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Issue Date: September 27, 2004

War-tested leaders offer Iraq insights
Officers testify as lawmakers clash over war

By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

In a congressional hearing with strong election-year overtones, five battle-tested commanders told the House Armed Services Committee that U.S. troops, particularly young leaders, are performing admirable work in Iraq under tough conditions, but with support from the vast majority of the Iraqi people.

Taking place Sept. 8, just as Congress returned from a six-week summer break that featured the party nominating conventions and increasingly bitter debate over President Bush’s Iraq policy, testimony from the Army and Marine officers was intended by Republican lawmakers to bolster support for Bush’s policy. Democrats, on the other hand, used the hearing to try to show the policy was putting troops in increasing jeopardy.

The commanders, meanwhile, tried to stay out of the line of fire.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., tried to get them to complain that the American news media, both print and broadcast, focuses only on negative aspects of the mission and that Iraqi opposition to the presence of U.S. troops is overblown.

Army Col. Michael Linnington, a member of the Joint Staff and a former brigade commander with the 101st Airborne Division during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said only that the focus on fatalities and the insurgents causing them is understandable.

“Loss of any soldier is significant. ... It will dominate the news and it should,” Linnington said.

“It is the shipwrecks that make the news,” added Marine Lt. Col. Bryan McCoy, who commanded 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, in Iraq, where he served two tours.

“I have not seen any good-news stories about what our soldiers, Marines and sailors are doing,” said Marine Capt. Morgan Savage, a former company commander with 3/4.

Savage, now an academics officer at Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Va., also did two deployments in Iraq. He said good things are happening on a daily basis involving U.S. troops and Iraqis that are not widely known.

Army Capt. Patrick Costello, who headed a 101st Airborne Division air defense unit before being reassigned to handle emergency services because that was a more pressing mission, said he stopped watching the news since returning to the United States because he finds it distorted.

Costello said that by his estimate, about 90 percent of the Iraqi people are happy the United States remains in Iraq but the news concentrates on insurgents and seems to show 90 percent oppose continued U.S. presence.

Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., who chaired the hearing, said the idea of calling in commanders to testify was to focus on “the selfless work of the American military in Iraq.”

“Some may think this is merely another attempt to justify war in Iraq,” Hefley said. “I happen to personally believe that the American people are safer with Saddam Hussein out of power and in jail.”

While others might disagree, Hefley said, he hoped there was bipartisan agreement that the “vast majority” of U.S. troops “are answering their country’s call to service with bravery, dedication, integrity and honor.”

He made that point because congressional hearings have been, and continue to, focus on alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces.

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