Casey Confident of Success Over Security Threats Confronting Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 22, 2006 Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq has become a major factor in a "quite complex" security environment, the commander of ground forces in Iraq told Pentagon reporters today.
Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, pointed to Iranian support for Shiia insurgents as a problem in what he said has become a constantly changing security environment. The environment hasn't necessarily worsened, but has increased in complexity since Iraq's December elections and the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February, he said.
"We are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, (improvised-explosive-device) technology, and training to Shiia extremists groups in Iraq," Casey told reporters during a joint briefing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Casey said there's no evidence that Iranians are in Iraq actually directing attacks. "They are using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people," Casey said. "It is decidedly unhelpful."
The Iranians are most likely training these extremists in Iran and possibly Lebanon. "There are some indications that Lebanese Hezbollah is also used in some of the training functions for the Iranians," he said.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda continues to present security challenges in Iraq, even after terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death, Casey said.
"Al Qaeda is hurt" through its loss of leadership as well as a steady stream of coalition and Iraqi raids, he said. "But they are not finished. And they won't be finished for some time. They are feeling the pain right now, but as you also see, they are still capable of conducting terrorist acts across Iraq."
Illegal armed groups -- a term Casey used in lieu of "militias" -- also pose a security challenge. "These are criminals, and they need to be dealt with through a combination of political influence and security forces, and they will be," he said. The Iraqi government "has stepped up to the challenge" and is committed to dealing with these groups, he said.
Similarly, the Iraqi government and coalition are working together to confront another major security challenge in Iraq: the Sunni insurgency. This group "has been reaching out and looking for ways to reevaluate their options and to come out of the resistance against occupation with honor," Casey said. "And we and the Iraqi government have several different strands of contacts going on, and there are opportunities in that regard that we just haven't had before," he said.
Casey praised the Iraqis for finalizing their national unity government, which he called "probably the single most important element of the future political success in Iraq."
He said he finds it "heartening" that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Cabinet "have been quick out of the box" in helping stabilize Iraq's security environment. He pointed to several measures they've taken, including releasing about 2,500 detainees to reinforce their commitment to national unity and implementing a vigorous Baghdad security plan to help secure the capital.
Casey also pointed to ongoing progress among Iraq's security forces and the fact that they will soon take full security of responsibility for Muthanna province. He said he expected several other positive steps like this within Iraq's other provinces later this year and into next year.
In addition, Casey expressed optimism over Iraq's national reconciliation program, which is in the final phases and expected to be presented to the parliament within the next week or so.
Overall, Casey said he has great hope for Iraq's new government. "The national government is committed to unity, security and prosperity," he said. "And they fully understand that to get prosperity, you have to have security, and to get security, you have to have unity. And they are committed to national reconciliation, and it's a very positive step."