By Sgt. Sara Wood, American Forces Press ServiceNovember 16, 2006
WASHINGTON, D.C. (American Forces Press Service, Nov. 15, 2006) - Both Iraqi and American leaders believe the Iraqi government can take control of its country and develop a stable nation that is at peace with its neighbors and an ally in the war on terror, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East said here today.
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, outlined the current situation in Iraq and the way forward. Violence remains high across Iraq, Abizaid acknowledged, but the Iraqi security forces consistently perform well and, with strong support from the government, can be successful against the insurgents.
"Iraqis and Americans alike believe that Iraq can stabilize and that the key to stabilization is effective, loyal, nonsectarian Iraqi security forces coupled with an effective government of national unity," Abizaid said.
Iraqi forces can take more control and responsibility faster, but the U.S. must invest more resources into the military transition teams, speed the delivery of logistics and mobility enablers, and embrace an aggressive Iraqi-led effort to disarm illegal militias, Abizaid said. The shift of responsibility from the coalition to Iraqi security forces is still being worked out, but leaders believe that ultimately, capable and independent Iraqi forces will set the stage for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces, he said.
"Our commanders and diplomats believe it is possible to achieve an end state in Iraq that finds Iraq at peace with its neighbors, an ally in the war against extremists, respectful of the lives and rights of its citizens, and with security forces sufficient to maintain order, prevent terrorist safe havens, and defend the independence of Iraq," he said.
The Iraqi armed forces continue to perform well, even under pressure from sectarian violence, Abizaid said. Operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and illegal militias have yielded results, he said, and security transitions to Iraqi forces continue throughout the country.
At this point in Iraq, the coalition needs flexibility with its own forces and with Iraqi security forces, Abizaid said. Any limits on force levels or specific timetables for withdrawal would limit that flexibility and therefore limit the transition to an Iraqi-led security environment, he said. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government want to do more in their own country, Abizaid said. He added that the coalition wants to give them more responsibility, but that will only happen if national reconciliation is achieved.
"(Maliki's) duly-elected, legitimate government deserves our support, and his armed forces, backed by ours, deserve his full support," he said.
Abizaid acknowledged there will be tough challenges in the future as Iraq moves toward peace, but he stressed that U.S. and Iraqi leaders believe they can be successful and defeat the terrorists who are seeking to destabilize an entire region.