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Bartlett details recent visit to Iraq

January 09, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

During a recent trip to Iraq, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., visited a hospital in Iraq, met with at least 50 Maryland residents serving abroad and went down into the hideout where Saddam Hussein was captured.

While others visiting the spot where Saddam was captured Dec. 13 merely stepped into the so-called "spider hole," Bartlett wanted to get the full experience, so he laid down for a moment, he said.

He described the hideout, which he visited during a Dec. 19 to 23 trip to Iraq with other federal lawmakers, as "dark and dreary."

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"It is about the size of a coffin," he said.

Bartlett said that when he and other federal lawmakers traveled in Baghdad, they wore flak jackets and moved around in an armored convoy.

He said, while there, he met Maryland residents who are members of the National Guard.

Some expressed frustration that they were in Iraq while their families were trying to get by without them and their employers were holding jobs for them, Bartlett said.

Despite those concerns, they told him that when they saw the deplorable conditions under which the Iraqi people were living, they knew their cause was just, he said.

While they understood why the military was there, Bartlett said they asked him why National Guard members are there and whether it is appropriate for them to be serving abroad at a time when the nation is not under attack.

Bartlett said he thinks that is a fair question and one he intends to pursue in Congress.

The soldiers he talked to are serving as the "compassionate occupier" while carrying guns with the knowledge they might have to kill someone, he said.

It is a difficult task, but one they are doing well, he said.

Bartlett said he has concern about Iraq's future.

"What I hope we do not do is set up a sort of government ... and then leave. Because I think it will come unglued," he said.

Bartlett said he went inside a hospital in Iraq and noticed that the employees were armed.

He saw Iraqi prisoners of war at the hospital and they seemed pleased by the American presence, he said.

"They are going to be our best emissaries when they get back home. They were all smiles and thumbs up and high-fiving," Bartlett said.

His wife was concerned about his safety in Iraq, but Bartlett said he told her he works in the most dangerous place in the world, Washington D.C., which is a target of terrorists.

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