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Cramer sees progress in Iraq; thought his plane had been hit

By Eric Fleischauer · 340-2435

He saw a brilliant orange flash and heard a loud sound that made it through earplugs. The C-130 transport plane bucked and rolled.

“I thought the plane had been hit. ... I did have a sensation that maybe we were going down,” said a weary Rep. Bud Cramer in Huntsville after a harrowing flight from Iraq. “It was a blast of some sort, then a series of blasts.”

“I was trying to calculate, if we went down, where we would go down,” he said.

Cramer, D-Huntsville, was in a plane with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and other elected officials when the shots were fired over Baghdad on Thursday night.

Cramer said his understanding was that three rocket-propelled grenades had been fired at his plane when it was at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. His plane rolled not because it had been hit but to evade the incoming fire.

He said the pilots ejected flares — which added to the terror of the moment — to deflect any heat-seeking missiles.

“It was a sobering experience,” Cramer said. “A lot of things went through my mind. ... I will take back to the United States Congress a perspective on this that will stay with me for a long, long time.”

Cramer said his trip to Iraq — the finale excepted — was positive.

“I’ve been more reassured that the surge is working,” Cramer said.

He said he expects a reduction of troops to begin within six months.

“The troubling news is the Iraqi government,” Cramer said, which he believes is not matching the efforts of U.S. troops. “I am frustrated with the lack of progress that the Iraqi government is making.”

He spoke to members of the Iraqi government, however, and the discussions gave him hope.

“A message that we got was that the Iraqi government finally gets it,” Cramer said. Those he spoke with seemed to understand that Congress would not fund the war indefinitely.

He also spoke at length to Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Those conversations, he said, suggested conflict between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis is not improving as hoped.

Al-Qaida in Iraq, however, is diminishing as a force in response to U.S. pressure.

“That has been reduced substantially,” Cramer said. “Al-Qaida is on the run there.”

Cramer spoke with troops from Alabama and said their morale was high. He said they are frustrated with the Iraqi government, however, and its tepid involvement in the war leaves them wondering whether their own efforts are having an impact.

Cramer said he and Shelby view the war effort similarly.

“We both agree progress is being made,” Cramer said. “The surge has accomplished a lot. ... I have been more frustrated, I think, than Sen. Shelby.”

Cramer said much of his frustration has to do with a lack of supplies for U.S. troops, which he said is a consequence of the unexpected length of the war.

His brief peril in a C-130 was nothing compared to what U.S. troops face every day, Cramer said. But it was enough.

“I’m tired, and I’m glad to be home.”

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