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Iraqi Forces Have Risen to Crisis Security Challenge

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2006 – This week's terrorist attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, is the "toughest test" for Iraq, a senior DoD official said today. But the government and security forces are rising to the challenge.

"We think that by and large the Iraqi security forces have performed well under a very severe test," Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, said.

Rodman and his Joint Staff counterpart, Air Force Lt. Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., said the Iraqi government and forces are handling their most complex security challenge.

Al Qaeda in Iraq bombed the Askariyah Mosque in Samarra Feb. 22. The mosque is a holy site for Shiite Muslims, and the move appears to be a prod to ignite civil war between Sunni and Shiite Arabs -- a move that al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has long advocated. Zarqawi's group has targeted Shiite sites and populace in the past.

"What the extremists are trying to do is foment civil war," Rodman said. "But we don't see them succeeding."

Renuart said military personnel look for a number of indicators to see if the military is losing control. "Is there some sense that the regular army units are leaving? There's none," he said. "And the security in the Samarra area is all Iraqi."

He said it is encouraging that the multiethnic army and essentially Shiite local police are working together to provide security in the region.

Rodman said he does not see Iraq spiraling down to civil war. "Obviously the extremists want to provoke sectarian warfare, and I am struck by the fact that over a three-year period, leaders of the (Iraqi) communities have been quite resistant to this," he said. "The test is whether the political process continues."

Iraqi political parties must continue to work together to form a government, he said. In the wake of the bombing, the parties have set aside forming the government. "But we expect this process to resume," Rodman said.

The political process is the strategic prize for the extremists, he said. "Not only do I not see civil war happening, I don't think they will succeed in derailing this political process," Rodman said. "The next few days will tell if I am right."

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Biographies:
Peter Rodman
Lt. Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., USAF

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