Tsongas: Surge having no effect on political standstill in Iraq

Peter Reuell

Despite millions spent on reconstruction and military training, Iraq remains mired in political in-fighting, said Rep. Niki Tsongas, after last week making her first official visit to the central front in the war on terror.

Tsongas, who also visited Afghanistan in the one-day trip, said that while the military might on display by the U.S. is impressive, the central stumbling block for Iraq remains a political one.

“It was a trip well worth taking,” Tsongas said in a conference call Thursday. “It would be expected that the additional manpower (in Iraq) would have an effect, but it has not in any way effected the political process, which is a great challenge.

“The government understands they’re really in an emergency state. Their inability to move forward is really jeopardizing much,” she said.

While in Iraq, Tsongas also met with soldiers from the 101st Airborne, several of whom expressed frustration at the length of deployments, and with their ability to communicate with family at home.

“The 15-month deployment is very difficult on them, and their families,” she said. “One of the real concerns they have is communication. Not so much that they can’t talk to them on the phone, but they miss seeing people, they (feel we need) better video conferencing.”

While the challenges in Afghanistan are just as great as those in Iraq, the difference between the nations is striking, Tsongas said.

“Afghanistan, it’s a third-world country,” she said. “It’s utterly devastated, not by us, but by the Russian occupation, and the Taliban. We have a great challenge around the country because it is so impoverished. There’s limited electricity, if any. There’s shortages of food; there’s a 20 percent literacy rate. You see the great challenges we have.”

Despite those challenges, the country appears far more secure than Iraq.

“The security there is better,” she said. “We could travel in cars, with some guard, but we were relatively free to move around the city.

“In Baghdad, it’s quite different. The travel in Baghdad, we could only do it by helicopter.”

After arriving at Camp Victory, Tsongas and a delegation of other members of Congress, were flown to the Green Zone, which they were not allowed to leave.

“You have some opportunity to move around in that area, but you cannot go free out in to the city,” she said. “The security challenges are much greater than they are in Kabul.”

While Tsongas believes the troop surge has helped security in Iraq, she believes there is much left to do, and security will be pointless without a political solution.

“You see that sending the additional troops has had an impact,” she said, of her visit. “Yet in spite of all we have brought to bear on this militarily, we have not been able to solve the political side of things, I would say far from it.

“I came away with the sense we were asking something that was certainly not achievable in the near term.”

Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428, or at

The MetroWest Daily News