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Conflict in the Middle East

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Location: Washington, DC


CONFLICT IN THE MIDDLE EAST -- (House of Representatives - April 08, 2008)

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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman from Georgia, and Mr. Speaker, he just touched on something I think is so very important.

Every once in a while, we need a wake-up call, and I think that is indeed true. And today has been a very serious day. This week is a very serious week here on Capitol Hill. And as I entered the Capitol again this evening to participate in our Special Order hour, I was struck by this stillness of the surroundings, the serene feelings of the Capitol as you walk in and as you look at the paintings and at the statues, making my way over to the chamber, reminded of those who have loved this Nation and loved the freedoms that we all enjoy and that allow us to stand in this chamber and participate in debate and to bring forward ideas and talk about what is a good idea and what is a bad idea.

And indeed, as the gentleman from Georgia said, every once in a while we need a wake-up call and a reminder that freedom is an idea that definitely has served this Nation well. It, Mr. Speaker, is an idea that serves all of the nations of the world very well. It is something that people all over the globe seek to have.

We have had discussion on this floor tonight about Tibet and the desire there to live in freedom, to worship freely. Many of us have watched the Iraqi people move forward with elections freely and willingly. Some of us travel to other nations to participate as we watch people seek to go in large numbers to the ballot box in their nation to freely vote.

I was struck a little bit earlier today, and I think it was more or less a wake-up call for me, Mr. Speaker. I stood in the shadow of the Capitol on the Senate side with a group called Vets for Freedom. I have had the opportunity to spend some time with them as they have told their stories about the success, the success stories, if you will, of what is happening on the ground in Iraq. And today they were joined by Senator McCain, Senator Lieberman, and other Members of the Senate, several of us from the House, including one of our most distinguished Members and a former prisoner of war, Sam Johnson, the honorable gentlemen from the great State of Texas.

And it was amazing to stand there and look into the faces of these veterans who have been willing to put it all on the line for freedom, to put it all on the line to protect this great Nation. And then to give actions to, again, to the actions they've carried out, to the words and the stories they're telling, and again, to take an action of coming here and coming to the Capitol and meeting with the Members of this body and to stand and support General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker as they reported to our Nation, to say we've been there, we've carried out the heavy lift, and indeed, freedom is worth the fight.

They've also made it very clear that America now has the opportunity to achieve our fundamental objectives in Iraq through the establishment of a peaceful, stable, secular, democratic State which will be a reliable ally in the struggle against both Sunni and Shiite terrorism. Establishing this ally would allow America to reorient our position in the Middle East away from a position that relies on anti-democratic States to a position based on a strong democratic partner whose citizens have explicitly rejected al Qaeda and terrorism in general and have chosen freedom.

Today, General Petraeus reported to the Senate on his progress. Tomorrow, the House will hear from the general.

What we've learned so far is that levels of violence and civilian deaths have been reduced substantially. Al Qaeda Iraq, and other extremist elements, have been dealt serious and damaging blows. The capabilities of the Iraqi security forces have grown. Indeed, the involvement of local Iraqis and local security has been noteworthy. The forces are growing, and indeed, the Iraqis have carried out their own surge, Mr. Speaker.

Americans are well aware the additional U.S. forces that deployed to Iraq as part of the surge and our great Nation's part there. What is less understood well is that Iraqi forces surged, adding over 100,000 additional soldiers and police to their very own security forces in 2007.

There has been a shift in attitude among certain elements of the Iraqi population. The Sunni communities

in Iraq increasingly have rejected al Qaeda's indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology. They recognize that they cannot share in the new Iraq if they don't participate in the political arena. That, Mr. Speaker, is a major step forward.

Over time, these awakenings have prompted tens of thousands of Iraqis, some former insurgents, to contribute to local security as sons of Iraq. There are 91,000 sons of Iraq Shia, as well as Sunni, under contract to help coalition and Iraqi forces protect their own neighborhoods. Again, they are taking the lead.

Al Qaeda's leadership, who still see Iraq as the central front in a global strategy, send funding, instructions, and foreign fighters to Iraq. Iraq's ethno-sectarian conflict in many areas is taking place through debate rather than through violence. That is another turn that we have seen. Security incidents are at a level not seen since early 2005, and civilian deaths have decreased to a level not seen before the mosque bombings in 2006.

Mr. Speaker, these are all items that are being reported to us of successes, military successes, that are taking place; and indeed, the gentleman from Georgia has mentioned some of these, has touched on some of the trends that we are seeing; and I know he's going to spend a little bit of time this evening going back and looking at these steps that tell the story of what is happening on the ground.

And as we see this take place, we see a population that is, indeed, beginning to feel safe to leave their homes. And once you're safe to leave your home, then you can start to work to make certain that your neighborhood is safe and then you make certain that your province is safe. All of this leads to a safer and free Iraq.

We know that the Iraqi parliament is making some progress, and as the gentleman from Georgia detailed some of the stats tonight, these are going to be items that will be included as we look.

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