- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

Members of a congressional delegation to Iraq will return home from the Middle East this weekend with differing opinions about progress in the region.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and one of several lawmakers touring the region, predicted yesterday that within a year, the United States and its partners will transition to providing more logistical support and medical assistance, allowing some troops to return home.

“As Iraqis lead, the U.S. role will be reduced. Iraqis are going to have to use their hands rather than rely on the hands of Americans to do things,” Mr. Allen said on a call from Kuwait City.

If trends continue, the troop presence in Iraq will be “purely minimal” within five years, he said.

By contrast, Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said he was “highly disappointed and quite frankly shocked” at the lack of success of reconstruction efforts and domestic peacekeeping.

“You don’t have good success in community building unless you involve the indigenous people in the effort,” he said. “They have to feel ownership, and with that comes a certain amount of pride and propriety — important ingredients if you are going to try to do something that is sustaining.”

He noted corruption within the Iraqi police force and the lack of electricity for many citizens but said he was impressed by the effectiveness and efficiency of the military effort.

“Next year this time, I don’t think we can get the military out of there,” Mr. Clyburn said.

The troubled areas, he said, “are having success now, but we’re talking about 14 provinces … [most] not anywhere near where they need to be.”

The lawmakers agreed that Kurdistan is enjoying prosperity. Mr. Allen described the region as a “boomtown,” with new hotels and homes under construction.

Also on the trip were House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and Republican Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Sam Graves of Missouri.

Mr. Hoyer said it was crucial for lawmakers to see the events on the ground in Iraq to help Congress determine “the right policies moving forward.”

Mr. Allen, who has been mentioned as a presidential candidate in 2008, first faces a re-election challenge this fall.

Democrats Harris Miller and Jim Webb will meet in a primary match June 13. Statewide polls favor Mr. Allen by double digits but show he is more vulnerable than he was last year because of sinking Republican ratings and an aggressive campaign from both Democrats hoping to topple him.

When asked whether his hawkish stance would affect his race when support for the war is slipping in Virginia, Mr. Allen praised the troops and replied: “The troops don’t care about political sniping or grandstanding. Those who take the big picture rather than the partisan political picture realize this is history being made.”

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