WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO), Chairman-designate of the Armed Services Committee, Congressman Mike Conaway (R-TX), member of the committee, and Congressman Jon Porter (R-NV) 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.   Congressman Jim Marshall (D-GA) joined the delegation after a separate tour with General Peter Schoomaker. The delegation issued the following joint statement:


“Visiting the men and women of our armed forces on Christmas Day reminded us of their exceptional skill, courage, and commitment to our nation and to the completion of their mission.   We wanted to personally thank them for their service to our country, and to recognize the sacrifice of their families back home.   It was an honor to spend Christmas with them; they are our nation’s treasures.


“During our short trip to Iraq, we met with various military units stationed in the Baghdad region, including the Army’s First Cavalry Division and a National Guard unit from Kentucky.   We also heard the latest from our senior military commanders and other top U.S. officials.  


“While we were deeply impressed by the optimism and commitment of our troops and their commanders, the situation in Iraq remains complex and dire. We were heartened to hear about recent success in al Anbar province where local tribal leaders and police have teamed up with the Iraqi Army and U.S. Marines to push out al Qaeda in Iraq.   On the other hand, violence around Baghdad has accelerated; we were told that monthly attacks have risen about 40 percent since the new Iraqi government was formed.   Three more American servicemen were killed by roadside IEDs while we were in Baghdad for Christmas Day.   The cycle of violence in Baghdad involving Shia and Sunni factions has intensified, and al Qaeda attacks have often provided the spark.   The challenge is different in the south, in and around Basra, where Shia factions are battling each other for control of the region.   Overall, we were told that the appetite for violence seems unabated.


“The stakes in Iraq are great, not only for the security of the Iraqi people, but for our long-term interests in the region and for the future readiness of America’s military forces.   We believe the commanders in Iraq have provided the President with their best judgment during his strategic review. Never has there been more of a need for a bipartisan consensus to unite the nation with regard to the situation in Iraq.   The President must lay out his vision and we are hopeful that it will be a basis for that unity.”