Green Bay Press Gazette
Situation in Iraq still ‘fragile,’ Kagen says
July 30, 2008
WASHINGTON — Iraq is still a dangerous place for U.S. troops, despite political and military progress, U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen said Tuesday after a visit there.
"Things have changed on the ground in Iraq," Kagen said during a stop in the Czech Republic.
Kagen, D-Appleton, who supported troop withdrawals and opposed President Bush’s decision last year to boost the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq, said the surge contributed to the advances he and four other lawmakers saw during their trip. The five-member delegation included two Democrats and three Republicans.
"The U.S. surge alone is not the reason for the quieting of the violence," Kagen said. "Whatever downplay of the violence has taken place, it’s an extremely fragile and fluid environment." He plans to brief Gov. Jim Doyle and the commander of the Wisconsin National Guard about the trip, his first to Iraq.
"This is not the end of hostility in Iraq. The real issue there is if ethnic tensions can be relieved in conversation rather than confrontation," Kagen said.
He credited Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to crack down on his fellow Shiites and their militias and provide Iraqi brigades to supplement U.S. troops and 140,000 Iraqi troops with contributing to the change. Kagen also cited a shift in loyalties among Sunni Arab leaders that began before the troop surge. Leaders in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in Iraq and began working with U.S. and Iraqi forces. A pact between the Iraqi government and cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of a major militia, has reduced violence.
But even with the improved situation, Kagen said things could change quickly in Iraq.
He and two other lawmakers visited Sadr City under military escort Sunday with no problems, although "it is definitely a combat zone."
But the next day, three female suicide bombers killed at least 36 people and wounded nearly 200 others. Kagen said one of the explosions occurred on a road the delegation used.
Kagen said he is worried about U.S. troops.
"They’ve given everything they can. They’re just exhausted," he said.
Soldiers deal with triple-digit temperatures and daily sandstorms with particles so fine the suspended sand looks like fog.
Kagen, an allergist, said some soldiers could develop long-term respiratory problems.
The three-man delegation met with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
After leaving Iraq, the group flew to Israel where they met with officials and visited an Israeli town that has been hit by Palestinian rockets. On Tuesday, they met with State Department and Czech Republic leaders to discuss plans by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe