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Cheney: Too Early to Judge Iraq Stability Plan

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2007 – It’s too early to judge the new stability plan for Iraq, Vice President Richard B. Cheney told a “Newsweek” reporter here yesterday.

“People are trying to make a judgment on whether or not this plan is going to work I think far too early,” Cheney told journalist Richard Wolffe during a White House interview in the vice president’s West Wing office.

“And, I think in fairness to the Iraqis, they need to be given an opportunity to follow through on their commitments,” Cheney said.

The U.S. and Iraqi governments are implementing a new strategy to dampen sectarian violence. President Bush is sending more than 21,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Baghdad and Anbar province, in western Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has vowed to fully engage his nation’s security forces in the fight against insurgents and to crack down on all militia groups that have helped escalate the violence experienced in Iraq’s capital city and other parts of the country.

Maliki has pledged “to go after those who are responsible for the violence, whoever they may be -- whether they’re Baathist or former regime elements or militia, Shiia militia or criminal elements,” Cheney told Wolffe. “And I think at this stage, we don’t have any reason to doubt him.”

It’s dangerous and unrealistic to think that the United States could withdraw its military forces from Iraq without incurring dire repercussions, Cheney said. Senior leaders in the Arab world and other allies acknowledge that the United States is critical to ensuring political stability in the Middle East and the adjacent region.

Withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq now “would have a direct negative impact” on efforts to combat extremism in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Cheney said.

“All of a sudden, the United States, which is the bulwark of security in that part of the world, … could no longer be counted on by our friends and allies that have put so much into this struggle,” Cheney said.

If U.S. forces depart Iraq prematurely, Cheney said, the aftermath there could mirror what occurred in Afghanistan a decade ago when Taliban Islamic radicals seized the government and allowed al Qaeda terrorists to establish training camps in the country. Five years later, those terrorists attacked the United States, he said.

The actions of Iran also are of concern to the United States and its Middle East allies, Cheney said. He said the Iranian government is thumbing its nose at the United Nations while trying to obtain nuclear power that could also be used to develop atomic bombs. That government, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also is suspected of fomenting violence in Iraq and Lebanon, the vice president said.

“I think there’s widespread concern throughout the region about Iran and, in particular, Iran under Ahmadinejad,” Cheney said. Many Middle Eastern leaders feel threatened by Iran’s apparent attempts to establish itself as the dominant regional power, he said.

Cheney said diplomacy is being employed to engage the Iranians. However, the U.S. also has bolstered its naval presence in the Persian Gulf, including sending another carrier to the region, he said.

“That sends a very strong signal to everybody in the region that the United States is here to stay, that we clearly have significant capabilities, and that we are working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat,” Cheney said.

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