(CNSNews.com) - U.S. media coverage of Iraq was so gloomy that during a recent visit to the U.S. the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan wondered whether the situation had deteriorated to such a degree during his absence that he should stay away.
"CNN International and [Arabic television network] al-Jazeera are equally bad in their coverage of the situation in Iraq," Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani was quoted as telling a visiting group of Americans on Monday.
"When I was in the United States recently and read the negative news in the Washington Post, New York Times and in the network TV broadcasts, I even wondered if things had gotten so bad since I had left that I shouldn't return," he said.
Barzani was speaking during a meeting with a group of Americans who have lost sons during the conflict in Iraq. The group is in the country, according to the trip organizers, to learn for themselves what their loved ones died for.
The Americans also met with Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani.
"The emotional meeting lasted for an hour as the families and Barzani exchanged stories of loss at the hands of Saddam Hussein's violent regime," reported Joe Wierzbicki, spokesman for Move America Forward (MAF), the group that organized the visit.
Earlier Monday, the delegation met with U.S. troops stationed in northern Iraq and presented them with a "God Bless Our Troops" banner that had been signed by several hundred Americans at rallies around the nation.
Wierzbicki told Cybercast News Service that the visit had been supported solely by funds from contributors. The delegation, comprising seven family members as well as MAF representatives, arrived in Irbil on Saturday for a 10-day stay.
The trip, which organizers call "historic," has been in the planning stages for over a year and has been kept strictly secret until now.
"For more than one year, we have worked with these Gold Star families to put this trip together," said Wierzbicki.
"These families have suffered an awful loss, and yet, they've redoubled their efforts to supporting our troops and the missions they are serving in," he added. "Now they want to bring their message to the American people, and we are doing all we can to make sure this message is heard from coast to coast."
U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003 to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. An Iraqi court Sunday found the former leader guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death.
Wierzbicki said the families regarded the Saddam verdict as "especially heartening since their children gave their lives to free the people of Iraq and bring an end to Iraq's dubious role as a state sponsor of terrorism under Hussein's brutal rule."
On Monday, the group released comments made by delegation members.
"Justice has been served, and we are now celebrating together with the people of Iraq," said Joseph Williams, whose son, Michael, was killed near Nasiriyah in March 2003.
Another parent, Mike Anderson, said the verdict provided additional justification for the war on terrorism.
"We are doing the right thing in Iraq, and many of the people in Iraq are trying to do the right thing in building a future free of violence and terrorism," said Anderson, whose son, Michael Jr., died in Anbar province in December 2004.
Debra Argel Bastian, whose son Derek Argel died in Iraq's eastern Diyala province in May 2005, agreed.
"I am so happy to see that justice has prevailed over terrorism and bloodshed," she said. "I am so proud of the men and women of the United States military who have made this moment possible. And I honor the sacrifice my son gave to serve his country in the war against terrorism."
Argel also commented on Sen. John Kerry's controversial "stuck in Iraq" comments last week.
"I am spitting mad at John Kerry for insulting our troops," she said. "Duck and run was [Kerry's] specialty in Vietnam."
Joe and Jan Johnson, who lost their son, Justin, in Baghdad in April 2004, had similar feelings about the Massachusetts Democrat's remark.
"These were grown men we are talking about," the couple said in a statement. "Contrary to Kerry's belief, they made an 'educated' decision to join the military, most of them after 9/11, so they knew the possibilities of going to war were pretty good, and they chose to serve anyway."
Kerry last week triggered a storm when he said during a California campaign event: "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
As Cybercast News Service reported recently, the Johnsons claim in a newly released book that Kerry tried to recruit them at their son's funeral to speak out against President Bush and the war in Iraq.
Instead, the family, whose son was good friends with Casey Sheehan, son of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, said they support the president and the war.
"I want to be able to tell the troops that there are Americans who still believe we are doing the right thing by being here," Joe Johnson said.
A key reason for the visit is to enable the delegation visiting Iraq to see the progress the U.S. has made there since the war began.
"The American people are shown a skewed picture of the situation in Iraq day after day by the international news media," said MAF Chairwoman Melanie Morgan.
"We felt it was time to allow the families of U.S. troops who died in Iraq to come see the progress being made in Iraq and report it back to the American people," Morgan noted.
"I will tell anybody who will listen the good that we have done and are currently doing," Anderson said. "We cannot find security by turning a blind eye or thinking that 'if we leave them alone, they'll leave us alone.' That's utterly ridiculous."
Todd Bastian, Derek Argel's stepfather, said the delegation had been "welcomed with open arms" when they arrived in Irbil province. "There appear to be a very grateful people here for our presence," he said.
Irbil is one of the safer areas in Iraq - something MAF says that the media fail to show. "Most provinces in Iraq are without the violence that is shown each day by the international news media," the group said in a statement, "but for some reason only the most negative developments from Iraq are regularly reported."
Live updates and photos of the trip, as well as biographies of delegation members, can be found at the MAF website.
E-mail a news tip to Dawn Rizzoni.
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