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US Congressmen Returning from Iraq Urge More Effort to Seek International Help - 2003-12-09

Two congressman just returned from Iraq say the United States needs to redouble efforts to internationalize the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority and the rebuilding of the country. Republicans Christopher Shays and Frank Wolf spoke at a news conference on Capitol Hill.

Congressmen Shays and Wolf went to Iraq not as guests of the U.S. authority, but of a non-government organization.

They were un-escorted by the U.S. military, arriving in Baghdad and then driving south for three days and two nights that included overnight stays in the town of al-Kut.

Both say this gave them access they otherwise might not have had during the three-day visit, and clearer insights into what ordinary Iraqis are thinking. Congressman Wolf said "we found most Iraqis supported the U.S. effort, they want the coalition to stay, how long depends on who you talk to, but just about everybody said stay for a while. Schools are being rebuilt, you will see old schools next to the new schools. The economy is picking up. The markets downtown are thriving and pulsating."

The lawmakers describe the security situation as a major problem hampering reconstruction, with Mr. Wolf describing conditions as "still very, very dangerous."

Neither lawmaker believes the United States should send in more troops. However, among their recommendations is that the Bush administration redouble efforts to further internationalize the coalition and Iraqi reconstruction. "[It is] important to expand the coalition, we can't say that enough," said Mr. Wolf. "This really has to be more than just the U.S. government there. Others, Britain, the Australians and some others, we really need others to be involved."

Mr. Shays said while many Iraqis want the United States to stay, years of mistrust under Saddam Hussein have created a situation in which people will be suspicious of any authority.

He said a representative of the Iraqi Governing Council should participate in all coalition authority briefings, and the provisional authority needs to take on an "Iraqi face." "The face and voice of the coalition provisional authority should be Iraqi. I mean, it would be like in the American Revolution having the French explain to the rest of the world what was happening in the American Revolution," he said. "We think it is absolutely essential that when American members of Congress are in Iraq, that they are not just meeting with the Brits, the Aussies, and the Americans, but they are meeting in the same place with Iraqis."

Other recommendations include more aggressive efforts to secure or buy back small weapons hidden throughout Iraq. Linking the success of U.S. efforts in Iraq to the Middle East, they say the administration should appoint a special envoy to give "sustained, high-level attention" to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

They also want the Bush administration to "audit" U.S. efforts to send "evaluators" to all parts of the country, a recommendation Congressman Wolf says the administration is likely to oppose.

The congressmen are also concerned that the United States is, in the words of one of the lawmakers, "losing the battle of ideas and perceptions not only in Muslim societies, but across the world."

Congressman Wolf said a public communications program originally initiated by the coalition authority in Iraq failed and is now being reviewed. He urged the Bush administration to act on recommendations earlier this year by a special advisory group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World under former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Saudi Arabia, Edward Djerejian.