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Shuster: We are at war and war is a mess

October 20, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster made his second trip to Iraq last week and, although he is still confident about the prospects for elections in the country next year, the situation he described was more dangerous than during his 2003 visit.

"We spent two days in Baghdad. They do not allow congressional delegations to stay overnight, but there was a sandstorm," Shuster, R-Pa., said Tuesday at his district office. "It was pretty intense. At 8 o'clock at night, there was mortar fire."

Three American contractors were killed in one bombing during his stay, he said. There was another mortar attack, and he heard small arms fire while at a city north of Baghdad, he said.

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The delegation stayed in trailers with sandbags stacked to the roofs and wore helmets and body armor, said Shuster, who spent several days in Iraq in August 2003.

"Last August, we were able to travel around in armored vehicles throughout the city of Baghdad. This time, we flew by helicopter" because of danger of roadside bombs, he said.

"We are at war, and war is a mess. But as far as talking to our troops, talking to Iraqi citizens, talking to Iraqi special forces, Prime Minister Allawi ... and our top commanding generals, there are some very positive things happening there," Shuster said.

"They are certainly upset about the security situation. ... Iraqis are dying in far more numbers than Americans are," said Shuster, who met with a group of women leaders. After hearing their complaints, Shuster said members of the group told him America needs to stay, in order to establish a democracy.

Shuster said the women also were concerned about the outcome of the election and the possibility that troops will be withdrawn if Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry is elected.

"Which leads me to believe the terrorists believe the same thing," he said.

Improving security is important to holding elections in Iraq in a little more than three months, according to Shuster.

"You've got to have a campaign. You've got to have security so that these people can go out and stand on the stump and make their speeches," he said.

Iraqis were heartened by seeing relatively peaceful elections in neighboring Afghanistan, he said.

More security does not necessarily mean more American troops, Shuster said. After a poor start, Iraqi military and security forces are performing better and conducting military operations with coalition forces, he said.

A few months ago, according to Shuster, Iraqi National Guard soldiers often ran from a fight.

"Now, they're standing shoulder-to-shoulder. ... In many cases, they're the lead group" in coalition operations, he said.

Morale among the American soldiers he spoke with was good, "but I'd tell them, 'Give me the good, the bad and the ugly,'" Shuster said. "There was some concern about the convoys, and they felt the trucks that actually hauled the goods needed to have armored plating."

American forces were also being hampered by domestic laws, according to Shuster. One general told him he was having trouble spending the money he was allocated for water, sewer and other utility projects because of federal guidelines on bidding contracts and environmental laws.

"To have to go through these bureaucratic hoops is mind-boggling," Shuster said. His advice to President Bush is to tell the military to ignore the regulations.

The most pacified areas of Iraq are those that have re-established utility services, he said.

"It's not a story we're getting in the national media," he said.

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