Iraq Trip Sways Congressman Against Pullout

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA)

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), shown here in May, voted for Democratic legislation calling for a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. But a recent trip to the country has changed his mind on the issue. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) returned last week from a second trip to Iraq. He voted against authorizing the invasion of Iraq in 2002, and in May, he voted in favor of Democratic legislation that would have required President Bush to bring U.S. troops home next year.

But after his recent visit, Baird has changed his mind. He now says he believes U.S. troops must stay in Iraq longer, and that a precipitous withdrawal could have catastrophic results for Iraq and the region.

"I believe we have a moral responsibility to help the Iraqi people, and we have a strategic interest in making sure this mission succeeds, and we are finally, at long last, seeing some positive results," Baird tells Melissa Block, citing improved security in al-Anbar province as an example.

Baird acknowledges that there are still many problems in Iraq, but says there is "real, tangible evidence of gains — both militarily and economically."

"I don't want in any way to say that this is a rosy scenario. It will be difficult. Tragically, we will lose more lives. I still believe the invasion itself was a horrific mistake, but once we're there, we have to do what we can to try to make the best of this, and I think we're making progress," Baird says.

U.S. equipment and soldiers are wearing out, Baird says, so the U.S. will not be able to maintain current troop levels indefinitely.

But Baird says he thinks six to eight more months can make a "very important difference in the ability of the Iraqi government to resolve some of its difficulties, our ability to train police and military forces, and for the economy to get a little better under control."

Baird says his office has received some angry phone calls after his change in position.

To his detractors, Baird says, "If you could take the time I've taken over the last number of months to meet not only with the Iraqi leaders on all sides, but our military troops on the ground, their leaders, our ambassadors, leaders from throughout the region, I think you'd have a different impression. I certainly do."

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