Wilson visits Iraq on fact-finding trip

By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

Congresswoman Heather Wilson, wrapping up a fact-finding trip to Iraq, said Saturday the United States needs to change its strategy to protect its interests in the region.

She also passed along encouraging messages from Cannon Air Force Base troops stationed there.

“The situation in Iraq is dangerous and is not improving, particularly in Baghdad, with sectarian violence which is at an unacceptably high level,” Wilson, R-N.M., said from Kuwait after talking to troops and commanders at four separate locations in Iraq. “I believe that the central government in Iraq is weak, the police are infiltrated by militias and there are rare elements of government loyalty amongst different factions.”
Wilson, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said she has had a change in perspective regarding the war, particularly over the fourth quarter of the year, due to an increase in sectarian violence.

“This (trip) is part of an effort I’m trying to undertake as far as where do we go from here in Iraq,” Wilson explained. “I’m trying to understand the situation on the ground and get an assessment of the will and capabilities of the government there.”

She added, “The most important thing right now is for the U.S. to be very clear to ourselves and the American people about our vital national interest in Iraq and this means a hard-nosed assessment. I don’t think we have that focus today. We need to modify our strategy and position.”

While there are some good things happening in Iraq, Wilson, said this is happening on a patchwork basis.

“We want Iraqi people to live in a free and democratic society, but that is not our mission there, that is our aspiration for them,” Wilson explained.
F-16 crewmembers from Cannon surprised Wilson Saturday by singing her “Happy Birthday” on her 46th birthday. The Cannon troops are scheduled to return to Clovis in mid-January.

“I had dinner with some of them (Cannon troops) and got phone numbers from some to call their moms, and in some cases, their wives,” Wilson said. “One person even wanted me to call a particular ski shop in Taos to let them know he was on his way home.

“But seriously, I asked them what they wanted to let folks back home know and they said to tell them that ‘We believe in what we are doing and want to do the job.’”

“Their morale seems to be good,” Wilson added, “And they are counting the days until they come home.”

During the Saturday tele-conference, Wilson also told about the morning Saddam Hussein was executed and told of hearing celebratory shots of gunfire while having breakfast with military officers in one of Saddam’s former palaces, which is now an American embassy.

“There was some celebratory gun fire, but not much. It was like ‘Yeah, this happened, now let’s move on. We have a job to do.’” she said.