December 24, 2007

Conference Call With Rep Michele Bachmann

Minnesota's Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has traveled to Iraq to spend Christmas with the troops. She held a press conference via telephone this morning. After some technical bumps, Bachmann spoke about her visit. In fact, I may have been the only blogger on the call -- lots of regular media, such as the Strib, KARE-TV, Minnesota Network News, MPR, and more.

She began the day in Kuwait, and learned that the Kuwaitis have paid for the fuel used in the first three years of the war in Iraq. Bachmann flew into Ramadi on a troop transport so that she could see the city after its pacification. She took a tour with the new MRAP vehicles and observe the neighborhoods of the city, as well as talk with the American soldiers. Children played in the streets and new businesses have opened, including a new car dealership. It shows that the economic stability that has grown in Ramadi.

Bachmann flew into Baghdad in an Osprey. That demonstrates improved air security in the capital, where transport flights have had to use corkscrew tactics in the past. Her briefing included a political update; the National Assembly passed a pension bill, a critical step in reconciliation. That did not get much mention in the American media, but the Sunnis now have government pensions denied them after the fall of Saddam, which should alleviate much of the hostility.

General Petraeus believes that he is observing the "new Greatest Generation" in his troops. Great quote. He brought some Minnesota troops to meet Bachmann, and she'll have lunch with them tomorrow.


Bachmann has not heard any fighting at all since she's been in Iraq, neither in Ramadi or Baghdad. In July, she heard plenty of it. So far, no activity, although on Christmas they're expecting some kind of violence as a "statement" from the terrorists.

She says she she "absolutely" sees tangible progress since her last visit, and the troops are saying the same thing. They say it's nothing short of phenomenal.

Bachmann says that the troops are not complaining about the press; she heard plenty of complaints in July from troops of all ranks. Not any so far this trip. It had a demoralizing effect on the troops then, but she sees a buoyancy about the mission now that she didn't before. It's not "dancing in the end zone", as everyone knows the game isn't over. They know AQI still wants to get back into Anbar and will try it if we pull out too soon.

The importance of the pensions is hard to underestimate. The new pension bill allows a much more equitable dispersal of pensions among the tribes and regions, and it has encouraged the Sunnis to engage politically with the central government. This also allows us to work with Sunnis to repair and rebuild the infrastructure in the west. It's too bad that it didn't get more attention here in the US.


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