Canton Repository

December 24, 2005

Ney optimistic after visit to Iraq

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - Rep. Bob Ney returned Friday from a one-day visit to Iraq, convinced the United States is doing better than he had thought in preparing Iraqis to resume control of their country.

But the Heath Republican firmly resisted setting a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal, an idea advocated by some Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles.

“This whole debate on immediate withdrawal was not in good timing,” said Ney, who has been under fire for his connections to individuals involved in a lobbying scandal in Congress. “It sent shock waves through the Iraqi government.”

The visit to Iraq was part of a four-day, official congressional trip to the Middle East, including a stop in Jerusalem where Ney and five other lawmakers met with Israeli and Palestinian officials. They also visited with troops in Kuwait and wounded soldiers near Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Clad in body armor and helmets, the group flew to Al Asad Airfield in Iraq and then boarded Black Hawk helicopters for a lift into Baghdad.

There the lawmakers met with former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, U.S. generals and troops.

In contrast to Ryan, who pressed for a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal after his own visit to Iraq last month, Ney said a deadline would embolden the insurgents.

“The ticket out for the United States is a secure Iraqi police force and a secure Iraqi military,” Ney said. “From everything I saw when I was on the ground, from talking to generals to talking to the Iraqis, this is going 100 percent better than it was going four or five months ago. Iraqis are training with Americans.”

Ryan agreed the United States was making progress training Iraqi troops. But he argued for a timetable, saying it would put pressure on Iraqis to speed up the transition.

“If these Iraqi troops aren’t ready to rock and roll in the next few months, then that country cannot expect the United States of America to basically provide military and security forces for them,” Ryan said after the visit.

Ney said if current progress continues, he believes there will be a significant reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq within a year.

Another positive development, Ney said, is that U.S. troops have begun to remain in towns after driving insurgents out, making it more difficult for the rebels to reassemble.

“We stay with the Iraqi police and with the Iraqi military and the people are more willing to help us if we do that,” he said.

Ney acknowledged mistakes have been made in Iraq, but he said he supports President Bush’s efforts to bring order to the country.

Several of the troops Ney met were from his congressional district, but none were from Tuscarawas County, he said.