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Members Cautioned on Trips to Iraq

With the war in Iraq less than two weeks old, some lawmakers are already eager to see the battle zone firsthand.

House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said “several Members” had asked him about the possibility of traveling to the Persian Gulf to assess the situation in person, but he is counseling patience.

“The key is not to be in a position to take [military] resources for these trips,” Hunter said.

The chairman pointed out the potential burden for the Pentagon of providing military planes for lawmakers to travel to Iraq and then furnishing adequate security and personnel for them once they arrive.

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, voiced similar concerns, saying it would be imperative that Members consulted with the Bush administration before embarking on any trips.

“I think you’d want to make sure that you’ve coordinated with the secretary of State rather than just doing it as a knee-jerk thing,” Lewis said.

John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said that there was some interest among Members in traveling to the war zone but that he was not aware of any trips currently in the offing.

During the first Persian Gulf War, the Defense Department and then-Speaker Tom Foley’s (D-Wash.) office agreed to send only one delegation of lawmakers per month to the region while the fighting was still going on. A group of four appropriators took a Congressional delegation to the Gulf in mid-February of 1991, about a month after U.S. bombing began.

A handful of other Members traveled to the Middle East on their own, though they all cleared their trips with the State Department. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and then-Rep. Wayne Owens (D-Utah) were both in Israel during Scud missile attacks.

After hostilities ended in late February, the first mass CODELs to the region departed in mid-March. About 30 House Members and 17 Senators joined trips to Kuwait to see the war’s aftermath.

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