Thursday, February 09, 2006

Another Stupid Civilian Gets In The Way

Lesch makes hasty exit from Iraq

St. Paul lawmaker's brief trip ends after missteps, scolding


BAGHDAD, Iraq — State Rep. John Lesch of St. Paul reportedly left Iraq after a lecture from an angry Iraqi official — and just a week after he flew to the Middle East to tour the war zone on his own.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman, confirmed Monday that Lesch had left, but offered no further information about where the 33-year-old, two-term DFLer was heading.

Neither Lesch's brother, Jim, nor friends in Minnesota who had been in contact with the lawmaker knew his whereabouts Monday.

But Iraqi and U.S. officials expressed their relief he had left the country the United States invaded in 2003.

"This grandstanding has no place here," Johnson said. "Stay home."

Had something happened to Lesch, he added, untold numbers of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers would have been obliged to endanger themselves to help him.

Mithal Alusi, founder of the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, said he spoke with Lesch shortly after he arrived last week in Baghdad and quickly reprimanded him. Alusi has been a victim of violence since the invasion and has dodged several assassination attempts. His two sons were slain in January 2005.

"Do you know what would happen if the terrorists took you as a hostage? Kalashnikov to your head. You with your passport, crying. And all of the world in danger. Just because of you!" Alusi recounted in an interview with Knight Ridder.

"I told him, 'You are crazy.' I don't like to talk to politicians this way, but he made me very sad."

Alusi asked if Lesch had any hobbies and said Lesch answered that he liked watching movies: "I told him you have watched too many James Bond movies."

Alusi said that had a U.S. state lawmaker been taken hostage, it would have exhausted the country's strained resources.

"We are so lucky he didn't die" here, he said. "Can you imagine what will happen here? … I told him, 'Don't do it again!' "

More than 400 foreigners have been kidnapped since the war ended in April 2003. In addition, thousands of others have been injured and killed by explosives and car bombs.

Nearly all contractors and journalists living and working in the country spend thousands of dollars for armored cars, guards and weapons to defend themselves. And they acknowledge that is not foolproof. Most U.S. officials and the top leaders of the government live in the heavily fortified Green Zone, which is surrounded by 12-foot-high blast walls. Most rarely leave.

Lesch, however, flew at his own expense to the Middle East on Jan. 29. He planned to stay for about three weeks. He traveled through Amsterdam and Damascus, according to postings on his Internet blog (http://johnlesch.blogspot.com). His last blog entry was dated Monday.

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