WASHINGTON , DC – Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO), Chairman-designate of the Armed Services Committee, returned today from a bipartisan Congressional delegation to visit American troops deployed in Iraq at Christmas and to receive an updated assessment of the security and political situation in the country.   Skelton made the following statement about the implications of his trip:


“This trip with my colleagues made even more clear what I have known for a long time: first, while we can help, this is ultimately the Iraqis’ problem to solve and second, time is not on our side.  


“The complex patterns of violence in Iraq will not be solved without an Iraqi-led political solution.   Any plan that proposes an increase in deployed American forces must address the question of what the Iraqis will do to put political solutions in place and to take over greater security responsibilities.


“I will look carefully and with an open mind at any proposal the President may make, but my view remains that removing some number of American troops—however small—would send a more powerful message to our Iraqi partners than raising force levels.  


“I return home convinced of the enormous questions confronting the military and the resulting oversight responsibility of the Congress. The Armed Services Committee will hear from Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Pace when the President’s plan for Iraq is unveiled.   But we will also stay closely tied over time to commanders here on questions of current operations and the critical issue of progress in training and turning over security responsibilities to Iraqi security forces.


The time spent with our troops and hearing their concerns underlines more strongly the strategic priority of the Armed Services Committee to fix our military.   We have the finest force in the world and we must ensure it remains able to deter a conflict or to fight anywhere it is called. Right now, our troops are over-deployed and much of our equipment is worn out.   The solutions to these problems are urgently needed and the committee will address them when Congress convenes next month.”