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US Senators' Visit to Northern Iraq Leaves Strong Impression - 2002-12-08


Two influential members of the U.S. senate have recently visited northern Iraq. Democrat Joseph Biden and Republican Chuck Hagel met with Kurdish leaders and left the area with strong impressions.

Senator Biden says he was surprised by the level of unity he found among the Kurds in northern Iraq, and the amount of progress they have made in improving the standard of living in the region.

"The Kurds has essentially run northern Iraq since we put the no-fly zone in, and they have made great progress. I mean physical progress in terms of what the landscape was, how people are living, schools they built, hospitals," he said.

Mr. Biden, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he also came away from the visit with a clear understanding of the difficulties ahead.

The Delaware Senator says everyone he met with on his tour of the region drove home the point that should the Americans step in militarily, they will have to be prepared to back a long, costly, and complex transition period in Iraq.

"This is going to be a serious undertaking on our part if we need to use force in Iraq in terms of what is expected of us in the aftermath of a victory," he said.

Senator Biden traveled with a top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. They appeared on CNN's Late Edition program from Qatar, where they met with General Tommy Franks the man expected to lead any possible military action to disarm Iraq.

Mr. Hagel said he thinks the Iraqi opposition will stand with the United States if President Bush turns to force as a last resort. He says he believes the various Kurdish factions will work together toward a common goal.

"I, like Joe (Senator Biden), was impressed with a realism that has developed based on the reality of what is ahead, but also the hope they have," he said.

Meanwhile, other American lawmakers are speaking out about the 12,000 page report Iraq submitted Saturday to the U.N. Baghdad says it shows it has no weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, told the Fox News Sunday television program that he has doubts. "I think you would have to say that what they gave the U.N. yesterday was probably a 12,000 page, 100-pound lie.

President Bush said in his radio address Saturday that the report will come under close study. He acknowledged it would take some time to determine its honesty and completeness.

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