Merkley, Wyden visit Iraq, recognize sense of ‘promise’

WASHINGTON — Despite a recent burst of violence and uncertainty about elections scheduled for January, Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said Monday a sense of “promise” is taking root in Iraq.

Wyden and Merkley offered the assessment after the first day of a two-day visit to the country.

“There’s a real sense of high promise here,” Merkley said during a conference call he and Wyden held with reporters. “It seems that the (Iraqi leadership) is buying into democratic governance.”

At the same time, Merkley acknowledged that progress — and appearances — can be quickly reversed in a country with a history of fractious politics and violence, ethnic tensions and interference from neighbors Syria and Iran.

“The word that was used over and over again was ‘gradual’,” Merkley said, summarizing the message senior Iraqi officials offered during their meetings with the two senators.

Merkley and Wyden left Washington Saturday evening after voting on health care. They arrived in Iraq Monday and will return Wednesday.