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Muttocracy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-21-08 02:11 PM
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Gov. Paterson lands in Baghdad for surprise visit (with 4 congressmen)
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Updated: 12/21/08 08:01 AM
Gov. Paterson lands in Baghdad for surprise visit
By Tom Precious
News Albany Bureau

ALBANY Gov. David Paterson is making a surprise visit to Baghdad with several members of Congress that aides say is meant to be a holiday visit with New York troops serving in Iraq.

"It is a privilege for me to visit the troops during the holiday season," Paterson said in a statement released this morning after he landed in Baghdad.

"Thousands of families across our state will have an empty place at their holiday tables because a loved one is overseas serving our country. I consider it such an honor to be able to travel to the war zone and personally thank these great Americans for their service,'' the governor said.

Paterson is the second governor to visit Iraq. George Pataki went in 2006 at a time he briefly flirted with a White House run.

Paterson is traveling with two congressmen from New York: Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Queens Democrat, and Rep. Steve Israel, a Long Island Democrat who is also seeking to have Paterson appoint him to replace Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton when she is expected in a month or so to be confirmed as the U.S. secretary of state. Also on the trip are Reps. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, and Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican.

The U.S. State Department is paying for the trip, Paterson aides said. They declined to divulge his itinerary, citing security concerns, and would not say when he is scheduled to leave Iraq.

The only information the administration would provide about the trip is that he is scheduled to meet with American and Iraqi officials, share meals with troops, visit living quarters and tour American forward operating bases.

The administration said that as of last month there were 8,300 active military troops serving in Iraq from New York, and Army soldiers from Fort Drum in northern New York have been deployed since May. There are also 2,000 members of the New York National Guard, Air National Guard and members of the Reserves serving in both Iraq and Kuwait. Officials did not say how many of those are serving just in Iraq. There are also about 1,700 New York Guard members deployed this year in Afghanistan.

"We owe members of the armed forces an extraordinary debt of gratitude for the sacrifices they make every day. This holiday season, I ask all New Yorkers to keep those defending our nation in their thoughts," Paterson said.

"Let us not forget that our ability to vote, our ability to worship, and our freedom of speech are guaranteed by the 170,000 plus American men and women fighting for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. We honor our troops and keep them in our prayers this holiday season," Weiner said in a statement.

When traveling outside New York, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, legally serves as acting governor because New York, following the resignation earlier this year by Eliot Spitzer, does not have a lieutenant governor.

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