Aug 31 2007

Shelby, Cramer plane shot at

Huntsville Times

By Shelby G. Spires

Senator describes 'near miss' in air after Baghdad visit

In the sky over Iraq Thursday, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer were fired on by unidentified forces on the ground.

Shelby and Cramer were part of a congressional delegation on a one-day trip to Baghdad flying in an Air Force C-130, Shelby said, "when on the way back we had a near miss."

"It was dark as the dickens outside, and I was looking out the little window. I saw the red glare of a shell or a missile coming up toward our plane," Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said in a phone interview with Alabama reporters Thursday shortly after the plane landed in Amman, Jordan.

"Then, I saw a flare pop out, and our plane just started moving and changing directions and trying to move."

The plane had been in the air for about 30 minutes, Shelby said, and nobody was injured. Shelby credited the training of the military crew for the delegation's safe passage.

"The crew did a tremendous job evading the missiles," Shelby said. "They couldn't have done a better job. We owe them."

Cramer, D-Huntsville, said the flight crew told him that the shots were probably rocket-propelled grenades launched by insurgents.

"We had had a long, good day in Iraq, and I was beginning to settle in for the flight to Jordan," Cramer said. "We were probably about 30 minutes after takeoff and 6,000 feet up and then, all of a sudden, there was a burst of light outside the plane.

"We were all looking at it wondering what it was, and then there was another burst that went off. It was really a series of bursts. Later, people said it was about three or so."

Even though Cramer has been to several war zones, this was his first time to be under fire.

"It's some drama, but really our men and women over here go through much, much worse than this every day," he said.

There was no direct identification of the forces on the ground, but Shelby said there was no doubt in his mind that they were enemy insurgents.

"The place we were flying over is pretty dangerous with dangerous people," he said. "I know it wasn't our people."

Shelby and Cramer were part of a congressional delegation that included Republican Sens. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Mel Martinez of Florida. The group had spent the day with U.S. soldiers and was briefed on the war by Army Gen. Dave Petraeus, commander of all forces in Iraq.

Shelby and Cramer said the trip showed that recent deployments of U.S. troops to Iraq were showing signs of progress.

They also said they expect the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for the war.

"The frustrating side of this is the Iraqi government side," Cramer said. "I'm not sure we are making the kind of progress we need to make there, and many members of Congress are frustrated with the lack of progress.

"The government in Iraq has to understand there's not going to be a lot more time to convince us."