Nevada congresswoman visits Iraq, cites effects of troop surge
LAS VEGAS – Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley was in Iraq on Tuesday, where she said she saw progress by the U.S. military and Iraqi police in quelling violence that had beset portions of the country.
Berkley, D-Las Vegas, delivered a generally upbeat report about Iraq on Monday in the midst of a weeklong trip to the Middle East with several other members of Congress.
It was the first trip to Iraq for Berkley, a war critic who disapproved of the troop surge when President Bush announced it early this year.
In remarks to reporters by telephone Monday, Berkley acknowledged what an aide termed “successful impacts” of the infusion of 28,500 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
She said the visiting delegation toured Ramadi, a city about 70 miles west of Baghdad that has been largely has been cleansed of insurgents.
“This is a difference from what I anticipated,” Berkley said. “I did not anticipate the progress and the extraordinary morale of our troops.”
“Nobody is doing a victory lap at this point,” Berkley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “but the reality is the military has done an extraordinary job.”
Berkley also praised Iraqi police assisting U.S. troops patrolling neighborhoods.
“The Iraqis are truly stepping up to the plate, and that accounts for the lowering of violence,” she said.
At a dinner Sunday night, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker told the House delegation that it may take another year or longer to declare Iraq stabilized.
Berkley said she planned to have lunch on Christmas Day with two sets of Nevada soldiers.
The House lawmakers, led by Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., Armed Services Committee chairman, then planned to fly to Turkey to meet with President Abdullah Gul before returning to the United States this weekend.
Berkley said she could not say how the trip would affect her position on the war. She said Congress was unlikely to take any votes before Petraeus delivers a progress report in March.
Berkley voted in November for a bill that would have tied $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to a troop redeployment to be completed by Dec. 15, 2008. The anti-war effort failed in the Senate.
In October, Berkley voted to require Bush to report to Congress every 90 days on plans for withdrawing U.S. forces, a strategy that bill sponsors said was aimed at pressuring the president.
In May, she voted to release a portion of Bush’s funding request for Iraq while withholding the remainder until generals delivered a progress report on the surge.
But on what was considered the most stringent anti-war measure of the year, Berkley voted in May against a bill that called for U.S. withdrawals to begin within 90 days and be completed within in 180 days.