BAGHDAD, IRAQ--- House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) led a congressional delegation to the Middle East to assess ongoing preparations for the upcoming national elections in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority.
In advance of the scheduled January 30th elections in Iraq, the Whips met this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, as well as members of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, and Carlos Valenzuela, who heads the UN election team.
"There is no more important step in the path toward peace in the Middle East than these elections," Blunt said. "Credible elections will send the signal to the world that the Iraqis and Palestinians are serious about peace, democracy, and prosperity at home. I'm confident that these leaders are dedicated to the credibility of the electoral process and are committed to the idea that these elections represent a peaceful and democratic future for their people."
In Ramallah, Blunt and Hoyer also met with Saeb Erekat, Minister of Local Government and the Palestinian Authority Chief Negotiator, and discussed progress toward democratic elections on January 9th with the General Counsel of the Central Election Committee, Rami Hamdallah. The Central Election Committee is the independent body responsible for implementing elections in the Palestinian Authority. In Jerusalem, Hoyer and Blunt discussed Israeli security concerns during the Palestinian elections with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as the Leader of the Labor Party, Shimon Peres.
"During the course of our meetings it was clear that substantial time constraints, logistical issues and serious security concerns exist," said Hoyer. "If the upcoming elections are to be credible, all parties must work together to overcome these challenges. If that is done I believe it is possible to take a positive step toward achieving the goal of a free and democratic Iraq. I am also hopeful that Palestinian elections will result in a new leadership committed to achieving peace with Israel."
Hoyer was the lead House Democratic sponsor and Blunt was a cosponsor of the Help America Vote Act, comprehensive election reform legislation drafted in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential elections. Blunt served as the chief elections official for the State of Missouri for eight years.
While in Iraq, the delegation, which also included Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, Maryland Congressman Ben Cardin, and Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk, had dinner with troops from their respective states and met with military leaders responsible for current operations and training Iraqi forces, as well as US Ambassador John Negropante.