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May 22, 2007

McDermott's Iraq dialogue

Posted by David Postman at 9:24 AM

Congressman Jim McDermott says he will continue to reach out to a broad spectrum of Iraqis as he tries to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. I talked to McDermott on Friday about a New York Times story that said a member of the Iraqi Parliament visiting D.C. as the congressman's guest had ties to the Sunni insurgency and has been accused of complicity in a murder.

Muhammad al-Daini, a Sunni Arab member of the Iraqi Parliament, wants the U.S. out of his country and said in D.C. that Iraq's problems today are caused by the American invasion and occupation. McDermott met al-Daini on a trip to Jordan. He said he found him articulate and proficient in English and wanted to bring him to D.C. to meet with members of Congress. McDermott told me:

"I think members of Congress have a responsibility to try to hear from all sides. I know that we're not dealing with saints, here. I'm not carrying any luggage for any of them. I just want to hear that they have to say."

McDermott has been working to bring al-Daini and other Iraqis to the U.S. with wealthy businessman, peace activist and now presidential candidate Dal LaMagna. The two traveled together to Jordan after last fall's election.

When I read the New York Times story last week and heard some of the familiar criticism of McDermott from the right, it struck me that he has never considered Iraq the enemy, even those the U.S. administration and the new Iraqi government consider opponents.

I asked McDermott if he sees Iraq as the enemy. He thought about it for a few moments, then said:

"I didn't think it was a war that should have happened. Certainly Saddam was not a nice man, and his regime was not a benevolent one. But I did not see that the Iraq people should have thousands and hundreds of thousands of casualties as we tried to take over.

"This is one of the more advanced countries in the Middle East. Baghdad was among one of the better cities. ... I think Saddam was kind of a useful target to get people stirred up. It's pretty clear that he's now gone and still we have a mess and we still don't want to get out.

"I never have viewed the Iraq people as either being our enemy or being unable to govern themselves. I really think it's time for us to withdraw."

There is a political agenda to his efforts to get Iraqi's like al-Daini to America. McDermott says that helps counter what he calls the administration's "very one-sided propagandist presentation on what's going on over there."

And McDermott wants to influence the American media.

"The American public, who get their information off television primarily and a little bit from the print media, simply are not getting a broad exposure to this. My feeling is only as they get more and more restless, then Republicans will get more and more restless, and finally they'll go the president and say, 'Get us out of there.' ''

And it's not just Iraq that McDermott is worried about. He is active in the House Dialogue Caucus, a bi-partisan group now trying to open conversations between America and Iran. He said a video conference was scheduled this week to allow members of Congress to talk to Iranian officials.

The group, led by Republican Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Democrat Gregory Meeks of New York, was born of the sense that "we didn't use diplomacy first" before invading Iraq. But McDermott said the group is not trying to usurp the administration's role in foreign policy.

"We're not conducting diplomacy, we're conducting dialog."

LaMagna's work with the Iraqis has become central in his new candidacy for president. But McDermott, who applauds the businessman's commitment to ending the war in Iraq, says he won't be backing him for president. McDermott is waiting for Al Gore to join the race.

"I want Gore and Obama. That's my dream team."

He said he realizes that a lot of Gore backers "were folding" but he is still holding out and "thinks that's a real possibility."

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