The Norman Transcript

May 5, 2006

Iraq veteran calls progress in rebuilding 'inspiring'


Deputy regional coordinator speaks to area Democrats

By Althea Peterson

Transcript Staff Writer

Iraq may not be as good as the Bush administration depicts it, but it's not as bad as what you see on television, according to one Marine who has been there.

Gary Anderson, deputy regional coordinator for the United States Mission in Iraq, said from his own perspective, conditions are improving in Iraq. Anderson, whose first tour of duty was July 2004 to January 2005 in the Foreign Service, said some days are better than others. Anderson spoke as part of the Tyner Corn Bread and Beans luncheon Friday at Los Dos Amigos.

"It took us five years to finalize our constitution and even then, there were revisions afterwards," Anderson said. "While (Iraq) isn't going well every day, it is getting better than it was."

Some of the ways Iraq is improving are safety on the streets and support from Iraq's groups, Anderson said.

"The Kurds and the Shiites are very motivated," Anderson said. "They're very energized to the progress going on. The Sunnis are sort of in the middle."

Anderson said while conditions are not always perfect, the progress from both the United States and Iraqis is "inspiring."

"The people over there are dedicated and professional," Anderson said. "They believe in an Iraqi nation."

Anderson said one of the major differences between Iraq now and Iraq under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is the freedom to vote, which is not something they take for granted.

"The look on their faces that day after they voted -- if you were there, you would see what it's all about," Anderson said. "Before, Saddam would say 'you're my guy, everybody will vote for you.'"

As for the future of Iraq, Anderson said it is not in the Bush administration's hands, nor is it in the hands of the soldiers fighting overseas. Rather, it is in the hands of the American voters.

"You have that power, but until 2003, Iraqis didn't," Anderson said. "Now they have this power too. It is up to you to decide what we do over there through the next elections."

Also speaking at the event was Linda Sexton, D-Norman candidate for House District 45. Sexton said she was a 16-year school board member and ready to serve at a state level to represent the people of east Norman and Oklahoma.

"I've been in the shoes of the people of east Norman I will be serving," Sexton said. "We must find other employers for our state."

When asked her opinion on the proposed state tax cuts, she said that while they appeal to some, many state programs are underfunded.

"When schools are underfunded, prisons are underfunded, roads and bridges are underfunded -- this is not the time for tax cuts," Sexton said.

Other candidates for State House District 45 include incumbent Thad Balkman, R-Norman, and Estelle Cash, D-Norman, who also ran for the office in 2004.

Althea Peterson 366-3539 apeterson@normantranscript.com