Douglas Says Conditions In Iraq Have Improved

07/22/10 5:50PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is on a trip to the Middle East, and he says conditions in Iraq have improved since his last visit four years ago.

Douglas is traveling with four other governors. He did not rule out a stop in Afghanistan, where 1,500 Vermonters are deployed. But details of the trip are being kept secret for security reasons.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Douglas spoke to reporters from Kuwait after he visited Baghdad earlier in the week. He said U.S. forces are on track to move troops and material out of the country and hand authority over to Iraqi civilians.

(Douglas) "This is an exciting time and also a challenging time with respect to our commitment to Iraq because of the significant drawdown that the president has ordered. There will be a reduction in our troop strength to 50,000 by the end of August."

(Dillon) Douglas said one goal of his trip was to meet and thank Vermonters who are serving in Iraq. He said their spirits are good, despite being far from home in oppressive heat that reaches 120 degrees.

(Douglas) "I think Vermonters here would tell you that they see progress being made in Iraq. Task Force Saber was in Ramadi when I was here four years ago. That mission was to stabilize that part of Al Anbar province and restore it to civilian control and that has largely happened now."

(Dillon) The governor said the security situation has improved, but that Baghdad is not completely safe. The U.S. Embassy was hit by a rocket attack on the Fourth of July, for example.

(Douglas) "So there's a ways to go. But the statistics are quite impressive. The numbers of casualties, both military and civilian has, declined significantly in recent years. The number of attacks and explosions has gone down. But it's a country that still needs to shore up its security capacity. They're not entirely out of the woods."

(Dillon) No members of the Vermont National Guard are in Iraq, but Vermonters are serving there in the regular Army and Air Force.

Before the governor left for the Middle East, he visited four Vermont soldiers who are recovering at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The four were wounded in Afghanistan in the same attack earlier this month that killed Specialist Ryan Grady, a member of the Vermont National Guard.

(Douglas) "There are some who have more serious wounds than the ones I visited. The ones I saw are upbeat. They're responding well to treatment and hoping to get home as soon as they can."

(Host) Douglas would not talk about a possible visit later this week to Afghanistan, where about 1,500 Vermont troops are deployed.

He plans to return to Vermont on Sunday.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon.

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