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Schiff returns from Iraq trip

August 31, 2004

Josh Kleinbaum

Rep. Adam Schiff couldn't resist. A handful of pilots on the U.S.

aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, deployed in the Arabian coast to

support coalition forces in Iraq, sat down for a midnight meal and a

poker game late one night last week. They asked Schiff, part of a

five-man congressional delegation to the Middle East, to join them.

A few hours later and a few dollars poorer, Schiff went to sleep.

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"I'd like to say that I threw the hands, but they took me," Schiff

said in his Pasadena office. "I think they enjoyed beating a

congressman."

Clearly, Schiff (D-Glendale) enjoyed losing to the pilots, too.

But his weeklong trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bahrain was

not all fun and games. In Iraq, he avoided a rocket-propelled grenade

attack by about 500 yards. The Marines canceled a trip to Fallujah

because of security concerns, and they told Schiff they had never

before restricted a congressional delegation for security reasons.

Schiff found mixed results in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq,

Schiff said that the number of enemy forces has increased

significantly since his last trip there, one year ago, especially

with foreign fighters. He attributes that to poor planning for the

post-war phase by the Bush administration, which has led to shaky

security.

But he also saw cause for optimism. He considers Prime Minister

Iyad Allawi to be the right man for the job, a free thinker with

refreshing bluntness.

"The Iraqi government now has an Iraqi face," Schiff said. "A lot

of Iraqi people think he's a pawn for the United States. He doesn't

come across as a pawn for anybody.

"Be prepared for another three or four months of rough news. We

probably won't turn the corner until they have elections. Ultimately,

the fight will have to be won by Iraqis."

In Afghanistan, Schiff said soldiers felt forgotten. One described

Afghanistan as "the third front in a two-front war," behind the war

in Iraq and the global war on terrorism. But he said troops were

uplifted by the clear progress being made. With democratic elections

scheduled for October, 10.5 million people have already registered to

vote, with 42% of them women, Schiff said.

"In the Taliban regime, they weren't allowed to leave the house,"

Schiff said.

Schiff is concerned that the country could turn into a drug haven.

Opium is one of Afghanistan's chief products, and production has gone

up significantly in the past two years. Local warlords intimidate

farmers, Schiff said, forcing them to grow opium.

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