Today, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is in Iraq, a trip kept under wraps until this morning. Hastert flew to Iraq on Thursday, the day he clinched the record as the longest serving GOP House Speaker in the nation's history.
"During my visit, I plan to meet with both American and Iraqi military and government leaders to get a first-hand look at the progress that is being made towards fighting and winning the War on Terror, strengthening Iraq's first duly-elected government and building-up the Iraqi security forces," Hastert said in a statement.
Hastert is traveling with three other lawmakers: Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.); Rep. Adam Putnam (R-F.) and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).
Highlights of the Speaker's delegation visit , his office said, will include meetings with:
*President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Jawad al Maliki, Speaker Mahmoud al Mashhadani and Government of Iraq Cabinet Ministers.
*Top military command in Baghdad, known as Multinational Force Iraq (MF-1) and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad.
* Lunch with U.S. military from Illinois.
release from the Speakers office
House Speaker Hastert's Remarks at
Press Conference in Iraq
(Washington, D.C) House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) made the following remarks at a press
conference in Baghdad, Iraq.
"Thank you for that kind introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, I have some prepared remarks and then I will take your questions.
"On behalf of the United States House of Representatives, I am pleased to be here in Baghdad and to bring greetings to our brave men and women serving here in Iraq.
"The United States is grateful for your service. We know that your efforts are keeping this battle off American streets and off American soil. We in Congress are committed to giving our fighting men and women all the tools they need to get the job done. Part of the reason for my visit is to find out first-hand just what they do need.
"I am pleased to be meeting with the leaders of the new Iraqi government. I have just come from meetings with the Speaker and the Prime Minister. Later, I will meet with other cabinet ministers.
"Because of a brutal dictatorship, for too long, the people of Iraq have been denied the opportunity to govern themselves. Here, in the birthplace of civilization, the birth of this historic government represents a new day of hope for the Iraqi people.
"Together, we are working toward the day when the Iraqi government has the strength to protect their own people --- a day when our brave men and women, and their coalition partners, can come home.
"The "stand up" of this new government, which is the fruit of three elections where brave Iraqi citizens held up their ink stained fingers and resisted intimidation, brings us closer to that day.
"I have been encouraged by the briefings I have received from our distinguished ambassador and from General Casey.
"As a history teacher for 16 years before coming to Congress, I know how difficult it was for our country, more than 200 years ago, to establish a working democracy. There is much here that remains to be done. And, it will continue to require sacrifice and patience from the Iraqi and American people.
"The Iraqi government is making steady progress in providing the essential services needed to build a strong economy. With the naming of the unity cabinet, strong democratic institutions are beginning to take root.
"An important next step is for the Iraqi government to seek national reconciliation in order to end the insurgency and disband the sectarian militias.
"We will remain faithful to the task because it is the right thing to do for Iraq, for the Middle East and for America."