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'Tide Of Change Now Inevitable' in Iraq, Sanchez Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2004 – Attacks on U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces in Iraq will not stop the country's march toward self-governance and democracy, a senior U.S. military officer said today.

"Those who attempt to prevent a free and democratic state (in Iraq) will definitely fail," Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7, told reporters at a Baghdad press conference.

"We remain undaunted," he asserted, against attacks conducted by Saddam Hussein loyalists and terrorists. He pointed out that despite anti-coalition attacks designed to intimidate Iraqis, the numbers of those volunteering for security duty continue to grow.

Training facilities for Iraqi security police forces "are full and are continuing to expand," Sanchez said. And the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps is slated to add 13 battalions to its present 23 battalions by April.

"We expect no problems in being able to man and train those units," Sanchez said, noting that anti-terrorist operations across Iraq are increasingly being conducted by joint and independent Iraqi security forces.

The rotation of fresh U.S. and coalition forces into Iraq continues, which Sanchez described as "an immensely complex task that is being undertaken with few problems up to this point."

Troop rotations in south and southeast Iraq are complete, the general reported. In the north, he said the Army's 101st Airborne Division has been replaced by Task Force Olympia, featuring Stryker multiwheeled armored vehicles.

Sanchez said coalition forces have become even more diverse with the recent arrival of Japanese troops slated to support medical, supply and public reconstruction missions in southeast Iraq.

In coming months the Army's 82nd Airborne, 4th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions "will rotate out of the country and redeploy back to their home stations," Sanchez said. Those units, he said, will be replaced by elements of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and non-U.S. coalition troops.

The rotation will run through May, Sanchez noted, and will decrease U.S.- coalition forces in Iraq from about 130,000 to between 110,000 and 115,000.

"As Iraqi security forces become more numerous and capable, more of the security responsibilities will be shouldered by them," Sanchez explained. Yet U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces would continue to work together to ensure a safe environment.

"Any organization that interprets the increasing Iraqi role in the security mission as a sign that coalition forces are either losing their resolve or moving to remote bases to avoid casualties will be making a deadly error," Sanchez declared.

U.S.-coalition-funded civil-military projects designed to restore critical infrastructure and public services across Iraq continue, Sanchez said, noting $182 million has been earmarked for more than 17,000 projects.

This has included more than $8 million for health projects, $18 million for 22 reconstruction projects and around $35 million for education initiatives, he said.

Meanwhile, U.S., coalition and Iraqi security forces are committed, the general said, "to establishing and maintaining a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq."

And although "some setbacks" can be expected, Sanchez asserted "the tide of change is now inevitable as Iraq moves forward to a sovereign and united nation which protects and defends the rights of its citizens to live in freedom and prosperity."

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