U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire got a first-hand look at the situation in Iraq this week. And his impression is that the Iraqis are not prepared to take control of their government. “Our men and women have given them the breathing room to run the government,” he said soon after returning home to the Fourth District Thursday afternoon. “Not only have they haven’t progressed, they’re getting worse.” Altmire, with three other House members, left Sunday night and arrived in Kuwait late Monday, then spent about 22 hours in Iraq, touring Baghdad and Fallujah. Other congressmen on the trip were Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who led the contingent; Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. While in Baghdad, the congressmen had a 90-minute lunch with Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Petraeus and Crocker will be in Washington in mid September to report to Congress on the progress of the war in Iraq since the introduction of 30,000 more American troops earlier this year. The report is expected to influence the future of America’s mission in Iraq. Altmire said that what most impressed him about Petraeus is not only his understanding of what is happening in Iraq, but also the entire Middle East region. Petraeus, he said, used charts and graphs to show the course of the war. Altmire said the general asked that details that were discussed during their meeting be kept confidential. As for Petraeus’ upcoming report, Altmire said, “I am confident he is going to speak freely and the White House’s fingerprints are not going to be on his report.” Altmire also met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie. “He feels like he can posture while our men and women die over there,” Altmire said. The congressman added he came away with “incredible respect” for the troops. “They have done everything that has been asked of them.” Altmire said he sees no military solution to the war, adding he believes the best strategy for success in Iraq is imposing a timeline on American involvement there. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said a press conference Thursday that he believes the report to Congress will not provide any magical solutions or provide any instant answers “to the difficulties and challenges we are going through.” He said he is hopeful there will be more political progress by Sept. 11 or 12. Meanwhile, he said, Iraqis need help from American and other international forces because the capabilities of Iraqi security forces “are not up to what is desired.”

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