- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

BAGHDAD — Members of Congress took a tour of Iraq’s dilapidated infrastructure yesterday, getting a firsthand look at the daunting task of rebuilding the nation before voting on President Bush’s $87 billion funding request.

Meanwhile, Iraqi police and U.S. forces seized weapons in Baghdad and in the north of the country after a small but symbolic rocket attack on a U.S. compound in the Iraqi capital.

Rep. James T. Walsh, New York Republican and one of the 17-member congressional delegation visiting Iraq, said at the end of the daylong tour that the lawmakers were convinced Iraq has “tremendous potential” despite the “tremendous amount of damage done to the country by Saddam Hussein.”

“But it becomes very clear that the American public needs to be very patient with Iraq; there is along way to go,” Mr. Walsh said.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Greenstock, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s envoy to Iraq, said in an interview that elections in Iraq and the handover of power to a new government would not take place until next year.

“It needs the controlling American presence to produce the conditions for elections. So we need a few months to write the constitution and get it accepted, then we need some time to campaign for and hold elections,” he told British Broadcasting Corp. Radio. “So you can see a period stretching out in front of you that goes well into 2004.”

In France, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin praised a U.S. proposal for Iraqis to draw up a constitution within six months as a “step forward.”

Mr. de Villepin, speaking on French radio, also said Paris believed an eventual transfer of power from the U.S.-led occupation to a sovereign Iraqi government could take place by the end of the year.

“The situation in Iraq is not good — it’s bad. There’s a spiral of violence and terror and everything must be done to stop it,” he said on Europe-1 radio.

Also yesterday, the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq said the first U.S.-trained battalion of a new Iraqi army — 700 men — would graduate Saturday from basic training at Kirkush in northeastern Iraq.

After visiting Baghdad, the delegation flew to the city of Mosul, where Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, told reporters he expected most of his colleagues to support the administration’s $87 billion spending request despite reservations in both the House and Senate.

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