“A lot of people are lying when they say the Iraqi military is not carrying its share of the load,” he declared. “They are now up to 136,000 troops, trained and equipped, with another 51,000 trainees in the pipeline. Meanwhile, we are in the process of dropping from 150,000 troops to 120,000, so they will soon have more than us.”
As evidence of the increasing strength of Iraqi security forces, Inhofe noted that there was a sufficient number of them to guard each of the country’s 5,200 polling places last month.
Inhofe, who was making his fifth visit to Iraq, and Isakson and Thune, who were making their first, were briefed separately by Gen. George Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Forces, Iraq, and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who heads the Multinational Security Transition Command.
“At this moment, the Iraqis are passing us in terms of numbers,” Inhofe said. “No one argues that they’re better soldiers than us, but they are getting the training and support they need.”
The three senators also met with Ambassador John Negroponte, who told them that the U.S. exit strategy “is an event strategy and not a calendar strategy, which means it will happen when the Iraqis are ready to take care of themselves,” Inhofe said.
But the senators also saw signs that the violent insurgency that has killed some 1,400 Americans and thousands of Iraqis since the United States invaded Iraq some 18 months ago is far from over. Inhofe noted that 22 Iraqi police were killed just as the senators left Baghdad on Sunday.
However, he said leaders of the Sunni minority “who have been saying, ‘Americans go home,’ have completely changed their tune since the elections, and now they’re saying, ‘Please stay here until we can defend ourselves.’”
The three senators also met with a number of Iraqi citizens, whose fingers were still stained with the ink they used in voting. “We talked with many Iraqis who voted and haven’t washed their fingers yet, which are actually black, not blue,” he said.
“So everybody is singing off the same song sheet, all rejoicing. I know it might seem extreme to say that, but they all agreed that there were two heroes who made this happen: Grand Ayatollah Sistani and President Bush.”
Inhofe and his colleagues also visited wounded soldiers in Landstuhl, Germany, on the way to Iraq as well as an Iraqi police training program in Jordan before returning home Sunday night, “just in time for the Super Bowl.”