Pace Discusses Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan with Turkish TV
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 24, 2006 Turkish-American relations are critical to the health of the United States, the top U.S. military officer said here today.
In a wide-ranging interview, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to Murat Akgun of Turkey's NTV network about a number of aspects of life in Turkey's geopolitical neighborhood.
Iraq dominated the discussion, with Pace talking about what's right and wrong in the country. He said the training of Iraqi security forces is moving ahead well. Iraqi troops, he said, control more than half of Baghdad and about a third of the rest of the country. About 75 percent of counterinsurgency operations have Iraqi units in the lead with only a quarter solely done by coalition forces, Pace said.
On the debit side, he said, are continuing suicide attacks and bombings. "These terrorists are trying to steal Iraq by fear," he said. "They know they have lost their opportunity to stop the elections and the writing of a constitution. They fear the stand-up of a representative government, and they are doing all they can right now to try to turn the tide. But they will fail again."
As the Iraqi military and police become more proficient, coalition forces will turn over more and more battle space to them, Pace said. There is no set timetable for coalition withdrawal from the country, and the coalition remains flexible with conditions on the ground dictating the size of the force. The United States raises and lowers level of forces in the country as needed, Pace explained. In December, about 168,000 American servicemembers were in Iraq. Today, there are about 133,000, he said.
"We will continue to monitor the situation, and as Iraqi troops take over more of the territory we will be able to back away and reduce our troop levels," he said.
Turkey is concerned about the possibility of a civil war in Iraq. Pace said he does not think there will be one, but that the opportunity for a civil war is present if the Iraqis decide to go down that path. Since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22, the Iraqi people have glimpsed the path to civil war, but have chosen another route, he said. He credited religious and political leaders with urging calm and army and police with enforcing security.
Iraq must more forward politically for any true progress in the country. "If (the political leaders) come forward with a unified government -- Shiia, Sunni, Kurd and ... Iraqi in flavor through and through -- I think we will see a healthy and prosperous 2006," Pace said.
Turkey, with a large Kurdish population in the east, is worried about the effect a free Kurdistan in Iraq would have inside Turkey. Pace said it would not be good for Iraq to allow Kurdistan to become independent. "Iraq is a solid, prosperous, healthy country with well-educated individuals that has the opportunity now to build a very solid future," he said. "For them to splinter would certainly be bad for that country and bad for the region."
Underlying the concern about an independent Kurdistan is the presence of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group that the U.S. State Department has listed as a terrorist organization. "Their existence is unacceptable to us and unacceptable to Turkey," Pace said. The PKK is operating in northern Iraq, and the United States and Iraq are committed to eliminating the group. But progress must wait until the Iraqi security forces are sufficiently strong to take on the organization, Pace said.
The chairman also discussed Iran and squashed rumors that the United States is contemplating a military solution to the standoff over Iran's use of nuclear material that could be used for making atomic bombs.
"Iran is a long way from needing any military solution," Pace said. "There are many things that can be done diplomatically and many countries working together to persuade Iran to work in such a way that is not dangerous to its neighbors. There are many things that can be done before any country contemplates a military option."