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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 | Comments  

The high cost of dignitary visits, part 3

August 2, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

Second verse, same as the first

Here’s how to spot an account of a dignitary visit to Iraq.

  • Shrouded in secrecy
  • Can’t divulge travel itinerary
  • Scary C-130 ride
  • Military personnel with scary weapons
  • Flak jackets
  • Helmets
  • Black Hawk helicopters
  • Flying low
  • Humvees
  • Green Zone
  • Heavy security
  • Meet-and-greets
  • Lunch with (preferably “hometown”) troops
  • Stern or frank discussions with Iraqi leaders
  • Firsthand experience on the ground
  • Danger at every turn
  • Bombs exploding within spitting distance (more on that later)
  • But things look good (more on the PR campaign later)
  • And, oh yeah, some troops died

What you won’t see.

  • Gee, I wonder if any of those deaths had anything to do with … my visit?

Here are a couple examples to get you started.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., March 2005:

We … boarded a C-130. There were a number of soldiers on board … We sat in seats lined on the wall and took deep breaths as we took off from Kuwait. … we had to don our flak jackets and helmets. They are heavy! … Suddenly the plane just started dropping, we did this amazing zig zag in – sort of spiraled down very fast … It was like a bad Disneyland ride as we veered left, right up and down to avoid any “incoming”… and I have to admit my stomach was in my throat. … We exited the plane and the scene was stark – soldiers, machine guns, maneuvering us quickly into what they called ice cream trucks – that looked just like that but were bullet and “IED” reinforced. … boarded a “helo” and with our flak jackets and helmets we sat in these helicopters and flew out – with a machine gun 6 inches in front of me pointed out the plane as we rode 25 feet above ground. … We landed in the Green Zone and were met with serious security. We … met … temporary Ambassador … joined by General Casey for a briefing on the military side. … I ate lunch with 2 Marines … then went back outside and got in vans under intense security even though we remained in the Green Zone and traveled to another palace where we met with … Prime Minister … then convoyed to the convention center where the new parliament is being set up. It was inside the Green Zone but even more intense security. We … met with the Kurdish Leader … Sunni Leader … I think all see it as a time of both hope and danger with much work to be done before a government is in place later this month.

Oh, and by the way:

… the airport had been closed shortly before we landed because of a mortar attack, and there had been a mortar attack that fell a few feet short of the Green Zone last night.

We goin’ to Disney World!

You know, maybe she’s right. Maybe it is like an “All American amusement park.” They get their tickets. They stand in line. They get on the ride. They get scared and excited. They puke in the bushes. Then they go stand in line and do it all over again. Whee!

January 2005 — Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., (from The Audacity of Hope):

… landing at Baghdad International Airport turned out not to be so bad — although I was thankful that we couldn’t see out the windows as the C-130 bucked and banked and dipped its way down. Our escort officer from the State Department was there to greet us, along with an assortment of military personnel with rifles slung over their shoulders. After getting our security briefing, recording our blood types, and being fitted for helmets and Kevlar vests, we boarded two Black Hawk helicopters and headed for the Green Zone, flying low … I would spend only a day and a half in Iraq, most of it in the Green Zone … now a U.S.-controlled compound, surrounded along its perimeter by blast walls and barbed wire. Reconstruction teams briefed usintelligence officers described the growing threat of sectarian militias … we met with members of the Iraqi Election Commission … for an hour we listened to U.S. Ambassador Khalilzadlunch with some of the troops … our delegation accompanied Ambassador Khalilzad for dinner at the home of Iraqi interim President Jalal Talabani. Security was tight as our convoy wound its way past a maze of barricades out of the Green Zone; outside, our route was lined with U.S. troops at one-block intervals, and we were instructed to keep our vests and helmets on for the duration of the drive. … greeted by the president and several members of the Iraqi interim government … I had difficulty sleeping that night; instead, I watched the Redskins game, piped in live via satellite to the pool house once reserved for Saddam and his guests. Several times I muted the TV and heard mortar fire pierce the silence. The following morning, we took a Black Hawk to the Marine base in Fallujah …

Oh, and by the way:

… just the previous day, five Marines on patrol had been killed by roadside bombs or small-arms fire.

Here are more examples over the years.

June 30, 2003:

A six-member delegation visited Iraq. “For security reasons, few details were released on the five-day trip.” (Austin American-Statesman, June 28, 2003) Although he could not disclose a detailed itinerary because of security reasons, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said the delegation would visit Baghdad, Basra and southern Iraq, and they planned to be back in the
United States by July 4. “If I’m not still embedded in Iraq or tangling with Saddam Hussein, I’ll be in parades on July 4, 5 and 6,” he said. (Star Tribune, June 26, 2003)

At least somebody thinks a visit to Iraq is funny.

November 2003:

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., traveled with a delegation the week of Nov. 17, 2003. The departure date and itinerary were kept secret for security reasons. She could not say who else or how many were in the delegation, and the trip could be canceled at a moment’s notice if military leaders decided the situation was too unstable.” (Source: St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 13, 2003)

November 2003:

Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., joined a bipartisan congressional delegation to Iraq … will be the first member of Colorado’s congressional delegation to visit Iraq since the end of the war and the beginning of an arduous, often violent U.S. occupation. … For security reasons, details of the bipartisan trip were not released. Earlier this year, a trip by another congressional delegation had to be cut short after a bomb blast ripped through the United Nations headquarters. (Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 15, 2003)

Nov. 28, 2003:

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., ate Thanksgiving dinner with U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, and they planned to visit Iraq. Their “highly protected entourage” arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 25, and details of their trip were “shrouded in secrecy because of recent heightened fears of a new terrorist attack and
Clinton’s profile, which is higher than almost anyone else’s in Congress.” (New York Post, Nov. 27, 2003)

Jan. 5-6, 2004:

Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., could not release the exact dates of his trip “for security purposes,” but said, “I feel, as a moral issue, that if I vote to send people to fight in a war I have an obligation to be with them and take risks.”  (The Morning Call, Dec. 24, 2003) While on a six-day visit, Greenwood crawled into Saddam Hussein’s “spider hole.” The delegation stayed overnight in one of his Baghdad palaces. Greenwood said he never believed his life was in danger, but they experienced several “white-knuckle” trips in military vehicles operated by soldiers using evasive driving techniques and a low-level 150-mph Black Hawk helicopter ride. (The Morning Call, Jan. 13, 2004)

Feb. 10-11, 2004:

In a trip “cloaked in secrecy” and “kept under wraps for security reasons,” six governors and a reporter toured Baghdad, dined with troops and met with the Iraqi provisional government at the invitation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y., proclaimed the visit a “historic bipartisan governor’s tour of Iraq.”

It was the first of such visits but certainly not the last. At least 36 governors have visited Iraq.

Even though a suicide truck bomb killed about 50 people and injured scores of others near Baghdad on Feb. 10 and two troops, based in Fort Polk, La., died from a roadside bomb while on patrol in Baghdad on Feb. 11, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La., “presented a positive picture of the occupied country.” Though extensive security measures during the visit highlighted the danger at every turn in Iraq, Blanco said she never felt at risk. “We were well-protected,” she said. Guard units escorted the delegation in front and behind their vehicles, and Apache helicopters flew overhead. Their convoy had to stop so troops could investigate a box in the road. Although Gen. Bennett Landreneu of the Louisiana National Guard traveled to Washington, D.C., with Blanco, he did not accompany her to Iraq (but a reporter did). Despite “heated rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war in the presidential campaign,” Blanco downplayed any political significance to her visit, although she thought the situation she saw was not so dire that it would hurt President George W. Bush in the election. (The Times-Picayune, Feb. 11, 2004)

Feb. 17-18, 2004:

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., had a bumpy landing in Baghdad because of a series of recent attacks on American aircraft. She pointed out that a Monroe County soldier was part of the patrol for the delegation. (Charleston Daily Mail, Feb. 18, 2004)

June 2004:

Sens. Bob Bennett, Bill Frist, R-Tenn, and John Ensign, R-Nev., … L. Paul Bremer — the top U.S. administrator in Iraq — and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi … sat in on briefings … The senators donned flak jackets for helicopter rides and rode with military pilots whose planes had drawn fire months before. Bennett said he was not concerned for his safety and left feeling that things were going fine in Iraq. (The Associated Press, June 7, 2004)

Sept. 16-19, 2004:

Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., who couldn’t disclose details of the trip “for security reasons,” said he wasn’t worried about his safety in Iraq. “I feel good,” he said. “There have been a number of delegations go over there. They keep them small.” They expected to travel on military aircraft and have “very tight security.” (Redding Record Searchlight, Sept. 14, 2004) However, continued violence kept the delegation from seeing much of Iraq up close, as they spent most of their time visiting Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah in Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees with tight security and flak jackets. Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., said he was disappointed that the threat of snipers, roadside bombs and other dangers kept his delegation from mingling with Iraqis. (Erie Times-News, Sept. 22, 2004)

December 2004:

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., will head to Iraq later this week. Biden was not optimistic about Iraq and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in Jordan because that was “the only place where he can meet safely with the Sunni leadership,” Biden said. Regarding visiting Iraq, he said it was vital to see the situation in person and meet with troops face-to-face. (The News Journal, Dec. 2, 2004)

Dec. 21-22, 2005:

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., was part of a six-member delegation that spent two days in Iraq after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Even though Hurricane Rita hit Louisiana, and about 3,000 Louisiana residents needed his help dealing with FEMA, Boustany wanted personal experience in Iraq. He had been pushing to make the roster of congressional delegations for several months. (The Advocate, Nov. 29, 2005)

January 2007:

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., … boarded another C-130 to head into Iraq. … getting fitted out with a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket gave this flight a different feel. … We arrived at the international zone safely, though even inside the zone, we have to travel by convoy. … went immediately to a meeting with General Raymond Odierno, who is the commander of the Multi-National Corps, Iraq. We had a frank discussion about the need to improve things in Iraq quickly. The general told me he believes things can turn around in Baghdad, but I reminded him that we do not have much time to wait. … lunch with Ambassador Khalilzad and Multinational Forces-Iraq commander General Casey. Here again, we had a frank discussion about the difficult situation in Iraq … four consecutive meetings with Iraqi officials, including a deputy president, a deputy prime minister, the minister of defense and the national security adviser … met with Prime Minister Maliki. We had a very good and frank discussion about the violence in his country and the political situation in the United States.

Posted by Becky @ 3:22 pm | 1 Comment  

The high cost of dignitary visits to Iraq, part 1

July 24, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

I suck at math, so I need some help. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do some figurin’. Here goes.

It takes 200 to 300 troops, two to three days out, to prepare a site for one congressional visit.

Depending on who you ask, that’s a conservative estimate.

More than 400 elected officials have visited Iraq* — most more than once, many several times, one has been there 15 times (so far, anyway) — since the mission was “accomplished” in May 2003.

*The link contains a database put together by Kirsten Korosec and Steven Stanek, who called every office in the House of Representatives. The database is useful even though it’s already out of date — because the visits keep on keepin’ on.

Do you know where your representative is?

My guess? Iraq. Go check the quarterly foreign travel reports at the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Then go see how many U.S. troops died during each visit. If you want to see more than just names and dates, go here.

Do the math. Come back later, and we’ll compare notes.

Posted by Becky @ 4:27 pm | 1 Comment  

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