Vets group leader: ‘We are winning’

RENO — The commander of one of the nation’s largest veterans groups urged its millions of members Wednesday to spread the word that U.S. troops are helping turn the corner on the war in Iraq.

Paul Morin, the American Legion’s national leader, made the appeal at the group’s national convention after delegates heard a videotaped address from Army Gen. David Petraeus about both the progress and the challenges ahead in the 4-year-old war.

“We tell America the truth about the war, and we are winning,” Morin said.

“You are middle America. You now must stand up and speak out,” he told about 5,000 of the nearly 3 million-member group holding its annual convention in Reno this week.

Petraeus, commander of the multinational force in Iraq, said in the speech taped in Baghdad on Saturday and played at the convention on Wednesday that the situation in Iraq “remains exceedingly complex and challenging.”

Petraeus said that U.S. and Iraqi troops have been “aided enormously” by what he said might be the most notable development since he returned to Iraq to take the command in February: “the increasing assistance of everyday Iraqis.”

“Tired of the indiscriminate violence and turned off by al-Qaida’s Taliban-like ideology, many sheiks, tribes and local citizens are rejecting al-Qaida,” he said. He said many are helping secure their own neighborhoods, volunteering to join local security forces and providing U.S. and Iraqi leaders with “actionable intelligence.”

Delegates to the American Legion convention said they were pleased to hear about the progress in Iraq.

“I think once we get enough manpower in there to assist and train all the Iraqi civilian forces as well as military forces, the sooner they can put that forward and start to stand up for themselves,” said Paul Rodriguez, a chaplain from Carmel, Calif.

Bob Miller, a Vietnam vet who now serves as the Pennsylvania state commander for the American Legion, said it’s important to “finish the job.”

“We’re not going to leave and let the people fall on their face,” said Miller, whose son returned from Iraq in March after 14 months in a combat helicopter squadron.

“I served in Vietnam. We pulled out there before the job was finished, and we got our butts kicked over there. I don’t want to see that happen in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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