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DeFazio impressed with Army, Iraqi work.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio knows firsthand just how dangerous Iraq is.

It's so bad that military escorts accompanying DeFazio and other visiting U.S. legislators couldn't decide whether to drive or fly the party from the Baghdad airport to a downtown command compound - all of about 5 miles.

In the end, they drove, a harrowing trip because there wasn't enough of the ceramic body armor to go around and DeFazio had to do without.

It's so bad that the legislators weren't even allowed to spend the night in Iraq, but were instead flown out to Jordan and back in the next day.

"We don't have control of this country. It's not safe," DeFazio said Thursday after returning to Eugene.

In some ways, the two-day visit to Iraq last weekend was surreal, the Springfield Democrat said. Picture the Baghdad airport, once the scene of deadly gun battles. It's now rebuilt, beautiful, modern and staffed by plenty of people. But there are no commercial flights in or out of the country yet.

"We're paying people's salaries to stand around all day," he said.

DeFazio found the military efforts in the country more compelling than that of civilian administrators. "I'm not impressed with the civilian side. They're hunkered down in a complex and don't get out," he said.

But in the area known as the Sunni Triangle that includes Balad and Tikrit, DeFazio said, the Army is overseeing rebuilding efforts that have employed Iraqis and brought real change.

There he saw a cement plant up and running that Halliburton had said would cost $26 million and take a year to build, but that Iraqis had put together for $70,000 in just a few months.

He saw newly irrigated fields providing vegetables sold at markets, thanks to the Army's use of confiscated regime money.

"The Army is building schools. They're building sewer and water systems," he said. Those efforts have helped foster better relationships with Iraqis, especially because many citizens have found employment through them.

That's not necessarily so with Halliburton, the private company managing many rebuilding contracts and other work for the Army, DeFazio said. While eating one night with soldiers, he discovered that the people working behind the food line - employed by Halliburton - were East Indians, not Iraqis.

DeFazio also met with some newly trained Iraqi army soldiers. The sooner they can take on security tasks, the better it will be for U.S.-Iraqi relations, he said. But the Iraqis are too poorly equipped, he said.

"There's no money for vehicles or weapons," he said. "We really need to do better by them, accelerate their training," he said.

The two days in Iraq only allowed for some general impressions, but DeFazio believes that more legislators could benefit from such a trip. "Every member of Congress who voted to rush to war should go," he said.

He agrees with the assessment of Gen. Ricardo Sanchez that a large U.S. military presence will be required there for another four or five years. And he called on the Bush administration to exhibit a more conciliatory diplomacy toward nations such as Germany and France.

It will take billions to rebuild Iraq and more of that money needs to come from other countries, DeFazio said.

He agrees with critics of the plan that would defer popular elections and instead appoint an interim group of leaders.

"We can't have this country run by exiles who were out of the country for 30 years," he said. "I can't see how the U.S. can be on the wrong side of popular elections."

Foremost, he wants better gear for U.S. troops putting their lives on the line, not just more body armor, but special radio-jamming devices that block the signals that set off roadside bombs, and more armored Humvees. "With all the closed auto plants in the United States, you'd think we could ramp up and produce a few lines," he said.

MORE FROM DeFAZIO

Today: The congressman will speak at noon at the Florence City Club meeting at Ocean Dunes Golf Links, 3345 Munsel Lake Road.

CAPTION(S):

Rep. Peter DeFazio (second from right) talks with U.S. Army soldiers (from left) Nicole Zettel of La Pine, Cheyenne Mortenson of Portland and Chet Kjos of Junction City.
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Title Annotation:Government; After a harrowing visit there, the Springfield congressman says Iraq is still not safe or under coalition control
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 30, 2004
Words:718
Previous Article:With few days left, votes on tax pile up.
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