Following complaints earlier this month that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had curtailed the privileges of Members taking part in fact-finding trips to Iraq, a third Congressional delegation will attempt to visit multiple areas in Iraq this week.
The group of eight House Members, which was scheduled to depart Friday, is led by Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and includes Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Terry Everett (R-Ala.), Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.), Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), John McHugh (R-N.Y.) and Ed Royce (R-Calif.).
The Members, who plan to visit U.S. military personnel in Iraq on Memorial Day, are scheduled to visit several cities in Iraq, including Baghdad, and will also make stops in Turkey and Kuwait, before returning home mid-week.
A delegation including House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) had planned to visit Iraq in early May. However, the group was stopped by Pentagon officials in Qatar and told it would not be allowed into Iraq.
According to Young, the Defense secretary rejected the group’s request to visit the area.
A second bipartisan CODEL, organized by Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was canceled earlier this month when lawmakers were informed they would only be allowed to visit the Baghdad airport for a few hours.
Pentagon spokeswoman Diane Perry said there currently are no time restrictions on visits to Iraq, but each chamber is allowed only one CODEL per month, with a maximum of 10 members in each group. The groups are subject to approval of the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader.
Despite the fact that journalists and civilian workers from federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations are allowed within Baghdad, Perry said Members in Iraq will likely be allowed to visit only the Baghdad airport and the Command Joint Task Force Seven headquarters (for troop briefings and meetings with Chief Civilian Administrator L. Paul Bremer) because of limitations set by the Qatar-based U.S. Central Command.
Central Command officials base their decisions on “security issues,” Perry noted, and no request for overnight visits are currently being accepted. It is likely the CODEL would travel from Kuwait City to Iraq for daytime visits, and then return.
Before departing for the current fact-finding mission, Fossella said he was not concerned about the travel restrictions that have been imposed on Members.
“I have full faith that we will be able to, in the short time that we’re there, be able to do as much as we can,” he said.
The group plans to meet with military and civilian leadership to discuss rebuilding efforts within the country, and to meet with troops to “express our thanks,” Fossella said.
Despite the recent elevation of the federal terrorism alert level to orange, or high, Fossella said he does not have concerns about security.
“I’ve never been one to live in fear,” he said. “I have no problem going over. I’d be a hypocrite if I were willing to send our men in uniform and weren’t willing to go myself.”