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The high cost of dignitary visits, part 4

August 28, 2007 | 2008 campaign,Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

How to spot a dignitary visit to Iraq.

Some dignitary is at the embassy? Boom!

Mortars, rockets or car bombs strike in and around the U.S. embassy and Green Zone with regularity during most, if not all, delegation visits, killing and injuring more U.S. troops. (Remember, preparing one site for a dignitary visit can involve 200 to 300 troops and start from two to three days out.)

An American delegation met Iranians in Baghdad on May 28, 2007. Brilliant. Hold a high-profile meeting of dignitaries … in Baghdad. Oh, and publicize it. I don’t know. Isn’t that sort of like holding a national hurricane convention in Florida during a Category 5 hurricane – and expecting the National Guard to stand outside in the storm?

The more the merrier

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., was also in Iraq on Memorial Day 2007 with a delegation. While he was there, a 24-year-old Connecticut soldier died in a helicopter crash, which Courtney called a “terrible tragedy.” Emphasizing the danger of their visit, a roadside bomb exploded about 500 yards from where the delegation was in Baghdad.

Ten U.S. troops died on Memorial Day, a car bomb killed at least 21 people, and insurgents hijacked a bus and kidnapped 15 passengers in Baghdad. Two U.S. troops died May 27.

Three blasts rocked the compound where British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Iraqi leaders on May 19, 2007, and one explosion occurred just outside the Green Zone. Initial reports mentioned that one person was injured and (whew!) it was not someone in Blair’s party. Right. It was an American soldier. Seven U.S. troops also died that day.

An explosion rattled the windows of the U.S. embassy, where Vice President Dick Cheney spent most of the day, May 9, 2007. Thirty-seven U.S. troops died leading up to and surrounding the May 2007 visits by Cheney and Blair.

Is this a new development? Nope. It’s déjà vu.

One U.S. soldier providing security for U.S. officials visiting Baghdad died July 6, 2003. One U.S. soldier on patrol in Baghdad during a delegation visit died July 7, 2003.

Even though 23 people died from a car bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2003, an 11-member delegation visited the city just days later on Aug. 25, 2003, and again on Aug. 28. They visited Kirkuk on Aug. 29. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said the bombing would not change the delegation’s plans.

I don’t want to do anything foolish, but I think it’s very important that I go there. If I’m ordering young men and women to go into harm’s way, as a member of Congress I need to see what they’re dealing with. — Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. (Westport News, Aug. 29, 2003)

Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the bombing was a wake-up call, but he had a personal duty as a member of Congress to visit Iraq.

I believe our military forces would stop us from going if it weren’t relatively safe for us to go over there.— Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. (Public Opinion, Aug. 23, 2003)

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., worried about their safety but said the risk troops were taking in Iraq was “far more than I’ll be taking” (Star Tribune, Aug. 20, 2003).

How much risk were the troops taking with his delegation there?

(In addition to Kennedy, Shays and Shuster, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., was part of the delegation.)

Seventeen members of Congress took a five-day tour of the region, including Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad, Sept. 25-28, 2003. American-occupied al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad was attacked Sept. 27. Three makeshift rockets were fired at the hotel, one hitting and superficially damaging part of its 14th floor, another landing in a courtyard, and a third damaging a private house nearby (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 29, 2003). Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said protecting U.S. troops was his highest priority, but he criticized media coverage of Iraq.

All you see among the talking heads is that another soldier was killed today. It must be taken into perspective. How many people were killed in Washington, D.C., at the same time? — Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif. (The Press-Enterprise, Oct. 1, 2003)

While they were there, seven soldiers died, one from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s home state of New Jersey. At a hearing before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Frelinghuysen said he had a positive experience in Iraq (Hearing before the Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives, Oct. 8, 2003).

(Delegation: Reps. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas; Ken Calvert, R-Calif.; Davis, Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.; Kay Granger, R-Texas; Tim Holden, D-Pa.; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Rick Larsen, D-Wash.; Jerry Lewis, R-Calif.; George Nethercutt, R-Wash.; Todd Platts, R-Pa.; Don Sherwood, R-Pa.; John Shimkus, R-Ill.; Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif.; Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan.; James Walsh, R-N.Y.)

Overlapping that trip was a five-member delegation with five House members who visited Iraq Oct. 11-12, 2003. They were in Mosul on Oct. 12 when a suicide attack killed at least seven people in Baghdad. That was the seventh fatal car-bomb attack since early August, and military officials reported an average of 22 attacks a day against U.S. forces the week before (Star Tribune, Oct. 14, 2003).

(Delegation: Reps. John Kline, R-Minn.; John M. McHugh, R-N.Y.; Jim Saxton, R-N.J.; Jim Turner, D-Texas; Michael Turner, R-Ohio.)

Just before President George W. Bush visited for a couple of hours on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 2003, a U.S. soldier died in a mortar attack.

A mortar hit the roof of the U.S. embassy in the fortified International Zone, and two mortar shells exploded about 500 yards from a delegation that was waiting to board a helicopter on Aug. 19, 2004 (Pacific Daily News, Aug. 29, 2004).

(Delegation: Reps. John Boozman, R-Ark., Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Tom Cole, R-Okla., Jim Marshall, D-Ga., Jeff Miller, R-Fla., Adam Schiff, D-Calif.)

A delegation visited in September 2004, and a rocket exploded near the U.S. embassy, where they were staying. Seven troops died during that visit.

A delegation visited Sept. 25-26, 2004, amid violence and officials seeking freedom for several hostages. Two car bombs wounded American and Iraqi troops west of Baghdad on Sept. 26. Egyptian and British leaders urged the release of six Egyptian telecommunications workers abducted with four Iraqis the week before and Kenneth Bigley, a British civil engineer kidnapped Sept. 16 with two American civil engineers, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, who later were beheaded. More than 140 foreigners had been kidnapped in Iraq, and at least 26 had been killed. Fighting in Ramadi killed at least three people and wounded four, and insurgents fired mortar rounds and rockets at two U.S. positions. A rocket slammed into a busy Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least one person and wounding eight. Hours after the attack, another loud blast shook the U.S. embassy (Bucks County Courier Times, Sept. 27, 2004). Scott Garrett, R-N.J., said the situation in Iraq was getting worse, as his delegation was in the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Sept. 26 when a rocket landed about 500 meters away. Confined to Baghdad (it was too dangerous to travel elsewhere), they saw little of the city because the military designed their travel so they would not become targets. They traveled in Humvees and armored helicopters with at least six troops as escorts. Garrett reported regular mortar and rocket attacks during their visit (Daily Record, Sept. 27, 2004; The Record, Sept. 28, 2004).

Only one person questioned these visits publicly during a campaign debate: Larry Diedrich, former senator of South Dakota, who was running against Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

When people go to Iraq, I hope we don’t put our troops in greater danger. I just want them to keep that in mind. That is a comment I hear around the state too.— Larry Diedrich, South Dakota

Herseth was “insulted” by his words that suggested she “might have put American troops at risk.”

Many have traveled to Iraq. It is our responsibility, it is our duty to stay close to them, see firsthand their work and find out what they need in their jobs to carry out their mission. So it is insulting that anyone says the trip puts the soldiers in danger. I’m disappointed in Larry Diedrich. — Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D. (Argus Leader, Oct. 17, 2004).

The end.

(Delegation: Reps. Scott Garrett, R-N.J.; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.; Ernest Istook, R-Okla.; Tom Osborne, R-Neb.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.)

Well, not quite. It never really ends.

Insurgents bombed the U.S. embassy, killing two Americans, while a delegation was in Baghdad in January 2005 for the elections.

A mortar shell sailed into the Green Zone in March 2006 when a delegation was there, and a U.S. soldier died.

Baghdad still feels like an occupation zone. I was physically present in Baghdad, as I noted, for about 24 hours, but it is hard to say that I saw the city. I left with an enduring image of concrete barriers and convoys of SUVs. I last visited Baghdad in March 2005, and the environment now is no better than it was at that time. The three mortar rounds that exploded during one meeting I had with an Iraqi vice president – no one was harmed – they were launched from some way out, but still they hit. It shows just how insecure the city remains. — Rep. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., reporting on his Web site about his Jan. 9-10, 2007, visit to Iraq

Oops. Brownback must have missed the memo from Rep. Jerry Lewis about telling only the “good news” from Iraq.

A car bomb “shook the windows” of the U.S. embassy and five U.S. troops died when Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., met Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad in mid-April 2007 (Lincoln Journal-Star, April 19, 2007).

Posted by Becky @ 12:03 pm  

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