U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan Talks About Trip To Iraq

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said that his trip to Iraq made him appreciate just how complicated the situation is there, but that he also saw some encouraging signs during his visit.

The congressman recently returned from his first trip to Iraq. He traveled to Iraq as part of a congressional delegation with Reps. Marty Meehan, D-Massachusetts, Todd Akin, R-Missouri, Robert Andrews, D-New Jersey, Mike Turner, R-Ohio and David Loebsack, D-Iowa. Ryan said he was the only one who is not on the House Armed Services Committee.

“I asked to go because I wanted to go to see for myself the prospects of (the troop-surge) plan,” Ryan said. “(It was) very informative. I learned more in just a few days in Iraq than I could have learned in years worth of committee hearings and briefings.”

Ryan has said that the U.S. decision to send more than 21,000 troops to Iraq represents the last opportunity for success.

“As far as how well this plan can, so much of it depends on the Iraqis. There are some encouraging signs among the Iraqis that they might be turning things around. But that’s based on two weeks of changes that have to become permanent, so the jury is really out,” Ryan said.

Ryan said they visited Kuwait and Jordan and traveled to different areas in the center of Iraq by helicopter.

The group met with the new chief commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, as well as other generals, soldiers and Iraqi government officials. Ryan said he had several meetings and meals with U.S. troops, including his college roommate, who is in a Special Forces unit in Iraq.

“Based on all my conversations with Iraqis, American generals and diplomats, it seems to me we’re going to know within three to six months whether this (plan) is going to work or not, and based upon that, we should be prepared to make troop adjustments in the fall,” Ryan said.

Ryan said that he has seen some encouraging signs in the last few weeks. He pointed to several developments, such as clearer rules of engagement for U.S. troops; Iraqi troop forces being integrated down to the company level, providing a “check and balance against Shia militia penetration into security forces”; more unified command within the Iraqi and American forces; and that 12 of the 15 sheiks in the Anbar province have joined coalition forces to go after the Sunni insurgents.

“And the Shia-led government is beginning to show more evenhandedness in dispensing justice among the bad actors, in that they are not protecting the Shia militias like they were before and they’re showing more evenhandedness in dealing with the Sunnis. That is really very important,” Ryan said.

Despite these encouraging signs, Ryan said that “we still have a long ways to go to see whether this is going to work or not.”

“We impressed upon the Iraqis and out own generals that the patience of the American people is wearing very thin, and that this is really the last chance and opportunity to make this work and keep the country intact,” Ryan said.

He said if the plan doesn’t work, he anticipates seeing a period of sectarian genocide and the country basically dividing into three parts.

“And that scenario is a very ugly scenario, because it could involve neighboring governments getting involved and it can involve much higher levels of violence,” Ryan said.

Ryan said that during the trip, it became clear to him that the U.S. government made “three colossal mistakes” early on in the war.

He said those mistakes include sending about a third to a half as many troops as were needed to do the job; disbanding the Iraqi army; and enacting a total debaathification program.

“We should have gotten rid of all of Saddam’s close leaders, but there are so many civil servants who simply in order to get a job needed to be members of the Baath party — (it’s) kind of like having a union card. And they were turned into persona non grata overnight,” Ryan said. “Anybody who knew how to run a water treatment plant, a power plant or a government ministry was frozen out of the government and turned into an enemy of the state within a day, and that was a huge mistake.”

Ryan said the most sobering experience during the trip was visiting a Kuwait base where all the armored vehicles that had been hit by improvised explosive devices were taken to be repaired or scrapped.

“It was a piece of desert about the size of a typical county fairground full of, row by row, aisle by aisle, blown up armored vehicles, all ripped open by IEDs. Each one of them where a soldier was injured or killed,” Ryan said. “That to me, visually, was the most disturbing thing I saw.”

Ryan said the trip also gave him a new level of respect for U.S. troops.

“I was so marveled and astounded at the level of accomplishment of our troops,” Ryan said. “I’ve always been a big supporter of our military, but I have a whole new level of respect for our men and women in uniform in Iraq. Just seeing what they do on a daily basis and what they overcome and the valor that they display is just truly astounding.”

NOTE: See Paul Ryan on “For The Record” with Colin Benedict at 10 a.m. on Sunday or watch the video online right now.

Previous Stories:

February 23, 2007: Ryan Calls Iraq Surge Plan Last Chance For Success
February 20, 2007: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan To Visit Iraq