Making his second tour of Iraq, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, spent the weekend in the war-ravaged region before heading to Pakistan as part of an on-going and closely guarded delegation headed by House Speaker John Boehner.
The intent of the trip for Rooney, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, is to see the progress Iraq has made toward democracy and discuss the next steps for the Iraqi and U.S. governments, according to his office.
As for Pakistan, Rooney, after meeting with military and civilian leaders, called the situation in that nation "extremely volatile."
"With their historical issues with India coupled with the new fights on their western front with the Taliban and al Qaeda, the Pakistani military is stretched," Rooney stated in a release. "As an ally, Pakistan is as important in the fight against terror as any country in the world. Maintaining a strong relationship is vital to both of our national interests."
The visit to Iraq was announced Sunday and to Pakistan on Monday.
Other stops have not been announced as such trips are usually blacked out for security reasons until after the visit or a stop has been made.
Rooney's spokesman, Michael Mahaffey, could say only that the Treasure Coast congressman is due back in Washington later this week.
According to Boehner's office, the delegation is focused on future cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq, focused on 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," the Ohio Republican stated in a release.
"We must protect the economic, political, and security progress that has been made," he added.
U.S. forces in Iraq, which once topped 150,000 troops, have been drawing down since last year and a bilateral agreement has the remaining military presence exiting by the end of the year.
However, pressure has been raised in Washington for Iraq to decide if troops should remain due to the threat of insurgents.
In a release, Rooney stated that Iraqi "Prime Minister Maliki hopes that Iraq will serve as an example to the Middle East and the world that democracy can work in the region. During our meeting with the prime minister, we discussed how the U.S. and Iraq can work together through more traditional diplomatic means after our troop withdrawal, which is scheduled for December."
Rooney also noted that his position on the House Committee on Agriculture came up with Maliki during the meeting.
"We discussed how we can move from a military dialogue like we're having now toward efforts to advance agriculture in Iraq," Rooney stated.
Rooney first visited Iraq in May 2009, as part of a trip that included stops in Afghanistan.
Afterward, Rooney, a former U.S. Army officer, expressed optimism for Iraq, saying they were close to self-rule.
However, he called for 20,000 additional troops — five brigades — in Afghanistan to ensure the Taliban and al-Qaeda were unable to take leadership in the war-ravaged nation.
Others in the current delegation are Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas; Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas; Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nevada; and Dan Boren, D-Okla.
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