Today’s news:

Weiner visits troops in Iraq for support

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills) joined Gov. David Paterson and U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D−Hauppauge) for a surprise visit to Iraq and Afghanistan this week, which the Queens congressman said made him feel more optimistic than ever before about the situation in the Arab nation but concerned about the escalating violence in Afghanistan.

“A sense of trust has emerged between the U.S. military and police force in Iraq,” Weiner said from Kuwait during a conference call. “Finally we’re seeing signs the government in Iraq is serious about taking on responsibilities for their own country. Despite all of this optimism, there’s still signs everywhere that a war is going on.”

Weiner, Paterson and Israel were also joined by U.S. Reps. Tom Cole (R−Okla.) and Ed Whitfield (R−Ky.) for the trip abroad. The lawmakers landed in Baghdad Sunday and will fly back to the United States before Christmas Eve.

Weiner, Paterson and Israel met with hundreds of soldiers from New York and Iraqi, Afghan, and American officials, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, with whom they discussed security issues.

“This was my third visit to Iraq in several years,” Israel said. “I have seen Iraq go from bad to worse, but on this trip I’ve seen it as good as it has ever been and maybe as good as it ever will be. The progress has been tremendous. The military environment in Iraq right now is fairly stable with some hot spots that still need to be addressed.”

Weiner met with service members from Queens and Brooklyn and said he was surprised to learn “how many folks we have from the five boroughs and New York state” serving in Iraq.

As of November, there were 8,300 New Yorkers serving in active military duty and more than 2,000 members of the New York National Guard, Air National Guard and Reserves in Iraq and Kuwait.

“We all sat down with our constituents in the service,” said Weiner, who voted for the Iraq war in 2002. “There were folks from Oklahoma meeting with Congressman Cole and people from Kentucky meeting with Congressman Whitfield, and folks from New York for the governor, Congressman Israel and myself.

“It was great, because everyone at the Oklahoma and Kentucky tables sat prim and proper, and the folks from New York were being New Yorkers — boisterous, fun and told us what they thought. It was good to see that New Yorkers are still New Yorkers no matter where they go.”

Paterson said he hoped their trip would bring more attention to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Over the past few months our national economy has taken a severe downturn, and against that backdrop it’s understandable the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were not as prominent in the presidential campaign or in the front of our thoughts,” Paterson said during a Tuesday conference call. “We wanted to come over here to tell the troops how much we care about them, but also to focus intention on the fact that we still have these international conflicts going on.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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