CODELs to Iraq Will Continue

Posted November 5, 2003 at 6:35pm

Members of Congress plan to continue taking regular trips to assess the situation in Iraq despite several recent incidents highlighting the potential dangers of such visits.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, plans to lead a Congressional delegation to Baghdad in the coming days, though a Kolbe spokeswoman said she could not disclose when the trip would depart for security reasons. Rep David Hobson (R-Ohio) also plans to lead a trip soon.

In the office of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who organizes and approves most official CODELs, aides have discussed whether any changes in official policy are warranted but have not at this point suggested any outright travel bans or changes in security procedures.

“The Speaker’s office is monitoring closely the security situation” in Iraq, Hastert spokesman John Feehery said.

Sources said House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood is also studying the issue. His office declined to comment.

While there have been regular reports of violence and casualties in Iraq, a spate of recent high-profile incidents have highlighted the dangers to lawmakers visiting the country.

On Oct. 26, several rockets hit the al-Rashid hotel in downtown Baghdad. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying at the hotel at the time, and while he was unhurt, 17 others were injured and one U.S. military officer was killed.

Though lawmakers and their staffs usually spend their nights in Kuwait City, Members regularly visit the al-Rashid to meet with military commanders and other officials.

That same day, a U.S. Blackhawk helicopter was shot down near Tikrit, injuring one. And earlier this week, an Army Chinook helicopter was downed by a missile, killing 15 and injuring 27. Those incidents are particularly significant for Members because they regularly travel around Iraq by helicopter.

Even with tight security, some CODELs have already gone through some hair-raising gauntlets, encountering nearby explosions and having their convoys shot at.