Pelosi makes surprise visit to Iraq to talk intelligence

McClatchy NewspapersMay 10, 2009 

BAGHDAD — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday, discussing how the two countries will handle intelligence gathering and fight political corruption as the U.S. military begins to withdraw.

Pelosi's conversation with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and her counterpart in the Iraqi Parliament, Ayad al Samarrai, came one day after the brother of Iraq's Trade Minister was caught trying to flee the country with a trunk full of cash and gold, seeking to escape corruption charges.

As the security situation has improved, political corruption has emerged as something of a national obsession in Iraq, with politicians and religious leaders of all stripes condemning it as a "second insurgency."

But based on statements by all three politicians after Sunday's meeting, intelligence gathering was the main topic of conversation.

"If we're going to have a diminished military presence, we'll have to have an increased intelligence presence," Pelosi said at a brief press conference.

Traveling with Pelosi, D-Calif., was U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, who chairs a House intelligence oversight committee.

Holt worked for the U.S. State Department monitoring nuclear weapons programs in Iraq, Iran and the former Soviet Union before winning election to Congress in 1998.

Pelosi's visit comes in the wake of an alarming spike in violence. More than 200 people were killed in attacks in Baghdad last month, the highest toll in more than a year. The country had been much calmer for the last year or so, following the surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad, a strategy that Pelosi opposed.

She also opposed "the initiation of hostilities in Iraq and the war in general," she told reporters.

Her arrival was announced on state television hours after a bomb blast wounded a police officer just outside the Green Zone in Karrada, one of the safest neighborhoods in Baghdad.

U.S. military gunships circled above the neighborhood following the explosion just after 8 a.m.

Neither Pelosi nor the Iraqi politicians went into detail about the kind of cooperation they're planning on the intelligence front, but the topic came up repeatedly in their statements after the meeting.

A press release from Maliki's office said there is "no doubt that parties want to disrupt the political process. They support terrorists to destabilize the security situation, so we are working to strengthen our intelligence."

Ayad al Samarri heads the largest Sunni bloc in Parliament. He was elected speaker by parliament members last month.

Sunni insurgents are widely blamed for the recent spike in violence.

"Today the American government is dealing with the Iraqi government in a positive way," Samarri said after the meeting.

"The important thing is that the people of Iraq know that their democracy is very important to the United States and to the world," Pelosi said. "All of this struggle will be worth it in the end," she promised.

After the meeting Pelosi visited American troops. She was scheduled to leave Iraq later on Sunday.

(McClatchy special correspondents Jenan Hussein, Sahar Issa and Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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