- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Republicans recently back from Iraq told stories yesterday of a country whose citizens are harvesting crops, visiting zoos and attending symphonies, and — for the first time in three decades — enjoying the freedom of uncensored information.

At a press conference yesterday, a group of Republican House members also accused the Democratic presidential candidates of playing into the “hands of the enemy” by painting a much bleaker picture of Iraq in a frenzied effort to score political points against President Bush.

“A lot of stories seem to never make the headlines,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican, who chairs the House Republican Conference. “Tales about a liberated nation getting back on its feet are often buried under stories of bombing and Democratic criticism.”

Yesterday’s press conference is part of a larger strategy by Republicans to more vigorously defend the Bush administration in the war effort. Also, they hope to reframe the debate toward the gradual successes in Iraq from the continued bombings and troop deaths that dominate the news.

“We have to be patient,” Rep. Ed Shrock, Virginia Republican. “All this sniping that we’re hearing on TV about the president and how he’s handling this does not help the situation. In fact, I think it plays into the hands of the enemy.”

One of the most ardent critics of Mr. Bush over the war in Iraq has been Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bob Graham of Florida.

In a debate this week in Baltimore, Mr. Graham was asked if he thought Mr. Bush lied to the American people to drag them into the Iraq war. Mr. Graham answered unequivocally, “Yes.”

Graham spokesman Mo Elleithee said Republicans’ new effort is a signal that “they are getting real nervous.”

“They know that they are stuck in a really bad situation that President Bush got us into,” he said yesterday. “The American people are starting to ask real serious questions that President Bush can’t answer.”

Republicans yesterday provided a list of accomplishments since the end of major military operations, including more than 1,000 refurbished schools, a running-water system working at 60 percent of prewar levels, deployment of 5,000 police officers to patrol Iraqi streets, improved health care and the successful installation of governing councils in 90 percent of Iraq’s towns and cities.

In addition, said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, who recently returned from Iraq, “When you see these killing fields — over 24 of them identified in the country — you see justification for action.”

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