Power production in Iraq is now exceeding pre-war averages and public health care spending has risen by more than 26 times what it was under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
But U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said that and other good news about Iraq’s reconstruction is being eclipsed in the media by reports of random violence and demonstrations. The Hood River native returned on Friday from the first bi-partisan delegation to spend the night in Baghdad since Saddam’s fall from power.
He visited with many of the Oregon troops spread throughout Iraq and soldiers asked him to spread the word that they are very proud of their role in Operation Enduring Freedom. Walden said military personnel also repeatedly informed him that 90-95 percent of Iraqis support their efforts and guerrilla bands of Saddam supporters comprise only a small segment of the total population.
Walden’s message to Oregon parents of armed forces personnel was, “Your sons and daughters are doing extraordinary work and they can be very proud of the fact that they have helped free a country of one of the most barbarous and inhuman dictatorships in history.”
He came home convinced that if Congress fails to pass funding that will continue to improve conditions in Iraq, American soldiers will face increased violence and their mission will drag on longer than necessary.
“Saddam Hussein ran Iraq into the ground,” said Walden. “Water, sewer, electricity, refineries, hospitals and schools weren’t maintained and modernized for the last 20 years. Instead he carried out genocide, economic terrorism and brutality, all of the while enriching himself and building marble palace compounds for himself and his sons. Now that his regime is out of power, the enormous built up frustration of an oppressed people is pouring out. It is critical that we and other nations of the world do our part to restore basic human services as quickly as possible. The sooner and more effectively we act, the quicker we will win over the Iraqi people, the safer our troops will be and the sooner we can begin to bring the troops out of Iraq.”
Walden said as Iraqi citizens are developing more trust in coalition forces, they are gradually revealing the hiding places of opposition members and locations where weapons have been buried. He said the largest weapons cache to date spanned 35 square kilometers in the desert — and several French-made Mirage fighter jets have even been dug up. Walden said military forces have destroyed nearly 1,100 arms caches and have recovered many articles of chemical warfare protection gear issued to Iraqi soldiers. He said numerous reports have also been compiled about Saddam’s manufacture and experimentation with biological and chemical weapons. Walden said coalition commanders believe that one day they will discover where Saddam disposed, or hid, these weapons of mass destruction.
Although he initially supported funding the rebuilding of Iraq with loans, Walden said he returned home convinced that only grant monies will make Iraq more secure for American troops. He said military leaders informed the eight-member delegation that the Arab satellite television station Al Jazeera could be expected to air propaganda that the United Sates was trying to take over Iraq by saddling it with debt and then taking all of the oil.
“Slowly we’re winning this fight but we have to do it right,” Walden said.
Walden said the sacrifice made by American youth became a sobering reality on his return flight. He said the C-130 transport aircraft also carried the flag-covered bodies of three soldiers killed in an ambush near Baghdad the previous night. Walden said military leaders believe that at least one or two of those men might have survived if they had been riding in a newer model of Humvee that could have better withstood the blast of a makeshift bomb. He supports a Congressional funding proposal that will provide the troops with better equipment.
“I came away convinced that we did the right thing to protect the human rights of the Iraqi people. Now we must finish the task by doing everything we can to protect our troops and give them what they need to fulfill their mission,” Walden said.
He said the growing spirit of cooperation among the Iraqi citizenry is due, in part, to the completion of more than 13,000 reconstruction projects, including the rehabilitation of 1,500 schools. In addition, he said there are now more than 40,000 Iraqi police on duty and 400 courts that had been shutdown by Hussein are now reopened. He said six months ago the entire country could generate a bare 300 megawatts of electricity and that average is now up to 4,518 megawatts. In addition, Saddam’s shutdown of most public health care facilities has been overturned, with 240 hospitals and 1,200 clinics in operation. Since liberation, he said more than 22 million vaccination doses have been administered to Iraqi children. According to Walden, oil refineries in Iraq are expected to be up and running by next year and net a $5 billion surplus that will help jump start the economy.
According to Walden, Dr. Haneen Al Qaddao, a city councilor from Mosul, with a population of three million, told the delegation, “you’re not occupying us, you are liberating us. This is not only my view, this is the view of most Iraqis.”
Walden believes that the international community needs to play a stronger role in the reformation of Iraq. He said many of the citizens in that country have become so acclimated to a central government that they are struggling to adjust to the myriad of choices available under a free enterprise system.
“We’re making major progress but there’s an extraordinary amount of work still to do,” Walden said.