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Senators Say U.S. Troop Morale in Iraq is Good

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2003 – U.S. senators recently returned from Iraq say life is looking up for its citizens and that American troop morale there is good.

"I think that a lot is going in the right direction in Iraq," Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell told reporters at a Pentagon news conference today.

"We visited schools. We saw youngsters in the street - who couldn't have been programmed - who were waving at us and giving '(the) thumbs up' (sign),'" the Kentuckian recalled.

The senators also "saw shops springing up all over in Baghdad and Mosul," McConnell added.

McConnell said he and fellow legislators also visited with a local provincial council in Mosul "that was elected since the fall of Saddam."

In Iraq "security is obviously still an issue," McConnell acknowledged. "No one denies that," he said. However, he added, Iraq "is well on its way to getting on its feet with American help."

The $20 billion earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction that's part of President Bush's $87 billion supplemental budget proposal now before Congress for military operations and rebuilding projects in Afghanistan and Iraq "is the key to getting the (U.S.) troops home," McConnell said.

It's essential, he added, that Congress consider the $20 billion proposal for Iraq reconstruction as a grant rather than a loan. News reports say Iraq already owes $200 billion to various creditors.

"I hope and expect that this will be a grant, and hopefully, the last grant that we will have to make for Iraq," he added.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig echoed McConnell's views of the current situation in Iraq. "The lights are on in Baghdad, the schools are open, the bazaars are bustling with people doing commerce," he said.

Traffic jams, he continued, are now a part of life in and around Baghdad. Such activities certainly don't depict an Iraq that's under siege, Craig asserted. "It speaks to a people who are now free and wanting to thrive, doing the very kinds of things that we take as normal in this country," he said.

Iraqi blue-shirted police are now "all over" the country, Craig observed, noting this is important because Iraqis need to administer their security and civil justice systems. Regarding overall security issues in Iraq, Craig said he felt "very positive about a very difficult situation."

Fielding a reporter's question about a recent Stars and Stripes survey that noted some troops were disenchanted with service in Iraq, McConnell noted he hadn't seen the survey. The Stars and Stripes is a newspaper that receives some military funding, but operates independently, without military commander influence.

The Kentuckian discounted the notion that senior U.S. commanders in Iraq put on "dog and pony shows" for the senators by using handpicked troops to present a rosy view of progress in Iraq and U.S. troop morale.

"They couldn't have programmed the creation of all these businesses springing up in the streets" or the reactions of Iraqi children, McConnell maintained.

And, "I don't think they could have programmed every single Kentucky soldier that I met to tell me something that would fit the pattern the leadership wanted," the Kentuckian added. "I thought the (troop) morale was exceptionally high," McConnell continued. He added that he met many Kentuckians in Iraq, and none said American forces shouldn't be there. "There's no way all of those people could have been programmed to give me an optimistic view, if they didn't hold one."

Craig agreed with McConnell that U.S. troop morale in Iraq was good.

"I met with 35 Idahoans ... and the only concern I heard was an issue of rotation," he noted.

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