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US Sen Clinton, 2 Other Lawmakers Head To Iraq January 12, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is headed to Iraq this weekend with two other lawmakers, as the rest of Congress engages in a fierce debate over President George W. Bush’s plan to send 21,500 additional troops to salvage the U.S. effort there.

Clinton, a Democrat who is considering running for president, is traveling with Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat who had also eyed the 2008 race but opted out, and Rep. John McHugh, a Republican congressman.

The three, who are all members of armed services committees, are to meet with top Iraqi officials, U.S. military commanders, and also travel to Afghanistan.

“This was the first opportunity we had to be able to go because of the long weekend, and it turns out that the timing is propitious because of the president’s plans,” Clinton told The Associated Press.

During the trip, Clinton and McHugh will spend time with troops from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, which is based in New York and deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said the trip was originally planned to allow them to attend a Senate Armed Services hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but they will now miss that hearing because it was changed to Friday, and officials were unable to reschedule the trip.

Bayh stressed he wants to meet with top Iraqi officials and judge for himself how serious they are about using their own troops and government to stabilize the country.

“The essential truth in Iraq is that we can’t do this for them,” said Bayh. “We need to take away their security blanket.”

Clinton last traveled to Iraq in February 2006 with Sen. John McCain, a Republican presidential contender. This week’s journey marks the third visit to Iraq for both Clinton and Bayh, and McHugh’s seventh.

McHugh hasn’t been as critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war as the two senators, but like many Republicans in Congress he sounds increasingly exasperated with conditions there.

Before embarking on this trip, McHugh said he wanted to face Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and warn him of the dwindling patience in Washington.

“I’m very anxious to speak with the prime minister and others to let them know that there are few other opportunities that lie in the days ahead,” said McHugh. “This is, for me at least, a final opportunity for them to capture and secure their own future.”

McHugh added that stabilizing Baghdad is the only way to secure the country.

“It’s folly to think that you can stabilize 80% of a country while one of the most important sites in the Middle East, Baghdad, is in total chaos. You can’t just shove that under the rug,” he said.

Clinton said she is frustrated with the assurances from top Iraq officials.

“It’s just been one excuse after another, so first and foremost we’re going at an opportune time, it turns out, to assess what the attitudes and actions of this Iraqi government will be going forward,” she said.

Both Clinton and Bayh voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, but both have sharply criticized the execution of the war. Clinton has called for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces without a specific timetable, which many anti-war Democrats say wouldn’t do enough to end the conflict quickly.

Clinton opposes the president’s move to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, but said she does want to see more troops in Afghanistan, where she said, “we seem to be on autopilot.”

“I wish we were discussing additional troops for Afghanistan. We are hearing increasingly troubling reports out of Afghanistan and we will be searching for accurate information about the true state of affairs both militarily and politically,” she said.

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