Commander in Iraq Says Campaign Plan 'Broadly on Track'
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2004 Things in Iraq are generally headed in the right direction, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq said here today.
"Our assessment is that we're broadly on track in helping the Iraqi people get to the (general) elections at the end of next year," Army Gen. George Casey, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said in a conference call with military analysts.
The voter registration process has gone forward in most of the country, he said, adding that the election committee was addressing some problems in the north and west.
"The elections in January will go forward," Casey said. "The insurgents will do everything, I believe, in their power to create a situation to make us believe that they're not possible, but they will go forward.
"As a result we'll take another step in the process of moving Iraq on to a democracy."
Not only is the coalition on track for getting Iraqis to the polls at the end of 2005, it has made strides against the insurgency. Casey said insurgents have realized that they can't defeat the coalition.
The insurgents, he said, offer no alternative positive vision for Iraq -- unlike the current interim government, which is broadly accepted.
"They also know that they can't defeat the coalition forces. They saw this in spades in Fallujah," Casey said. "And with the liberation of Fallujah, there are no longer any terrorist or insurgent safe havens anywhere in Iraq."
He added that eliminating safe havens prior to elections was a main element of the campaign plan published in August.
Iraqi security forces also are getting stronger. By February, Casey said, there will be 70 battalions in the Iraqi army, including a mechanized battalion.
Progress has also been made with the police and special police forces, he said, though that's a longer-term project. Casey gave more details at a Pentagon press conference later the same day: Six public order battalions, a special police regiment, four commando battalions, and nine regional special-weapons- and-tactics teams are, or will be, involved in the fight in about a month.
Reconstruction projects have picked up steam, progressing from 230 projects through the Iraq Reconstruction Fund at the end of June to more than 1,000 by the end of November.
"That's $3 billion into the Iraqi economy," Casey said. "So that's moving forward and all against insurgent efforts to disrupt and deny the ability to get on with reconstruction."
To say that the government is broadly accepted is somewhat of an understatement, he said. In some polls the leadership has an approval rating of more than 70 percent. The Army and the new police force also have made a favorable impression on the Iraqi population, Casey said.
"By most polls, about 60 percent of the Iraqis think the country's headed in the right direction," he said. "And they've got a positive view of the future."
Casey wrapped up the briefing with praise for the armed services participating in operations like those in Fallujah, which he called a "magnificent feat of arms there by a great armed forces."