Central Command Chief Says Iraq Not on Verge of Civil War
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 15, 2006 Iraq is not on the verge of a civil war, and sectarian issues in the country are controllable, the commander of U.S. Central Command told the House Armed Services Committee here today.
Army Gen. John Abizaid testified about CENTCOM's posture. He told the representatives he believes a government of national unity will emerge in Iraq and that the Iraqi security forces will continue to improve.
Abizaid said he was concerned about sectarian violence in Iraq since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22. He said he believes fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq group was responsible for the bombing as an attempt to foment civil war.
"Certainly we believe that the Samarra bombings were the work of al Qaeda. This is well within their stated intentions," the general said. "No, I don't have proof, but that's who I think did it, and that's who most Iraqis think did it. They have every reason to find a wedge to provide sectarian difficulties, to make the government fail, and to cause the Iraqi security forces to lose heart."
Iraq needs a unity government, and soon, Abizaid said. The new government must build strong ministries "that are not dominated by various sectarian concerns, and move forward in order to move the country towards peace and prosperity and defeat the insurgency."
Abizaid said al Qaeda remains the primary target in the region. "We continue to fight al Qaeda wherever we find them," he said. "We fight them directly every day in Iraq and in Afghanistan."
Enemy tactics in Afghanistan, the general said, have moved away from guerrilla-type ambushes toward assassinations, roadside bombs and attacks against government officials "that are moving more and more out into the hinterlands."
Coalition allies in the region also are putting pressure on al Quaeda, he said, and he specifically cited the cooperation received from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. "Every country in the region that has an al Qaeda threat approaches it in a way that we all need to pay attention to," he said.
Al Qaeda is active and dangerous in the region, he said. But, "the vast majority of the people in the region don't want it to win," he said. "And in this battle between moderates and extremists, we need to understand that we're fighting with the good people of the region, not against them."
The general said progress is being made in the region. He said NATO working in Afghanistan is an important mission for the alliance and the world. He said the Iraqi army, in particular, did very well in the country in the days after the attack in Samarra. He said the Iraqi police must be brought up to a similar standard where their first loyalty is to the nation and not to ethnic or tribal groups.
The strategy in Iraq is working, the general said. As Iraqi forces train and gain more experience, they are taking over more and more responsibility. "In fact, by the end of the year, it is our desire that the Iraqis will have the vast majority of the lead in fighting the insurgency and dealing with the security problems that certainly will continue to be in Iraq," he said.