October 23, 2014

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Iraq trip reaffirms Sutton’s war views

U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton’s trip to Iraq and other areas of the Middle East and Europe where the war in Iraq is being planned and waged hasn’t changed her view that the United States needs to bring its troops home.

In fact, she said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told her during a meeting Sunday that he wants the Iraqis to take over the security of their own country.

Sutton, D-Copley Township, and four other members of Congress left Thursday for a tour of Iraq, visiting bases and meeting with officials in Qatar before heading to Baghdad for a day-long visit Sunday.

Sutton said she and the other congressional delegates traveling with her on the fact-finding mission were accompanied by armed military guards and traveled in armored vehicles, even when they visited the marketplace that U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., famously compared to a market in his home state in terms of safety.

Sutton didn’t see it the same way as Pence.

“Make no mistake about it, we went to the marketplace in a Striker, and it is not common to visit a market in Indiana in a Striker,” she said.

Outside of the Green Zone in Baghdad — and even there — the country remains unsafe, she said, and while she experienced no trouble, one of the locations visited by her group had a problem a few hours before they arrived, although she said she didn’t know the details.

Sutton and her fellow members of Congress also met with high-ranking U.S. officials in Iraq, during their trip, including Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus.

The only way Sutton said she sees a lasting peace coming to Iraq is from the Iraqis themselves, not from the U.S. presence there.

Even if the U.S. military wins victory after victory, she said, it won’t make a difference if that’s not accompanied by success in the political arena.“We could be in Iraq for 10 years and our military could be performing admirably for 10 years, but if that political progress isn’t being had, we could still have the costs of lives and money and not have a better day,” she said.

Sutton said the only contact she had with employees of Blackwater USA, the private security company that is under fire for what critics have said was the unprovoked killing of Iraqis in a marketplace last month, was when its employees drove her briefly in Iraq.

But she said the presence of Blackwater employees shows that the military doesn’t have the manpower for all the work that needs to be done in the country.

“We have to have military contractors because we just don’t have the people to do the things they’re doing,” she said. “We are stretched very, very thin.”

Despite that, Sutton praised the soldiers she met, none of whom were from her district, and others who face the hardship and dangers on the ground in Iraq.

“It’s striking. It actually takes your breath away to see how dedicated they are to doing what we’re asking them to do,” she said, emotion creeping into her voice.

Sutton also met with officials in Jordan and traveled to a military hospital and base in Germany. She planned to return to Washington, D.C., today.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.