State Journal-Register

October 02, 2003

Iraq trip strengthens Shimkus' support for aid

By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - An intensive, four-day trip to Iraq only served to reinforce U.S. Rep. John Shimkus' support for the $87 billion that President Bush has requested for U.S. forces and reconstruction in that country.

Stops in Baghdad included tours of the Al Douri power plant, which Shimkus described as "old and decrepit."

"As much as I was glad to see it operating, I was saddened to see the state of repair," Shimkus said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "When you're in Iraq, you see the big palaces and the large avenues, but Saddam (Hussein) put nothing back into infrastructure."

The Republican lawmaker, who represents southern and central Illinois, including part of Springfield, returned Monday night from the weekend congressional trip paid with taxpayers' funds.

He was part of a 17-member, bipartisan congressional delegation led by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee. Shimkus, a West Point graduate, doesn't sit on the House Appropriations Committee. He said he requested to go so he could report firsthand to his constituents. The only other Illinois lawmaker on the trip was Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Wilmette.

Shimkus echoed others in the delegation who said the situation is better than portrayed by the news media.

"The glass is half full. There are great successes going on," Shimkus said.

He even found something positive in the traffic jams and gas lines. Boys were selling $5 and $10 cans of gas along the roadside to motorists who didn't want to wait in lines at the gas stations, he said.

"That's entrepreneurism and hope for the future of Iraq," Shimkus said

"We've made great strides," he added, acknowledging the situation still is dangerous. "There are people who do not want democracy to come to Iraq."

Shimkus said there is "a great need" for the $20 billion requested for reconstruction, which many Democrats and some Republicans have found excessive.

"We don't want to be penny smart and pound foolish," Shimkus said. "If we don't do this now and we don't continue to move Iraq in the right direction for freedom, democracy and hopefully prosperity ... we're just inviting more divisiveness, inviting the terrorists back into Iraq."

Spirits were good among the soldiers he met, including several from Illinois, Shimkus said.

"I think the morale is high. The only people who are tired are some of the reservists because they are part-time soldiers ... They're tired because many of them have done Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Iraq," Shimkus said.