Abizaid Contrasts Situations in Iraq, Afghanistan
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2005 Having visited both Iraq and Afghanistan during the past couple of weeks, Army Gen. John Abizaid said there are both similarities and differences in the current situation in both countries.
As head of U.S. Central Command, Abizaid is responsible for operations in the Middle East, central Asia and the horn of Africa. During his visit to the region, he met with coalition leaders and national leaders, as well as with troops operating on the ground.
"In Iraq and Afghanistan, cultures are different, histories are different. In many ways there are more differences about it than there are similarities," Abizaid said. He added, however, that the countries are both "developing a process of political rebuilding and restructuring of constitutional and representative government."
Afghanistan had its first free elections in October 2004, and Iraq held its first free elections, after decades of authoritarian rule by Saddam Hussein, on Jan. 30, 2005. The millions of people in each country who braved the terrorist threat and turned out to vote helped move their countries toward freedom and away from the repressive system that extremists are trying to impose, according to Abizaid.
The electoral process "proved to have a big psychological impact in Afghanistan and, quite frankly, I didn't think it would have the same psychological impact that it ended up having in Iraq," Abizaid said. "But, in many respects, it did."
How governments eventually take shape in Iraq and Afghanistan is up to the citizens of those nations, according to Abizaid. The concept that coalition forces are there to help, not to impose any form of government, is more readily accepted by some people in the region than by others, he said.
"The notion that we are not here to dominate, but to assist them to a better future, is one that the Afghans accepted more readily than the Iraqis," Abizaid said. "But it wasn't one that was accepted immediately. And it's not still fully accepted in Afghanistan by everybody, nor will it always be accepted by everybody."
It is important to recognize, Abizaid said, that both Afghans and Iraqis need to shape their governments and other institutions based upon their individual cultures.
"The Afghanis don't want to be Americans. They want to be Afghan Moslems. Just like the Iraqis want to be Iraqi Moslems," the general said. "Understanding and respecting that, and helping them achieve a better future within their own context, is the key to their own success."
As elected officials in both countries begin to move toward creating governmental systems, Abizaid said both nations must also work toward being capable of providing for their own security.
"The need to build indigenous security institutions that have, in the long term, the capacity to allow the government to take control of their own future is incredibly important," he said.
For a variety of reasons, that pace of building those institutions is somewhat slower in Afghanistan than in Iraq, Abizaid said, but the process of creating the security capacity is essentially the same in both countries.
Another thing that is essentially the same is the struggle of the people against a common enemy, according to Abizaid.
"The final thing, and probably the most important thing I'd say, is that in both places, whether you like it or not, you see the struggle of moderation versus extremism," the general said said. "In both places it's unmistakable that the vast majority of people want to live a better life. They want to live a more moderate life."