More U.S. Troops to Deploy to Baghdad

President Bush this week announced an increase in numbers of U.S. troops deployed to Baghdad to combat increasing sectarian violence. Just months ago, the Bush administration suggested the U.S. might begin lowering troop levels. Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO) talks with Alex Chadwick about troop levels in Iraq.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

We're joined now by Congressman Joel Hefley. He's a Republican from Colorado. He's been on the House Armed Services Committee for 18 years.

Congressman, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Representative JOEL HEFLEY (Republican, Colorado): Hey, glad to be with you.

CHADWICK: Isn't the gross number of U.S. troops in Iraq going up?

Rep. HEFLEY: Well, it's gone down considerably from the high point. The high point, I think, was something like 160,000 and we're down in 130-range, now. And I honestly think that as the course of the year wears on that we're going to see it continue to go down.

CHADWICK: But, Congressman, if we're holding troops there that were supposed to come home and we're introducing new troops - that were to replace those troops that were supposed to come home - aren't the gross numbers going up?

Rep. HEFLEY: Well, we're still rotating troops out, too. We're keeping some in there longer than they were - they thought they were going to be. And I hate that because families are anxious to have their loved ones home, there's no question about that, and I'd be the same way. But we're also still continuing to rotate troops out and to not put some troops back in that we had planned to put back in.

CHADWICK: So it's just not clear to me whether you're saying the troop numbers are going up or not, because it looks to me as though they are.

Rep. HEFLEY: I think they're going down. The last figures I have are that they're going down. And you may have blips where maybe this month they will go up a little bit and next month they will drop a little bit, but the general trend is for it to go down.

CHADWICK: What do you think about the over all situation of the war in Iraq with this call from Secretary Rumsfeld to hold these troops here, and with the such a grave concern about the situation in Baghdad?

Rep. HEFLEY: I think the insurgents are just desperate to see that this thing does not work. If it works and you actually do get a free, democrat society there, you know, that will have an affect on the whole region. And so, I think, they will intensify the insurgency. But over all, I think we're making good progress and I'd be - prime minister of Iraq confirmed that the other day in the joint session.

CHADWICK: But, Congressman, the president this week, in a joint appearance with the Iraqi prime minister, called the situation in Iraq terrible. That's President Bush.

Rep. HEFLEY: I wouldn't disagree with that. I mean, it is terrible when we're having people killed, when you're getting Iraqi people killed.

CHADWICK: Congressman, you're not running for re-election this year. You're retiring, but what are your colleagues saying about this, about U.S. troop numbers?

Rep. HEFLEY: You know, this is an election year and so, of course, this becomes a very politicized thing. A great many of the Democrats, in order to knock Bush and to hopefully take back over the Congress, they are saying that we need to pull the troops out right now and that kind of thing. And most of the Republicans are standing with the president and say yeah, we need to get out of there the moment we get the job done.

CHADWICK: I wonder if some of your Republican friends are saying to you, Joel, you're picking a really good year to get out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. HEFLEY: Yes, I have heard that. I have heard that.

CHADWICK: Joel Hefley, retiring this year after 20 years as a Colorado congressman. For a lot of that time he's been involved with military affairs.

Congressman, thank you for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Rep. HEFLEY: Glad to be with you.

CHADWICK: And NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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