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'Progress Being Made' in Iraq, Abizaid Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2005 – Army Gen. John Abizaid noted on NBC's "Meet the Press" today that events are moving forward in establishing a free and democratic Iraq since Saddam Hussein was deposed by U.S. and coalition military force.

"Progress is being made" in Iraq, Abizaid said on the Sunday television talk show, as additional trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers and police are fielded. The general noted that Iraqi security forces already are involved in many anti-terrorism operations in Baghdad and in some parts of Iraq's south.

Abizaid, the senior U.S. ground commander in Iraq, said both U.S. and Iraqi commanders have told him they are confident of victory over the terrorists.

But, "building an institution takes time," Abizaid cautioned. Over time, he asserted, Iraqi security forces will eventually be able to assume anti-terrorism operations in their country.

But, "it's a difficult road," Abizaid acknowledged, noting there will be "peaks and valleys" in the process.

Establishing a representative government in Iraq constitutes a "revolution" in Iraqi public affairs, Abizaid said, noting Saddam's three-decades-long dictatorial regime. Therefore, upcoming voting will play a key role in Iraq's future, he said.

The Iraqis are slated to approve or disapprove their new constitution at an Oct. 15 referendum, while a national election to select a new government is scheduled for Dec. 15.

Abizaid pointed out the need "to have armed forces' development keep pace with political development" in Iraq. Those two issues "have to work hand-in-hand," he said.

U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are assisting people to "help themselves" establish democracy and resist terrorism, Abizaid pointed out.

Yet, it's important not to have large numbers of U.S. troops inundate those countries, because, "People don't like to have large numbers of foreign troops in their region," Abizaid said.

Abizaid estimated there are about 20,000 insurgents in Iraq and that the majority of them are Iraqis from Sunni Arab areas of the country, not foreign fighters.

Foreign fighters in Iraq tend to be suicide bombers with affiliations to al Qaeda, he said. To date, foreign-terrorist bombings have killed about 5,000 Iraqis, Abizaid said, noting that suicide bombers rarely hit a target of military value.

Despite the insurgents' goals, "the insurgency doesn't have a chance for victory," the general said.

Political friction associated with the Oct. 15 vote on the new constitution "is tremendous," Abizaid noted. And, Iraq has a history of using violence to settle political issues, he said.

Abizaid said he couldn't predict if the Sunnis, who originally boycotted the new political process in Iraq, will vote down the new constitution in the referendum. But, the general said he didn't see a calamity if the Iraqis had to "go back to the drawing board" to redraft the document to reflect Sunni concerns.

Abizaid said there's a large and growing movement across the Middle East that's clamoring for democratic-style government and reforms. Therefore, the Sunnis likely will participate in Iraq's new political process, the general said.

"The promise of a better future is on the horizon" for all Iraqis, Abizaid pointed out, noting that Sunni participation in the new politics "is the key" to that future.

Abizaid said he's optimistic about Iraq, noting, "If we stay the course, things will turn out well."

And, Iraq's success in becoming democratized bodes well for anti-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and the global fight against al Qaeda, Abizaid concluded.

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Army Gen. John Abizaid

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