Violence, Progress Coexist in Iraq, Casey Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2006 Violence and progress co-exist in Iraq, and those who focus exclusively on the violence miss the larger picture, the coalition commander in Iraq said in an interview today.
Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said the situation in Iraq is more complex today than at any time in his more than two years in the country.
“What we’ve been seeing since the elections, but in a more pronounced way since the bombing of the (Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, in February), is the primary conflict is evolving from an insurgency against us, to a struggle over the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis,” he said.
Many groups are trying to stop progress in the nation, and they all have different agendas and methods, Casey said. Sunni extremists, primarily gathered around al Qaeda in Iraq, make up one group. Shiite extremists, including death squads and some of the more militant Shiite militias, also cause problems. Then there is the resistance, which is made up of Sunnis fighting against the coalition.
Added to this mixture are Syria and Iran, which remain unhelpful, Casey said. Syria remains the primary route for foreign fighters coming into Iraq, the general said. The country also shelters former Iraqi Baathist leaders.
On the Iranian side, “there is no doubt in my mind that they are providing weapons, training, money to Shiia extremists groups that are being used against coalition and Iraqi security forces and, frankly, now to kill Iraqi civilians,” Casey said.
Religious fervor associated with Ramadan and the ongoing struggle for control in the Baghdad also complicate the situation. “It is a difficult situation and probably will remain a difficult situation for the next couple of months,” he said.
But on the positive side, the new government has been in power for nearly 150 days. Government leaders are working hard to build the capacity to govern, but it is a slow process. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is focused on what Casey believes is the most important thing: reconciliation.
The general spoke of three linked words that encompass the end state in Iraq: unity, security and prosperity. “If you want prosperity, you have to have security. And if you want security, you have to have unity,” he said.
Casey said he is pleased with the progress of Iraqi security forces and the way Iraqis are tackling security problems. Six of 10 Iraqi divisions are in the lead in their regions, he said. Thirty of 36 Iraqi brigades and 90 of 112 battalions are in the lead, as well.
“That’s a good thing,” Casey said. “It puts us at a little over 75 percent through the second step of a three-step process.”
The first step is to form, organize and equip units. “Then, you make them better,” he said. “You put them in a position where they can conduct counterinsurgency operations with our support.”
This is where Iraqi forces are now, he said.
The third step -- to put Iraqi forces in a position where they can operate independently -- will occur in 2007, he said.
Casey also said Iraqi police are doing okay on local levels. “Two of the provinces have transferred to local Iraqi control,” he said. “What that means is the police are able to maintain domestic order in those provinces.”
The Iraqis have begun the National Police Reform Program, and the 1st Brigade is already going through training to “re-blue” it. The brigade was trained originally as an infantry unit.
Iraqis are responding to events as they unfold, as well. The minister of the interior “pulled the 8th Brigade off-line because some of the police were found to be complicit in the kidnapping and murder of people,” Casey said.
Overall there is progress, he said. “We are on a developmental timeline with the military and police and security institutions and ministries where I think the Iraqis are going to be pretty close to assuming security responsibilities by the end of 2007,” he said.