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The Daily Herald - Roskam, in Iraq, answers questions from back home

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Location: Iraq

An anxious Melissa Johnson wasted no time in her phone conversation with U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam.

"My cousin is in the Air Force and on his third tour of duty in Iraq. My whole family is very worried about him and how he'll be when he comes back — if he does come back," the Wheaton resident said.

Answering her from Iraq, Roskam told Johnson he shared her concern.

"We're reaching the point at which we've got to be very careful about extending deployments any further," he replied.

Roskam left Washington, D.C., on Friday with a bipartisan group of five other U.S. representatives for a firsthand look at conditions in Iraq. He was expected to be back Tuesday in Washington.

More than 6,000 constituents tuned into a Tele-Town Hall meeting Saturday with the freshman Republican congressman from Wheaton.

Sixth district residents were notified by telephone minutes before the event that they'd be able to listen in and ask questions for about an hour.

The delegation met with U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus, other American and coalition military officials and Iraqi leaders.

The visit comes as some in Congress consider withdrawal or limiting the mission in Iraq. American military deaths have topped 3,640 since the war began.

Roskam said Petraeus spoke of "tactical momentum" in the so-called surge — the massive deployment of additional forces to secure Iraq that started in January.

The mood of callers was somber.

"I'm concerned overall that Congress isn't supporting the troops and the surge," Eric Krull of Carol Stream said.

Arnold Clark of Oak Brook commented he believed the country was "involved in a war we should have never started, and there's probably not a good, honorable way to get out." He asked if the surge offered a path "to help us in an honorable way to disengage?"

Roskam acknowledged "there is a limitation to American power. There is a limitation to what we're able to accomplish, and my sense is there's a political reality on the ground in that the public is growing weary of this obligation.

"I am encouraged, however, by Gen. Petraeus. I think he is someone who is using the surge wisely, but it's not a surge he's looking to use into perpetuity. He's concerned about our troop strength generally.

"I'm sensitive to that, and it's my hope we're doing all we can reasonably do to take the challenge on."

Sanjit Ray of Mount Prospect asked if Roskam supported involving Iran diplomatically.

"I'm open to consider how to engage Iran appropriately," Roskam said. "My concern is Iran and its leadership have been outrageously provocative."

Roskam described temperatures of more than 100 degrees and said he was impressed by the soldiers he met so far.

Questioned if he had been about to gauge the "real morale of troops," Roskam said, "I want to reserve judgment on that," he said, adding he hoped to meet with Illinois soldiers Sunday and talk in-depth.

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