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Shuster says less gunfire in Iraq on latest visit

December 06, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Less gunfire and more satellite dishes are evidence of progress that could - along with next month's parliamentary elections - lead to a withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Iraq next year, according to U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster.

The American military presence in that country, however, could last a generation, Shuster, R-Pa., said Monday during a teleconference call with reporters from his Hollidaysburg, Pa., office.

"Today, every structure has a satellite dish," Shuster said nearly a week after returning from a two-day trip to Iraq on Nov. 28 and 29 with five other members of the House of Representatives.

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Shuster said the satellite dishes above the dun-colored homes of Baghdad are indicative of more than Iraqis watching television. The dishes were illegal during the reign of ousted leader Saddam Hussein, but topped many roofs by the time Shuster made his first visit in 2003, Shuster said.

"It gives them a view of the world," Shuster said, but also indicates the emergence of a consumer culture that will be important to the rebuilding of the economy. It also says something about the rebuilding of Iraq's utilities in that the country now produces more electricity than when Saddam was in power, but demand is up 20 percent.

"When I was there a year ago, we heard mortar fire on a regular basis and small-arms fire on a regular basis," Shuster said of his October 2004 trip. This time, Shuster said he heard no mortar or gunfire and felt more secure, although the congressmen still wore body armor and did most of their travel by helicopter rather than by road.

Three benchmarks have to be met before a significant withdrawal of troops occurs, according to Shuster, the first being the Iraqi military and police taking over more security duties. Shuster said Iraqis are in charge of security in about 50 percent of the Baghdad Military District and approximately 30 percent of the entire country of 27 million people.

Secondly, the economy and infrastructure have to be on stable footing. In addition to the satellite dishes, Shuster said he saw more cell phones and cars in use than during his previous two trips.

The third benchmark is the Dec. 15 election, he said.

"It will be a permanent government. A government in place for four years," Shuster said. The quality of leadership that emerges from the election on the national, provincial and local levels will determine whether troop reductions begin in eight months or 18 months, he said.

"If we get political hacks ... it might be 18 months," he said. U.S. military officials he spoke with know who they want in office, but "This is a democratic process. We're not going to have any say in it."

The congressman said he expects Sunni participation to be higher than in the constitutional voting earlier this year as that minority Islamic group realizes the importance of being part of the political process.

Referring to a speech last week by President Bush outlining a strategy for "total victory," Shuster said, "I don't know if his definition and my definition are the same." Shuster said he doubted terrorism can be totally eliminated, but said a stable Iraq is possible.

"I also believe we're going to be there for a generation or two, just as we were in Germany, Japan and Korea," Shuster said of the military presence in those countries long after World War II and the Korean War.

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