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Senator: 'Lot of red tape' in bringing Iraqi girl to U.S.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss: "They're really just doing an unbelievable job of working to save this little girl's life."



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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


Saxby Chambliss
CNN Access

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Saving an Iraqi baby girl with spina bifida has become the mission of Georgia National Guardsmen who found the child during a raid in December. Surgeons in Atlanta are prepared to perform surgery that could save the girl's life.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, spoke to CNN's Carol Lin on Wednesday about the hope for the girl's future and the bureaucratic complications of bringing her to the United States.

LIN: So, senator, has there been some red tape involved?

CHAMBLISS: There sure has, Carol. It's a difficult process, No. 1, to communicate inside of Iraq. And when these soldiers did this terrorist raid -- and of course to have the compassion which they showed to see this little girl and want to help save her life is just a great story in and of itself -- but the fact is, we had to then begin the process of trying to figure out, No. 1, could we get her here? Who should come with her?

They have to do background checks inside of Iraq. They have to have passports issued in Iraq, Iraqi passports, before we can even get to the U.S. visa process. So there's been a lot of red tape.

And on top of all this, for any Iraqi to socialize or have a lot of contact with American soldiers puts their life in danger in this part of Iraq. So it's been a lot of cloak and dagger exercise going on inside of there. [These are] very, very brave men and women who are American soldiers, not only fighting and winning the war on terrorism, but also having the compassion to save this little girl's life.

Thank goodness we're now at a point where the U.S. military has control of this little baby and the process being carried out by the ambassador in Iraq -- Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad is moving, and we're very hopeful that within a matter of hours, and not days, we're going to see this little girl in Atlanta.

LIN: When do you think that might happen, best case scenario?

CHAMBLISS: I think over the weekend there's hope that it can be done by then. There's still a few more obstacles to overcome. But most of those have been taken out of the way now.

The folks at [Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at] Scottish Rite hospital here, Dr. [Roger] Hudgins and his staff, are sitting on ready, and they've just been extremely cooperative, very compassionate. Child Spring International has done great work; a couple of churches in Atlanta have been involved. This truly is a great exhibition of the real American spirit to see this little girl come to the United States.

LIN: Compassion. In the meantime, the time -- the clock is ticking for this little baby. This paperwork has to happen quickly.

CHAMBLISS: Yes, it does. The fact she's survived as long as she has is somewhat of a miracle in and of itself. She is certainly a child of destiny. But she is 3 months old now. The doctors did not give her hope to live to 3 months of age when she was born -- doctors inside of Iraq.

But now that she has survived, she's in American custody, and she's getting some preliminary treatment there by physicians. So we're very hopeful that when she gets here that the process obviously will move very quickly then, and it will be totally successful.

And as one soldier said early on -- this may be the first female president of Iraq.

LIN: [That] could very well be, but first things first. You know, to see these pictures of these rough and tumble guys -- I mean, the 10th Mountain Division, these are the guys who go into the most dangerous missions -- right? -- in the most remote areas. To see them tenderly holding this little Iraqi baby, it just brings tears to my eyes.

CHAMBLISS: Yes, if that doesn't strike your emotions, something's wrong with you as a person, much less an American. These are very brave men and women. And they discovered this little girl in the midst of a terrorist raid.

LIN: They had even detained her uncle.

CHAMBLISS: Yes, there's some folks involved in her family who possibly could be involved in the insurgency. So this is -- it's been an unbelievable story from Day One. The fact they would go back not once, not twice, but several times. ...

LIN: Risking their lives.

CHAMBLISS: ... just to see that this girl was being taken care of and then to ultimately take the journey over to take possession of her -- that in and of itself was just one heck of a mission for the American soldiers to carry out.

LIN: One that we are going to remember.

CHAMBLISS: I'm very proud that a lot of these folks are from Georgia, but I'm most proud that they're all Americans, and they're really just doing an unbelievable job of working to save this little girl's life.

LIN: Senator, tell us the very second you know that the visas have gone through and that little girl is on a plane.

CHAMBLISS: We'll do that. I hope that's going to be, like I say, within a matter of hours.

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