Welch says Iraq tour reinforces deadline belief

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(Host) Vermont Congressman Peter Welch says his tour of Iraq has reinforced his belief that a deadline should be established for the redeployment of U.S. forces there.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) When he arrived in Iraq Tuesday, Welch donned a bulletproof vest and a helmet and climbed into an armored vehicle to tour areas outside the protected Green Zone in Baghdad.

Welch says he was impressed by the behavior and attitudes of U.S. soldiers the daily dangers they face.

Speaking by phone from a military base in the emirate of Qatar, Welch said his tour included a visit to the Dora district in Baghdad, an area where the Army says it’s been working to provide added security. He says there was some evidence the effort was working, but overall the scene was a stark one.

(Welch) “It was much like a ghost town. Most of the residences had been abandoned. There had been 800 shops. The generals told us that about 120 shops had opened up, so there was some activity, but it was nothing like what it used to be.”

(Zind) Welch says while his group was in the Dora district a young Iraqi man was brought in who had been seriously wounded.

He says by contrast the Kurdish area of northern Iraq was much more secure and was thriving.

His group met there with Massoud Barzani, President of the northern Kurdistan Regional Government.

Welch is part of a six member congressional delegation touring the war zone.

The group was briefed by the American ambassador in Iraq, and by military leaders, including General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander there.

Welch says what he saw and heard reinforces his view that a deadline must be set for the withdrawal of American troops.

(Welch) “This is a problem that’s got to be solved politically and diplomatically, not militarily. The question is going to face the Iraqi’s, and it should face them immediately, is whether they’re going to come forward and spend the oil revenues that they have, and they have considerable wealth, to reconstruct their country and create jobs for their citizens and whether they’re going to make the basic commitment to live together or to fight it out.”

(Zind) Welch says he talked to many soldiers, but he wasn’t able to visit members of the Vermont Guard stationed in Iraq.

He was not in Baghdad Thursday when a bomb exploded at the heavily guarded Iraqi Parliament.

Welch will return to the United States next week.

For VPR news I’m Steve Zind.

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