Boehner visits Iraq and assures support for U.S. mission

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 17, 2011 11:53 AM
Boehner visits Iraq and assures support for U.S. mission

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner visited Iraq over the weekend to express U.S. commitment to the country's postwar success, despite a rancorous Washington budget debate over spending cuts.

The Ohio Republican lawmaker's office said on Sunday that Boehner led a five-member House delegation that met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and senior military officials. It provided few other details.

The delegation focused on future cooperation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments and the need to protect both Iraq's sovereignty and U.S. interests.

"Our first priority must be ensuring that the remaining 46,000 U.S. forces and their civilian counterparts that are working with the government of Iraq and advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces have the resources and support they need to complete their mission," Boehner said in a statement.

"We must protect the economic, political, and security progress that has been made," he added.

The U.S. force in Iraq, which once numbered more than 150,000 troops, was reduced last year as part of a bilateral agreement under which the remaining military presence would withdraw by year's end.

But Washington has recently stepped up pressure on Iraq to decide whether troops should stay to help fend off a still-potent insurgency.

Boehner's statement did not mention the budget debate in Washington, where the threat of a government shutdown two weeks ago briefly raised concerns about delayed paychecks for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Friday, the speaker presided over House approval of a Republican plan for fiscal year 2012 that would slash spending by nearly $6 trillion over the next decade. The plan would increase Pentagon funding by $5 billion and includes $158 billion for U.S. military missions abroad. But it cuts $504 million for diplomatic efforts overseas.

U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2003 on faulty intelligence suggesting that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could endanger U.S. security after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. officials found neither the weapons nor any credible al Qaeda link. But an anti-American insurgency later took shape, fueled in part by militants who became aligned with al Qaeda.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Doina Chiacu)