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Lawmaker assures deployed soldiers' spouses
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Just having returned from his most recent trip to Iraq, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) recently met with spouses of deployed 3rd Infantry Division soldiers to discuss the war in Iraq and the future of the fledgling national government there.
The congressman, speaking during a monthly meeting of military spouses and Fort Stewart community leaders, likened the current war debate between Democrat and Republican lawmakers to “the 500-pound gorilla in one corner” that continues to divide Congress as members await the release of a  report on the effectiveness of troops in Iraq by their commander.
The mid-September assessment from Multi-National Force-Iraq Commander Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will outline benchmarks — met and still to be met — set by Congress for the Iraqi government.
It’s an analysis of the military, economic and political progress in Iraq since the troop surge implemented in February.
During the past few months, the report has become the measuring stick for lawmakers on Capitol Hill deciding whether American involvement should continue in Iraq.
Although many Democrats and a growing number of Republicans have lampooned the Iraqi National Congress’ ability to meet many of the 18 benchmarks, Kingston said the young parliament has made a number of positive gains and he is “convinced the surge is working.”
Without considering the difficulties of resolving Sunni-Shiite relations, some unmet goals have been unfairly placed on the INC, he said.
“There is a lot of progress, but Congress has set benchmarks which I don’t think this new government is going to be able to achieve in terms of bringing the Sunnis more into the government,” Kingston said. “And as you know, on the high level they’re walking out.”
De-Baathification, the sharing of oil revenues and quelling Sunni suspicions of an all-out Shiite takeover, are all issues the congressman said the two major ethnic groups will need more time to resolve before the parliament can permanently sustain itself.
The ethnic dynamic within the INC is further compounded by the Kurds in the northern section of the country, who by most estimates would rather have their own country, he said.
But time spent with council members on the local level gave Kingston hope reconciliation between Iraq’s ethnic groups is possible.
“We were at a combat outpost outside of Baghdad and found that on the local level the Sunni and the Shiite sheiks were getting along,” he said.
Kingston concluded that Congress members “this September could find something to vote for or something to vote against,” but after being on the ground and meeting with Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih he will continue to support the Iraq war.
The congressman said Salih’s “straight talk” about what will happen to his country if U.S. troops leave prematurely is a message more Americans need to hear.
“If America leaves, there will be chaos here. There will be civil war. Al-Qaeda will definitely be able to take control of many parts of the country,” he said in an interview Kingston filmed as part of a travel video. “Other regional players, including Iran would be able to dominate this country just as easily. I think disaster for all of us.”
The deputy prime minister added it was time for Americans and Iraqis both to admit their outlooks on what would happen in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime were off.
“Iraqis thought that Americans would come with their military might and technology and fix electricity and fix everything overnight. You thought that just by getting rid of Saddam Hussein Iraqis would embrace freedom and Democratic ideas and live happily ever after,” Salih said. “Life proved us wrong.”
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