On Thursday, April 10th, Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (MA-09) led a Congressional Delegation (CODEL) to Iraq, Jordan and Belgium.The delegation also visited with the European Union (EU) Counter Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove to discuss greater U.S. – EU cooperation in combating terrorist financing.
Joining Congressman Lynch were Rep. Todd Platts (R-PA), Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) as well as several House Oversight Committee Investigators.
The visit is part of an ongoing assessment of the status of military operations and the investigation of possible fraud and abuse in Iraq reconstruction contracts.
One target of the investigation has been the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Baghdad. The NEC has been the subject of an ongoing Oversight Committee investigation due to significant cost overruns, construction delays and safety issues. The embassy compound, scheduled for completion in September 2007 with a cost of $592 million, is still not complete and its cost has risen in excess of $700 million.
Lynch also visited the Taji National Depot, North of Baghdad to review the Department of Defense’s weapons tracking system for Iraqi Security Forces. Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Department of Defense cannot fully account for Iraqi forces’ receipt of U.S.-funded equipment, including at least 190,000 weapons. On Sunday, April 13th, Lynch accompanied the 3rd Infantry and 101st Airborne Combat Units on patrol in the village of Yusifiah, south of Baghdad and met with local Iraqis and several Massachusetts-based armed forces units.
“I can’t say enough about the tremendous job being done by our troops. I’ve been meeting a lot of Massachusetts soldiers, marines, sailors and air force personnel. I am very proud of all of them. They are very courageous and dedicated Americans,” Congressman Lynch said.
“As for these investigations, there is ample evidence that the Defense Department did not put adequate controls in place to protect against contractor abuse. We are spending about $10 billion every month here in Iraq and I’m concerned that a lot of that is being wasted. That reduces the protection for our troops and delays our withdrawal in the long run,” Lynch added.
The Delegation met with Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III and military officials in Baghdad over the weekend to discuss the increase in rocket attacks against Coalition Forces in the Green Zone.
Mortar and rocket attacks against the Green Zone continued during Lynch’s visit. One rocket struck a parking area in the Green Zone on Saturday, while two additional rockets destroyed several vehicles adjacent to the Republican Palace on Sunday. According to Congressman Lynch, the Delegation was moved to protected areas during both attacks and was never in danger. No casualties were reported. This was Lynch’s eighth visit to Iraq.
In Jordan, Congressman Lynch continued discussions with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the relief group “Save the Children” regarding the 2 million Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
In Brussels, Lynch was briefed by Ambassador Victoria Nuland, the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, to discuss missile defense and coalition efforts in Afghanistan.
Lynch also discussed NATO efforts in Afghanistan with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. In the past, Lynch has suggested that NATO assistance in Iraq could be decisive in coming months and it is expected that he will raise that issue with NATO officials.