Gov. Frank Murkowski is meeting with policymakers and Alaska troops in Iraq and Afghanistan this week.
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On Wednesday, the governor had lunch with troops stationed in Mosul. Tuesday he met with soldiers near the Iraq-Kuwait border.
"It was heartwarming to visit with Alaskans in Iraq," Murkowski said in a news release. "These young people are engaged in a dangerous mission in a very hot, dry and dusty part of the world, not exactly what they are used to in Alaska."
On Tuesday, he spent the day in the Baghdad safety corridor known as the "Green Zone," where he received logistical and strategic briefings from coalition officials, consulted with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and was hosted by military and U.S. officials at a dinner in a palace that belonged to the nation's former leader, Saddam Hussein.
Al-Hashimi was interested in setting up a nationwide oil wealth-sharing system similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund, Murkowski spokesman John Manly said.
Today, Murkowski will meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. Before returning to Alaska on Saturday evening, he will spend a night at a U.S. military base in Germany.
The governor was invited to the Middle East by the office of the secretary of defense, which has a policy to invite governors to see the action in person. Twenty-three governors have visited Iraq this year and 36 have traveled there since the war began in 2003, according to The Associated Press.
Murkowski was joined by two other governors: Mark Sanford of South Carolina and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
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Rumors about the governor's trip spread earlier this week while Murkowski's office kept mum. Manly said for security reasons the Department of Defense requested details of the governor's visit be kept secret until Wednesday.
The governor has considered taking the trip for about a year, said Maj. Michael Haller, spokesman for the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. Manly said the governor may have waited until this summer because he was involved in negotiations with major oil producers to build a natural gas pipeline.
Murkowski is also running for re-election and will face four contenders in late August for the Republican Party nomination.
"I don't believe the governor would use this for a political purpose," said former state legislator John Binkley, who is facing off against Murkowski in the polls.
Binkley added that the governor appears to be concerned about the troops.
Haller said part of the reason the governor made the trip was to do something at which he excels - providing words of encouragement.
"For those who actually got to see him or get a phone call from the governor, it was a big day," Haller said.
Murkowski visited units from Mosul, including about 60 soldiers from the 207th Aviation Battalion of the Alaska Army Guard and the 423rd Infantry from Fort Richardson and the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Wainwright.
"It's not a short flight," said Matt Dubois, a Juneau resident and infantryman who recently served in Baghdad.
Dubois added that the governor can learn more about the soldiers' day-to-day life while there.
Before departing for the Middle East from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the governors met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for a classified briefing on the situation in Iraq, Manly said.
This is Murkowski's second trip to Iraq. As a U.S. senator, with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, he met with Hussein prior to the first Gulf War.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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