Division Commanders Express Optimism in Iraq
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 15, 2004 The commanders of two Army divisions playing a key role in coalition operations in Iraq expressed optimism when Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, visited their headquarters today.
Despite a rise in the number of terrorist attacks, and contrary to the perception created by media reports that focus almost exclusively on bad news, the commanders told Abizaid that progress is being made in their areas of operation and they were confident that the outlook for Iraq's future is generally good.
"I'm confident because we've got some great Iraqi security forces. We've got great Iraqis who are patriots, committed to a free and democratic Iraq," said Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division. "Our recent experience in places like Samarra is that these units, well-led and well- equipped, did a very good job. I expect them to continue to do so."
The 1st Infantry Division is headquartered in Tikrit, about 90 miles north of Baghdad. The division is responsible for helping to promote stability in various other cities in northern Iraq, including Kirkuk, Baqubah, Balad, Bayji and Sulaymaniyah.
Batiste noted that though the number of attacks has "spiked" lately, they have actually resulted in a relatively smaller percentage of fatal casualties per attack. He said the increase in the number of attacks in recent weeks is the work of desperate insurgents.
"The insurgents are going to try to get back in full what they used to own," Batiste said. "Our job is, with the Iraqi security forces, to make sure that doesn't happen."
Batiste said more people in the U.S. would also feel optimistic about the situation in Iraq if they knew about "the work we're doing with security and governance and in improving the quality of life and the infrastructure of this country."
Abizaid is well-acquainted with the 1st Infantry Division soldiers' work. The general once commanded the division, and he told members of the division's operations center today that he has "great pride" in the job that they are doing in Iraq.
"I know you've got a tough fight, a hard fight on your hands, but it is incredibly lopsided against the enemy. You're winning every battle you're fighting, and you're winning big!" Abizaid told the 1st Infantry soldiers. "I really love this division. I watch you guys fight every day, and I want to thank you for what you are doing."
Abizaid reminded the soldiers, however, that the war in Iraq is not for them to win alone.
"Whoever is going to win this war is not the Big Red One ... or any other unit wearing a U.S. flag, but it will be the Iraqi people," Abizaid said. "People in this country and all over the Middle East are fighting. They don't want to live under the incredibly oppressive rule of thugs and terrorists. That's why the vast majority of Iraqis are fighting with us."
Following his visit with the division's soldiers in Tikrit, Abizaid traveled back to Baghdad, where he stopped at 1st Cavalry Division's headquarters. The division is responsible for Baghdad and areas to the south of the city. Like the 1st Infantry Division to the north, the 1st Cavalry Division has experienced an increase in enemy activity over the past couple days.
Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the division commander, categorizes the increased attacks as residue from the battle being waged in Fallujah and to the attempt of terrorists to intimidate Iraqi citizens before the Iraqi elections in late January 2005.
There has been "a continued flow of insurgents and terrorists coming out of Fallujah and trying to stir things up here. We expected that, so it did not come as a surprise," Chiarelli said. "We feel comfortable that we are going to be able to move toward a successful election. The large majority of Iraqis support what the coalition is trying to do."
Chiarelli said his troopers are working hard to help improve Iraq's infrastructure. They are repairing and improving such necessities as water supplies, sewer systems and electricity.
"We're trying to show them that there's hope for the future," Chiarelli said. "By improving their quality of life, we show them that we're on their side."
Chiarelli said he is disappointed that many Americans are not getting the word about all the hard work being done by his troopers to improve the lives of Iraqis. "What concerns me and my soldiers most is that we're focused on the violence and not on the good that soldiers do," Chiarelli said. "I feel a tremendous sense of progress. When I go out in the community, I feel a great sense of accomplishment."
The upcoming elections will be a challenge, Chiarelli said. Of Baghdad's 6 million people, as much as 85 percent is expected to turn out to vote in about 540 polling places during a 10-hour period. Though he said he expects insurgents to attempt to sabotage the elections, Chiarelli said the coalition is prepared for this and he is "comfortable" that the elections will be successful.
During his visit, Abizaid told a group of senior 1st Cavalry Division officers that he has confidence in the division's ability to successfully accomplish complex missions and that he will help provide them with whatever support they require.
"The 1st Cavalry Division has proven they can do the job," Abizaid said. "We're going to do everything we can to support them."