US lawmakers’ plane under fire in Iraq
(AP) WASHINGTON – A military cargo plane carrying three senators and a House member was forced to take evasive maneuvers and dispatch flares to avoid ground fire after taking off from Baghdad on Thursday night.
The lawmakers said their plane, a C-130, was under fire from three rocket-propelled grenades over the course of several minutes as they left for Amman, Jordan.
“It was a scary moment,” said Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who said he had just taken off his body armor when he saw a bright flash outside the window. “Our pilots were terrific. … They banked in one direction and then banked the other direction, and they set off the flares.”
Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., as well as Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Ala., were also on the plane.
Cramer and Martinez said they had just begun to relax about five or 10 minutes after the plane took off under darkness.
Crew members apparently communicated to the pilots as they saw the initial RPG fired from the ground, Cramer said. After the first burst, the pilots maneuvered aggressively and set off flares used for drawing incoming fire away from aircraft.
Once the flares lit up the sky, lawmakers said, two more RPGs were fired as the pilots continued maneuvering.
Martinez said he quickly put back on his body armor.
“We were jostled around pretty good,” said Cramer, who estimated the plane had ascended to about 6,000 feet. “There were a few minutes there where I wondered: ‘Have we been hit? Are we OK?'”
Capt. Angel Wallace, a spokeswoman for U.S. Central Command, said she was not aware of the incident, and military public affairs officials in Baghdad could not be reached immediately.
Lawmakers travel to Iraq regularly to get a closer look at military and political progress there, usually staying inside Baghdad’s secured Green Zone and traveling under heavy security.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other lawmakers who walked around a Baghdad market this spring were criticized for offering a rosy assessment of security there.
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., for example, later said he chose his words poorly when he compared the market to a “normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime.”
Despite the scare, Shelby, Martinez and Cramer said they believed the recent increase in troop levels has helped stabilize parts of the country.
“It was kind of dicey,” Shelby said. “But it just shows you what our troops go through every day.”
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