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02 October 2005

U.S. Generals Cite Positive Trends in Battle with Iraqi Insurgents

Involvement of Sunnis in political process seen as a key to success

By Bernie Chabel
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The involvement of Iraqi forces in stabilizing that nation continues to increase, the U.S. general with oversight responsibility for the Middle East says.

"The important thing is whether or not the overall movement towards stability and security is falling more and more in the hands of the Iraqis," U.S. Army General John Abizaid said on the NBC News program Meet the Press October 2.  "And the answer is it is, but it’s also a difficult road to go on. There are peaks and valleys that you go through, but overall, the trend is good. We’re certainly confident. And the most important thing we’re confident about is that the Iraqis want to do this. They want to take the fight. They will take the fight."

Abizaid said the readiness of Iraqi forces must be viewed in context. "The war is two-and-a-half years old, and when you think of where we were two-and-a half years ago, where we essentially didn’t have any Iraqi security forces in the field, to where we are now, where we’ve got close to 200,000 Iraqi security forces in the field, we’ve come a long way," the general said.

Abizaid said the Iraqi forces are not yet fully ready "across the spectrum," but they are fighting and dying for their country, and they "own certain portions of the battle space that they never had before."

Developments in the political sphere in Iraq are crucial to the military effort, Abizaid said. "Essentially, there are portions of the Sunni Arab community that are in [the] insurgency," he said. "And that’s where we’ve got to concentrate our efforts both militarily and, by the way, politically. We need the Sunni Arab community in Iraq to be part of the future of Iraq."

If a legitimate government emerges in Iraq that is "broadly seen as being representative of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish interests," Abizaid said, "I think there’s no reason to suppose that we can’t bring force levels down in the spring."

General George Casey, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, also was encouraged by developments in the political process in Iraq. Appearing October 2 on the ABC News program This Week, Casey said the Iraqi political process was "very much on track."

"The Iraqis have met all their [political] milestones," he said.  Of the Iraqis eligible to register to vote, 98 percent have done so, and polls indicate that 80 percent to 90 percent of Iraqis intend to vote in the October 15 referendum on the draft constitution, Casey said.

"And the most important change since the January elections is that the Sunni population is coming forward and saying that they will participate in this referendum and this election in large numbers," the general added.

Casey pointed to the Iraqi city of Mosul, a main Sunni area where, he said, only 30,000 people voted in the January elections for national assembly seats. "This year during the registration process," Casey said, "100,000 people registered and another 300,000 went by just to see if their name was on the list."

"[T]he Iraqis built a constitution, they put that together themselves, and they’ll have the opportunity to vote on that constitution," Casey said. "Some will vote yes and some will vote no. And that’s a very positive thing for a group of people who lived under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein for three-and-a-half decades."

For additional information, see Iraq Update.