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Personal Reflections on Iraq

Location: Washington, DC

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON IRAQ -- (House of Representatives - May 25, 2005)


Mr. BRADLEY of New Hampshire. Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a tribute to the leadership of the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Osborne) that we would be joined tonight with Members of the other side of the aisle. We went to Iraq not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans who are interested in our troops and interested in the fate of that country. It is certainly a tribute to both the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. Davis) and the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Udall) that they are joining us tonight. There is precious little of this type of bipartisan cooperation and certainly it is a pleasure for me to participate in it tonight. It is important that when we think about the ongoing hostilities in Iraq, that we see both sides of the picture. I think we had the opportunity 6 weeks ago to see an awful lot of positive developments in Iraq.

Since then, I think we all have seen the news on the television and the spate of bombings and the threat that the insurgents are trying to bring down a newly elected government. That is horrifying, especially after the reaction that I think all six of us got in Iraq, which was positive, which is that we are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, that the Iraqi security forces are doing much better in their ability to operate. Yes, they have a ways to go. We need more of them. There are about 152,000. We need about 300,000. But they are doing better. They still have to be able to operate independently, with a command and control structure, but General Patraeus explained to us how that is on its way, that it cannot happen overnight.

The Iraqi women that we met, and perhaps this was the most telling thing when they talked about the Iraqi security forces, said that the Iraqi people are beginning to be able to trust the Iraqi security forces much more. That was so important to me, to be able to hear it straight from the horse's mouth, the Iraqi women. These are women that had endured so much, not only to be there but they had endured 30 years of horrifying events. I will touch on that in a moment.

As the others who have spoken tonight have said, we also had the chance to talk to the new leadership, Dr. Ibrahim Jafari, the newly elected Shiite prime minister. One of the most important things he stressed to us is the need for a permanent constitution. The Shiites are a majority in Iraq, but Dr. Jafari recognized that in order for this experiment in Iraqi democracy to be successful, they will have to reach out to the Sunnis and to the Kurds. He promised us that they would do that. That is occurring now as we speak. Unfortunately, we are also seeing the resistance coming from some disaffected Sunnis that are trying to bring down the government. That is unfortunate.

But most Sunnis, working with the majority party, the Shiites in Iraq, I believe will be able to bridge these differences working with the Kurdish people and the new president who is also a Kurd, Jalal Talabani. It was a good experience in meeting with Dr. Jafari.

One thing that needs to be stressed, and I think we have all touched upon this, is the morale of our forces. We all had the opportunity. The gentleman from Texas (Mr. Neugebauer) met people from Texas, the Colorado contingent, the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. Davis), certainly from Nebraska, I from New Hampshire, we all had an opportunity to meet troops from our home State. I was struck by their commitment to their mission, by the fact that they said their living accommodations were getting better, not just the food and the housing but that they felt as American soldiers, men and women, that they were making progress, and they saw the progress, they saw the fact that the vote had gone off successfully, that a government had been formed, and they felt part of this historic change in Iraq, and they reflected that to all of us.

One thing that as we approach Memorial Day that I think is critically important for all Americans to realize regardless of how we may feel about the policy of the Iraq war, it was highlighted by a wall that was at the base in al Ansar that we saw. That wall, as I recall, had about 40 letters from a second grade class in Texas.

These were letters from American school children thanking, thanking, our troops for their sacrifice. And I asked the captain, What does this mean to the men and women that are here in Iraq? And he said, It inspires us every day to get out and do our job; every day we know that the American people are behind us.

So whether it is school children throughout our country, whether it is supporting the families who are still here, the spouses, the children, the parents of our soldiers, we can never forget the sacrifice that our families are making; and certainly this second grade class from Texas and millions of other classes from around the country that have sent letters to our troops, not just in Iraq, but Afghanistan and all of the countries where our troops are fighting and winning the war on terrorism, how important our show of support is for their efforts.

And, lastly, let me, like others, touch on the experience that we all had in meeting with the Iraqi women leaders, members of parliament, the new ambassador to Egypt, the acting health minister, and many others. They were Shiites, they were Kurds, they were Sunnis. But they were Iraqi women who had endured so much, unspeakable horrors.

At one point in the lunch we were having, we were asking questions of each other. And finally they asked me to introduce myself after about 45 minutes. And I talked a little bit about my family and my situation in New Hampshire, and I said that I was from the ``Live Free or Die'' State, and I think my colleagues all remember that every time I repeated my State motto, this really resonated with the Iraqi people because ``Live free or die'' means something in New Hampshire, it means something in America, and it means something in Iraq.

So then I went on to tell them about my first experience in Iraq where I had gone to the Abu Ghraib prison. We have all heard about the abuses there, and we are dealing with those abuses as a country, as well we should. But what I saw, and perhaps some of my colleagues have seen, was what happened to 80,000 Iraqis who were executed in that prison.

And I was describing this to the Iraqi women, and I realized that they were all starting to cry. I did not really know what to do because it had been such a horrifying experience to me. And then one of them said, My husband was executed in that prison. And another one said to me, My brother was executed in that prison. And I knew at that point how much they had endured on a personal level of the suffering, of the depravity, of the barbaric nature of that regime.

The most important thing, I think, for Americans to realize and the whole world to realize is the tenacity and the singleness of their purpose, that they will rebuild a country if the world will support them in that effort. And that is important for us to remember as we approach Memorial Day, that they have the will to succeed if we have the will to persevere with them.

I thank the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Osborne) for yielding to me.


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