Gov. Chris Gregoire visits troops in Iraq

OLYMPIA — For two days, Gov. Chris Gregoire couldn’t disclose her whereabouts and didn’t know the stir caused by the mystery.

An answer arrived and speculation ended early Tuesday with word Gregoire was in Iraq meeting with Washington National Guard troops stationed in Baghdad.

She flew to Washington, D.C., on Sunday night, stepped into the war zone early Tuesday and is set to return home late Thursday. The trip will cost the state $711 in air fare plus a night’s hotel stay; the federal government picks up the tab for taking her from Washington, D.C., to Iraq and back.

Gregoire, who had a request to visit Washington troops pending with the Defense of Department, learned late last week she would be heading there this week.

“I was advised not to disclose the fact I would be going,” she told reporters in a morning conference call that started about 11:30 p.m. in Iraq.

Monday afternoon her absence became a source for rumors. It was known she had gone to the nation’s capital and the most rampant rumor was she would be President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for commerce secretary, filling a spot vacated a few days ago by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Gregoire said she only learned of the speculation moments before talking to reporters.

“I’m sorry to say I’ve been on a flight since Sunday, and I’m really not aware of any inconvenience or problems this has caused,” she said

Gregoire, a Democrat, made the trip with Gov. Jon Corzine, D-New Jersey, and Rick Perry, R-Texas.

In making the trip, Gregoire said she was keeping a promise made last August in Yakima at a send-off ceremony for Army National Guard troops.

Prior to leaving, the governors met with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

On Tuesday, Gregoire had lunch with one National Guard unit, had dinner with another, and held a town-hall meeting with a third, she said. With each unit she met she left a Washington state flag.

Gregoire noted security is obviously tight in the city but soldiers on their second and third tour told her “when they were last here it was like the wild, wild West but it’s nothing like that now.”

She also visited the newly opened U.S. embassy Tuesday and met with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who she pointed out plans to make his home in the Spokane Valley when he soon retires.

Gregoire is scheduled to visit more troops today but said could not announce locations beforehand for security reasons.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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