Two Years in Iraq: 2005 to be 'Pivotal,' General Says
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 23, 2005 The year 2005 will prove to be "very pivotal" in Iraq as the country transitions to a free, representative government with its own police and military forces providing security, according to the chief of staff for Multinational Force Iraq.
Marine Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Weber told the American Forces Press Service the year already has begun with "a capstone event" - Iraq's successful Jan. 30 national elections.
The elections, he said, gave the coalition here much-needed verification that their service in Iraq hasn't been in vain. "The coalition needed that, to see that all our efforts, all our suffering, all our sacrifices made by the coalition forces, the U.S. forces, and all those people contributing over here was worth something," he said.
The next capstone event, Weber said, will be the seating of Iraq's new government and the "passing of the baton in the counterinsurgency fight from the coalition forces to the Iraqi security forces."
The Iraqis' and coalition's vision for Iraq's security forces "is becoming a reality," he said, as they grow in numbers and capabilities so they are able "to take over this counterinsurgency fight and provide for the security of their own people."
Iraq's security forces "are earning their spurs," demonstrating tenacity as they face insurgents and gaining confidence as they do so, Weber said at the Multinational Force Iraq's Camp Victory headquarters.
"You just drive up and down Route Irish between here and the embassy and you can see them in uniform. They are squared away, they have their gear, they are very professional in what they are doing," he said. "And as that capacity builds and spreads, the people are going to gain confidence in their own security forces."
During the months ahead, the coalition will focus increasingly on "partnering, mentoring, teaching and building up the capability of these forces" so they have the experience their new roles require.
While acknowledging that the readiness of the Iraqi security forces to take on the mission is the coalition's "ticket out of here," Weber stressed that it's important not to make the transition too quickly.
"We have a lot of time and money and sweat and blood and tears invested over here," he said. "And ... as we work with the Iraqis and the government and the security forces, we need to be cautious about taking our hand off the bicycle seat way too soon."
As the Iraqis move forward, and particularly as they form their new government, Weber said it's important to keep in mind how quickly they're progressing. After gaining independence, the United States didn't get a constitution until 11 years later, he pointed out.
In contrast, he said, the Iraqis are striving to "have two or three elections, seat a government, write a constitution, have a referendum, vote on it, then have another election" -- all within a two-year timeframe, he said.
"We as Americans want to come in here and do things very quickly and fix things and apply money and resources to it," he said. "We want to fix it and leave, and it's very difficult to do that."
Weber said confidence in Iraq's potential as a free, democratic and economically strong country appears to be growing as progress continues - in the government, the security forces and the reconstruction programs under way.
"With all that accomplished here, I'm confidently optimistic about Iraq's future," he said.