Iraqi Government Making Right Moves for Road Ahead
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 25, 2004 U.S. government leaders discussed the way ahead in Iraq before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said that much hinges on the way the Iraqi people respond as the interim government assumes sovereignty June 30.
Wolfowitz, who just returned from a series of meetings with Iraqi leaders, said recent polls taken in the country indicate the people are favorably inclined to the interim government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. "Prime Minister Allawi is a forceful, thoughtful man who very clearly conveyed a sense of strength and determination," Wolfowitz said.
The deputy secretary said Allawi understands the security environment in the country is his biggest problem and is taking steps to defang the insurgency. "That is the key, in turn, to moving forward to elections, which is the next important step in Iraq's political process," Wolfowitz said.
Allawi is working to improve the security forces of the country both to combat terrorism and as a symbol of national strength. "The prime minister has made no secret of his disagreement with the earlier decision to disband the army, and I would not be surprised if, at least in some symbolic way, he reverses that," Wolfowitz said.
One aspect of Allawi's changes is to transform the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps to a National Guard. Allawi will reorganize the force into a brigade and division structure. The plan calls for 18 national guard brigades one for each province and six divisions.
Wolfowitz said he discussed with Allawi and Iraq's national security team the coalition's efforts to build the security forces, now consolidated under Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. "Our goal is to build Iraqi security capacity as rapidly as possible," he said.
The prime minister has asked NATO to aid in protecting the United Nations mission to Iraq and to help train and equip the Iraqi forces, Wolfowitz said. This will be discussed at the NATO Summit that President Bush is attending in Istanbul this week.
Myers told the senators that the return of sovereignty will mean a change in the relationship. He said the interim government understands it cannot provide security now, and has asked the coalition now numbering roughly 160,000 troops from 33 nations to remain. "They understand that we're going to be partners in the effort to promote security in Iraq and allow for a freely elected government," Myers said.
Myers assured the senators that coalition forces have the legal protections in place to do their jobs. "This clearly is a pivotal moment for Iraq, and I believe the violent extremists who want Iraq to fail understand that very, very well," he said.
The violence of the past few weeks and months indicate the terrorists believe their time is running out in Iraq, the general said. "They know that they have a lot to lose," he said. "I expect the increased violence against the coalition and against Iraqi citizens will continue past the 30 June transfer of sovereignty."
Myers said he believes the coalition is on the right track. "With the help of the coalition, Iraqi security forces are becoming better equipped, better trained and better led," he said. "And next week they'll have absolutely no doubt they're fighting for their own country. That's an enormous step forward."
Wolfowitz assured the senators that the United States will retain control of U.S. troops and that coalition commanders will not be forced into operations counter to their better judgment. Coalition officials will consult with their Iraqi counterparts in trying to arrive at a mutually agreed-upon course of action, he said. "We retain control over our forces. (The Iraqis) retain control over theirs," the deputy secretary said. "The purpose of consulting is where we may undertake actions that affect them, or vice versa."
The United States has been doing this for some time with the government of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, Wolfowitz told the senators. "He at times wants to do things which might be perfectly within his prerogative to do, but we will tell him, 'If you can do it with your own forces and your own capability, you're entitled to do that, but we're under no obligation to enforce something that you simply decide you want to,'" he said. "The same thing would happen in Iraq. If Prime Minister Allawi decides that it is appropriate to have martial law in some area, and we think not, it's going to be up to him with his own forces to be able to enforce that."
Wolfowitz and Myers told the senators that the troops' morale in Iraq is high. The U.S. troops understand their mission and believe they are doing important work, Wolfowitz said.