Friday, January 13, 2006

Ford Says Troop Morale High in Iraq

After making his fourth trip to observe conditions in Iraq, U.S. Senate hopeful Harold Ford Jr. reported Thursday that U.S. troop morale is "high" and soldiers are not in favor of a quick pullout.

"Troops are excited about the progress being made," the Memphis Democrat told reporters during a teleconference. "They are more concerned about America and U.S. policymakers getting the policy right on the ground and are more concerned about doing their jobs. They don't believe we should leave prematurely because there are fears that if we do, their kids will have to come back and fight this war."

Ford, who represents Tennessee's 9th Congressional District, is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the Senate seat now held by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. His challenger is state Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville. The main hopefuls competing for the GOP nomination are former Congressmen Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant, and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.

Ford made the trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with U.S. Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., and Barack Obama, D-Ill.

While visiting Fallujah, Ford said he ran into a soldier who went to Sullivan North High School. Only days ago, Ford visited with two classes of students at North during a stop in Kingsport.

"He looked at me a little skeptically when I told him I had just been in Northeast Tennessee at his school," Ford said of the unnamed soldier. "(I asked him) was Coach (Richard) Carroll your principal? He lit up so much and started smiling. He said, ‘Some of you politicians, I never know if you all are telling the truth when you come visit us.'"

Ford said U.S. forces have to do a better job training Iraqi security forces beset by insurgent attacks before a government power transition can happen.

"We actually have to help regular people - ordinary Iraqis - live their lives ... so they can go to work and raise their families without fear of being killed," he said.

Ford added that a number of Iraqis still think they were better off under former dictator Saddam Hussein because of essential service offerings like electricity.

"(Under Saddam) they did have electricity for 12 to 14 hours a day," Ford said. "Now they only have it from four to six. ... The country was promised early on that if America came in and won, that would mean a better life. And here they are two years after Saddam Hussein fell and many people are saying they do not have a better life. They judge our success whether or not their lives have been normalized."

Once a new Iraqi government is up and running, "that partner is going to have to demonstrate to Americans who are investing through their tax dollars in Iraq that they can manage their affairs with our assistance and not the other way around," Ford pointed out.

Aside from his trip, Ford was asked about the Corker campaign's recent allegation that Ford had received tainted campaign contributions from a team of lobbyists associated with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who recently pleaded guilty to three counts charging him with conspiracy, aiding and abetting honest services mail fraud and tax evasion, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Congressman Ford should finally do what he asked of others last week - fully disclose what Jack Abramoff and his associates gave him over the years and donate that money to charity immediately," Corker campaign manager Ben Mitchell said in an e-mailed news release.

Ford responded: "If I was running third place in my primary, I'd be attacking the front-runner as well and that's what Bob Corker is doing. There's no basis of truth to any of the allegations he's made. In some ways I feel sorry for him for having to make that kind of scurrilous and untrue false allegations. The truth of the matter is I don't know Jack Abramoff. I wouldn't know him if he walked into my office unless he had a fedora on him like he did when he pled guilty in a court of law. My ethics I take very seriously. ... I have never taken a dime from any of his clients. I will add that if it shows up that anybody who has given me money is connected to him or had played some role in the fraud he ran on the country or Congress, I will make a donation to a charity."

Source: Kingsport Times News