Iraq Situation ‘Difficult, Complex,’ Casey Says
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2006 The senior U.S. troop commander in Iraq today expressed his belief that the country can be stabilized, while acknowledging the “difficult and complex” situation there.
“Several factors add to the complexity that we’re now seeing” in Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad accompanied Casey at the news conference.
Since the Iraqi elections in December 2005, the nature of the conflict has evolved “from what was an insurgency against us, to a struggle for the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis,” Casey said.
The Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra fanned the existing animosity between Iraq’s Sunni and Shiite citizens, Casey noted.
Al Qaeda, which has an active strategy to foment sectarian violence across Iraq, is further inflaming the situation Casey said.
Sectarian death squads and illegal militias are attacking and murdering Iraqi civilians living in the central and southern parts of the country, Casey said. Resistance -- mostly led by members of Saddam Hussein’s deposed regime -- is active and causing trouble, he added.
In addition, Iran and Syria continue to stir up unrest and meddle in Iraqi affairs, the four-star general said. “Both Iran and Syria continue to be decidedly unhelpful by providing support to the different extremist and terrorist groups operating inside Iraq,” he said.
Casey noted that the new government is only about 150-days old and that “the intensities” of the annual Ramadan religious period are adding to an already tense situation. “It makes for a difficult situation, and it’s likely to remain that way for the near term,” he said.
U.S. military forces in Iraq “have continuously adapted to stay ahead of the enemy and to ensure that our U.S. servicemen and women have the proper tools and support they need to accomplish the mission,” Casey said.
After the Iraqi elections, “we determined that we needed to enhance the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces to develop and to succeed in security operations,” Casey explained, noting U.S. advisors were embedded in Iraqi security units in February 2005.
A concerted effort was made to secure the Syrian border to prevent foreign fighters and suicide bombers from crossing into Iraq, Casey said. By November 2005, U.S. and Iraqi security forces had succeeded in controlling that border, the general said.
Casey said the “complex environment” seen in Iraq today “would be resolved primarily by Iraqis, but with our full support.”
Much U.S. attention has been devoted to the security situation in Baghdad, Casey said, noting U.S. forces were shifted to confront a recent spike of insurgent-led violence in and around Iraq’s capital city. “And, we also have increased our targeting efforts against death squads to match our efforts against al Qaeda,” he added.
The United States supports Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national reconciliation initiative, the general said. Engagement talks with a view toward stopping the violence are ongoing with some of the resistance elements, he added.