armored vest and sandwiched between two heavily armed American soldiers who were pointing their guns down at the ground. I suggested to the military leader that perhaps he was confusing a wave with a plea not to shoot.

Our young men and women in uniform are performing their difficult duties extraordinarily well. Indeed, the only honest and direct responses I got from any American in Iraq were from the soldiers. They told me they had been instructed by their superiors not to share any complaints with visitors.