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Middle East Engaged in War Between Extremists, Moderates

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2004 – The coalition against terrorists is engaged in a war to ensure the will of the many prevails against the wishes of a few, said Defense Department leaders before the House Armed Services Committee today.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, told the representatives that the recent attacks in Baghdad and Karbala underscore the danger still facing the coalition in the region.

Attacks March 2 against Shiia pilgrims killed 117 and wounded 500. Abizaid said the attacks were the responsibility of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist affiliated with al Qaeda. "These attacks are despicable, and they show the clear lie of the idea that Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden, (bin Laden lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahari) and their like are fighting for Islam," Abizaid said. "They are the enemies of Islam. They have killed more Muslims in the past month than anybody could ever imagine, for no vision other than to cause destruction and to cause civil war to take place in Iraq."

Abizaid has a number of challenges in his area of operations. In addition to operations in Iraq, he also commands troops involved in counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and a joint task force operating in the Horn of Africa. He said commanders and troops in all three regions are facing difficult challenges caused by extremists. "Despite that, I'm very optimistic that we have the troops, the equipment, and the necessary will to fight our way through to a good conclusion, as we maintain our patience, our tenacity, and our courage," he said.

The general said if the terrorists are successful in Iraq, it could result in the "Talibanization" of the Middle East. "The vast, vast majority of the people in the Middle East do not want that to happen, and they join us in this struggle against these extremists," he said.

Abizaid stressed the war in not one just for stabilization, but a fight "about extremism vs. moderation. It's a fight about the ideas of free men vs. those who would enslave people."

Rodman said the U.S. strategy in the region is to "bolster our friends, help our friends, help promote the people who share our values or who come close to our values of moderation and peace, and help them in their struggle against the extremists."

The tragic attacks against moderation are disturbing, Rodman said, and should concern all, but the most important aspect in Afghanistan and Iraq is the political process -- "the remarkable project of political construction that is going on, and (that) I would say (is) making remarkable progress in both places."

In Afghanistan, the Loya Jirga constructed a new constitution, and elections are set for June.

In Iraq, the Iraqi Governing Council agreed on the transitional administrative law. Rodman said that law which will serve as the basis for governing Iraq once sovereignty is returned June 30 is a remarkable example of "political compromise, political coexistence being demonstrated by all of the moderate Iraqis that we have been working with since liberation."

Terrorists trying to prevent democracy aren't the story, Rodman said. "The real story is not that there are people trying to derail this process," he said. "The real story is that this process is moving forward regardless."

Abizaid said far more people are trying to hold Iraq together than are trying to tear it apart. "I think that there is a much greater chance that Iraq will emerge through this political process as a stable and modern state that is well represented in the community of nations as a responsible state," he said. "I am optimistic that we have a chance, but it is not a 100 percent chance."

The general said that as sovereignty nears, incidents of violence almost certainly will grow. "And it will be the mark of our success as to our willingness to stay the course and our ability to build Iraqi security institutions that are willing to fight for their own freedom and their own survival," he said. "At the end of the day, it will be Iraqis that make Iraq free, not Americans."

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Biographies:
Gen. John Abizaid
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman


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