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US Lawmakers Optimistic About Troop Morale in Iraq - 2003-11-04

U.S. lawmakers who recently visited Iraq say morale of American troops remains high, despite continuing loss of life and injuries from ongoing attacks. The remarks came as a senior U.N. official told a Senate committee the United Nations is determined to stay in Iraq.

The lawmakers were part of a delegation comprised mostly of members of the House International Relations Committee.

Republican Ed Royce has been one of the strongest supporters of the U.S. military effort in Iraq. He and others agree that ultimately, developing a new Iraqi police force and army will be the key to ending violence.

Mr. Royce says U.S. military commanders maintain they do not need additional U.S. troops. And Iraqis, he adds, are angry about attacks apparently being carried out by foreign terrorists.

"As we talked to average Iraqis they told us Iraqis wouldn't do this, this has been done by people from outside the country," he said. "And I think these types of actions that are costing the lives of Iraqi soldiers are having something of a blowback effect in terms of at least the Iraqis that we talked to on the street."

Another member of the delegation, Congressman Peter King, has no doubt the U.S. military is up to the task. "Listen, these are going to be tough times coming up in Iraq, but I have no doubt that the American military is going to be able to overcome whatever those difficulties are," he said. "I think it is very important that we do accelerate the training of the Iraqi police, the Iraqi troops, working with them."

However, Republican Congressman Steve Chabot, expresses concern about recent calls to reconstitute members of the former Iraqi military. "We just can't be so anxious to get it done that we necessarily say, let's just bring back the former Iraqi army and put them out there," he said. "You had some real thugs in the Iraqi military, and I don't think we want to turn some of those folks and the Baathists loose on the people again."

Despite a generally upbeat assessment, lawmakers are concerned about the strain placed on military reservists serving in Iraq, along with questions of pay affecting their families. This and other troop issues were raised in meetings with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz.

As Congress continues to watch developments, it also heard Tuesday from a senior U.N. official who said the United Nations is determined to stay in Iraq.

Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program, said news reports gave an inaccurate impression that the United Nations is leaving Iraq.

"We are going to stay in Iraq and we are going to stay carrying our mission and taking the risks that we recognize are inherent in that mission," he said.

The committee also heard from M. Peter McPherson, former economic development coordinator for the U.S. administration in Iraq. He described the situation in Iraq as "messy", but said he believes there has been "real progress" toward restoring Iraq's economy after years of neglect under Saddam Hussein.