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Iraq Liaison Delivers Personal View of Reconstruction to Hill

Tom Korologos is back from Iraq, and he’s displeased by what he sees — in the American media.

“It’s a lot better [in Iraq] than anybody thinks,” the longtime Capitol Hill lobbyist said, alluding to news reports showing civil strife and daily attacks on U.S. forces occupying the country.

The remark underscores the challenge the GOP lobbyist — tasked by the White House with keeping Members abreast of developments on the ground — faces as he prepares to brief interested parties in Congress in the coming weeks.

Korologos believes significant progress is being made in the post-war reconstruction. But Members who haven’t been on any of the six Congressional delegations Korologos has hosted in Iraq since the end of major combat operations have very likely gotten a different impression through press reports from the region — chaos in the streets and hostility toward American forces.

As if to underscore the divide, a group of lawmakers who had opposed the ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is hosting a briefing today for Members on what they describe as “the disastrous post-war Iraq.”

“Our newspapers are finally unveiling the sad details about the risks that our soldiers are facing,” the six-Member group wrote last week in a “Dear Colleague.” The group includes Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Korologos acknowledges the problems that exist; he cited, for instance, “outsiders from Iran” who have entered the country and done some “pretty sophisticated bombing.”

At the same time, though, the impression among some lawmakers that the situation is spiraling downward only suggests to Korologos the exigency of keeping Members informed.

Bringing them to Iraq is the ideal. The trouble is, as much as Korologos would like to do so, it is logistically impossible for him to handle the number of Members who actually want to make the trip.

Right now, Korologos said, his team in Iraq is able to move Members in a modest three-vehicle convoy, which is kept relatively inconspicuous to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention.

“You put a big convoy or a big bus under an overpass, and you’ve got a big target,” Korologos said.

As a result, Korologos estimates that only about 50 to 60 Members have so far been able to make the trip. Unlike with ordinary CODELs, spouses are not permitted.

The tour Korologos gives Members includes a briefing from Paul Bremer, the leader of the U.S. authority in Iraq, as well as a helicopter tour of the region. He takes the Members to hospitals that have been restored and schools that have been refurbished.

And then there are the mass graves.

“I let ’em see what a bastard this guy was,” Korologos said, referring to deposed President Saddam Hussein. “You see the body bags on top of [the graves], and it really sobers you up.”

Korologos said as many as 1.5 million Iraqis are still considered missing and unaccounted for — most likely dead, killed either by the regime or in one of the wars launched by Hussein during his rule.

Korologos expects to return to Iraq after the adjournment to shepherd the next round of CODELs. Until then, he said, his principal responsibility will be “the care and feeding of Congress” — mainly, briefing Members on the progress of the post-war reconstruction.

He’s been given an office to work from in the Pentagon. But Korologos, who spent more than 40 years on the Hill as a lobbyist, expects to see more of the Capitol.

“If the lights are on, I’ll probably be there,” he said.

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