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Defense Officials Outline Way Ahead in Iraq Strategy

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2005 – The goal of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq is to create a secure, democratic country free of terrorists, the Defense Department's top policy official said here Dec. 1.

"I think we need to be very clear: Iraq's future will either embolden terrorists and expand their reach and ability to re-establish a caliphate, or it will deal them a crippling blow. For us, failure in Iraq is just not an option," Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, said during a Council on Foreign Relations roundtable.

"The overall objective of our Iraq strategy is to help the Iraqi people build a new Iraq with a constitutional, representative government that respects civil rights and has security forces sufficient to maintain domestic order and to keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists," Edelman said.

The eight objectives of the president's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, released on Nov. 30, are pillars in the strategy guiding efforts to build a new Iraq, Edelman said.

"This is an integrated strategy. It includes efforts to foster political and economic development as well as effective and self-sustaining security forces," he said. "These are interrelated and mutually reinforcing efforts."

Security remains a difficult piece of the puzzle when it comes to rebuilding an Iraq that suffers from what Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno called "societal devastation."

"We had to start from scratch," Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the 4th Infantry Division during its deployment to Iraq, said. "You have to rebuild a military and you have to rebuild a police force in order to be capable to both deal with internal and external threats."

The Iraqi forces are not yet at that point, though conditions have been set for a transfer of security to them. And their capabilities are significantly increased over what they were a year ago, Odierno said.

"So part of this victory strategy is to allow the Iraqis to do this on their own," he said. "And it's going to take patience, and it's going to take time."

Military and police transition teams are being employed to speed the development of security forces in Iraq. These teams walk the Iraqis through how the U.S. believes military operations should be conducted along the lines of international law and moral convictions, Odierno said. It also will expose them to the U.S. way of military building.

All of this will take time. "It's not going to happen overnight," Odierno said, explaining that Iraqi security forces were raised under very different conditions from their Western coalition counterparts. "It's education. It's leadership training and we have these programs established and they continue to grow. And I think that the interaction with coalition forces is helping."

Edelman said strides have also been made on Iraq's political and economic fronts.

"The free and democratic elections held this past January and the (Oct. 15) referendum ... were significant steps forward," Edelman said. Whatever flaws the Iraqi constitution might have are overshadowed by "one huge, positive characteristic: It was written by Iraqis, for Iraqis and was voted on by Iraqis," he said.

Isolating rejectionists and getting all Iraqi communities involved in the political process will go even further toward the achieving a victory in Iraq, he noted.

The economic aspect of the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq focuses on helping the country restore its crumbling infrastructure, Edelman said. Economic reform, transparency and accountability also are key to economic success in Iraq Again, progress has already been made in this area, he said.

"According to the (International Monetary Fund), Iraq's (gross domestic product) is expected to grow at a rate of 3.7 percent for 2005 and nearly 17 percent in 2006," he said, adding that inflation is in check and not hampering economic growth.

The Paris Club, which helps nations find sustainable solutions to repaying debt, also has come to an agreement with the country, Edelman said. That could lead to as much as an 80 percent reduction in Iraq's Paris Club debt accrued during the Saddam era.

"There are many challenges as we move forward helping Iraq economically. Much of Iraq's infrastructure requires repair or replacement," he said. "Iraq will need to undertake difficult economic reforms, including reducing subsidies for electricity and petroleum products."

Iraqis and coalition forces alike are optimistic about the future of Iraq, he said.

"I think when one considers the challenges that Iraq faces -- not the least (of which is) overcoming the political and social effects of three-and-a-half decades of monstrous tyranny -- what is most impressive to me is not how much remains for them to do, but rather how far they have come in less than three years," Edelman said.

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Eric Edelman

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