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Senator: Public needs 'cold, hard facts' on Iraq

Chafee says conditions there have gotten worse in past year


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Sen. Lincoln Chafee said the security situation in Iraq is "very tenuous."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A moderate Republican senator who recently returned from Iraq said conditions are worse than last year and the American public needs to hear "the cold, hard facts."

Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said the situation he encountered was "frightening at times."

"It's a very tenuous security situation," Chafee told CNN. "I'd been there a year ago -- what a change."

Chafee and three other U.S. senators recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Democrats Joe Biden of Delaware and Dianne Feinstein of California, also made the trip.

Chafee said the senators were unable to travel through Baghdad's neighborhoods, visit the northern city of Mosul or take the road from the airport -- all things visitors could do last year.

"Also, in the Green Zone a year ago we felt very secure," he said, referring to the fortified section of the capital that is home to Iraqi and foreign governments and the military. "Not so this time."

Even the flight out of Baghdad was dangerous. The pilot of the C-130 aircraft was forced to "do some evasive maneuvers," causing some anxious moments, Chafee said.

Given the conditions in Iraq, Chafee said he gives "the Defense Department credit for allowing us to go under these circumstances so now we can come back to the American public and describe what we saw."

Chafee said that when Iraqi politicians -- such as interim President Ghazi al-Yawar, who met with President Bush on Monday in Washington -- say that the situation is improving, the effect is damaging.

"We really need cold, hard facts and honesty," Chafee said. "The situation is tough over there."

Bush said during a news conference with al-Yawar that the two had "talked about the security situation."

Al-Yawar said Iraq would not give in to "the armies of darkness, who have no objective but to undermine the political process and incite civil war in Iraq."

"Victory is not only possible, it's a fact," he said. "We can see it. It's there."

Elections are scheduled in Iraq for January 30. There have been numerous calls to delay them because of the violence, but the interim Iraqi government and the Bush administration say delaying the elections would not be beneficial.

Chafee said the elections are important, but shoring up the security situation would be the only way to make the vote credible.

"That's going to be very, very difficult from what I saw," he said.

He said insurgents "pretty much" control Mosul and large parts of Baghdad, as well as the 10-mile stretch of road from the airport into the capital.

"If with 100,000-plus troops over there, we can't control that 10-mile road, it shows what's happening politically," the senator said. "The people are not as friendly as they were a year ago towards Americans."


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