Elections, Long-Term Strategy to Determine Troop Levels in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 29, 2005 It is too soon to say whether there will be "fairly substantial" cuts in the U.S. military presence in Iraq, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq said here Sept. 28.
Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., here for a combatant commanders meeting, said he must wait for the results of the constitutional referendum, set for Oct. 15, and Iraqi elections, set for Dec. 15, before making a decision. "Until we're done with this political process here, with the referendum, and the elections in December, I think it's too soon to tell," he said.
Casey joined Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, to brief the Senate Armed Services Committee.
U.S. officials in Iraq are concerned about Sunni Arab participation in the constitutional referendum. Some Sunni leaders in Iraq say the constitution as written will lead to a break-up of the country along ethnic lines. Others Sunni Arab leaders say the constitution is weighted too heavily in favor of the Shiite majority.
Casey said he anticipates Sunni Arabs will participate in the political process. "We have seen them registering in large numbers in all of the major Sunni provinces," he said. "In Nineveh province up north, for example, 100,000 people registered. Another almost 400,000 went by just to check to see if their name was on the list. So that speaks fairly highly of the intent to participate. So that's one of the strongest trends that we see."
The defense leaders spoke to the senators on the strategy for the global war on terror and "the plan to prevail in that long war," Rumsfeld said. Casey spoke on his strategy and plan in Iraq.
Abizaid said the United States must counter the terrorist strategy. "We know that they've got a long-term strategy to fight to gain ground, to gain influence," he said.
The key to American strategy in the long-term struggle against extremists is to help the people of the region help themselves, he said. "They don't want extremism to take root," he said. "We won't let that happen. But we've got to help them help themselves as a first priority."