WASHINGTON - Michele Bachmann reported Monday that it was a silent night in Baghdad, at least in the Green Zone, where she slept with her protective gear, aware that Al-Qaida might want to "send a message."
The Minnesota Republican, spending Christmas with the troops, praised U.S. servicemen and servicewomen for helping to bring a measure of peace to Iraq unseen since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Bachmann, a strong backer of the war effort, gave her most upbeat account yet of U.S. military operations during a Christmas Eve conference call with Minnesota reporters.
"It's a completely different place," she said. "We were amazed and floored by the level of peace."
Bachmann's remarks echoed a similarly upbeat assessment she had given the day before, while she was still en route to Iraq via Kuwait.
The first-term congresswoman is traveling with a bipartisan delegation of six House members. After a full day on the ground in Iraq, some of it in transit with U.S. soldiers, she said he hadn't heard a shot or explosion.
The experience, she said, stood in contrast to her trip to Iraq in July, when four rockets were fired into the Green Zone while she was there.
"We haven't heard a thing," she said.
Bachmann said briefings with Gen. David Petraeus and other officials confirmed recent reports of Iran's role in lessening Shiite violence in Iraq, as well as the increasing cooperation of Sunni tribesmen in fighting Al-Qaida.
Bachmann said the delegation also learned for the first time that Kuwait had paid for the first three years of fuel in the war effort and had "deeply discounted" the fourth by a factor of 80 percent.
She also praised recent political and economic advances in Iraq, including the Iraq National Assembly's recent adoption of a new pension bill.
"What we're seeing is a resurgence of economic activity in the region," she said. She talked of children playing outside, people on bicycles and factories opening. "There's a buoyancy, almost, that I see here."
Bachmann tempered her report by noting that there are still problems and that "nobody here is dancing in the end zone."
She planned to attend Christmas Day church services in the Green Zone, and distribute cards, gifts and other "goodies" to Minnesota soldiers, in particular to one she identified only as "Jessica" from St. Cloud.
Her talks with three Minnesota service members confirmed her positive impression of Iraq.
"I thought I'd encounter a lot of morose soldiers when I came here, but I haven't encountered that at all," she said.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753