Myers: 'Trend Lines Up in Iraq'
By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 29, 2005 Despite being plagued with ongoing violence that is killing scores of American troops and hundreds of Iraqi civilians, Iraq is making real progress on the path toward democracy and self-rule, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers said today.
Myers spoke about Iraq on two televised news broadcasts: "Fox News Sunday," with Chris Wallace, and CBS's "Face the Nation," with Bob Schieffer. "I think a lot of aspects in Iraq are getting better. ... I think the trend lines are up," Myers said.
The insurgents -- whether they're with terrorist ringleader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda, or former Sunni regime elements -- have tried and failed to undermine Iraq's key "centers of gravity," he observed.
According to Myers, the first center of gravity is the coalition, which has remained firm and steadfast; the Iraqi security forces, which have grown, both in size and capability, are the second; and Iraqi civilians who support the move to democracy make up the third.
"A recent (May 2005) poll says that 85 percent of Iraqis are going to vote for the new constitution," Myers said. "Iraqi civilians are signing up for the army and the police in record numbers. And, of course, we have more recruits than we -- actually Iraq -- can handle."
The terrorists have tried to undermine Iraq's key centers of gravity, Myers said, and "nothing is working. I think that means our strategy is working."
In 14 of 18 provinces, he observed, "there is very, very little violence." Moreover, attacks are down 25 percent from what they were last fall and winter when Iraqis celebrated Ramadan and went to the polls to elect an interim government.
"We've got about 100 Iraqi security force battalions that are equipped and trained," Myers said. "About 25 percent of them can do independent operations -- or operations with little help from coalition forces. But every week that number changes and goes up."
Some 40,000 Iraqi troops are now participating in "Operation Lightning," which is designed to root out terrorists and insurgents in Baghdad. Myers said the operation breaks new ground in that Iraq's Interior and Defense ministries are working together to coordinate an operation.
Meanwhile, he noted, coalition forces have 35 major operations now under way. Thirty of these operations are led by joint Iraqi and coalition forces working in tandem; five are led by Iraqi security forces.
"What we want to have happen in Iraq," Myers said, "is Iraqi security forces take charge of their own security; and every day they're more and more able to do that."
As for terrorist ringleader Zarqawi, Myers said that the Pentagon is inclined to believe that he is, in fact, injured, as has been alleged on Zarqawi's own Web site. But, he added, "people need to understand that we're going after Zarqawi, his lieutenants, his organization on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis, and we're getting much, much better at this work."
According to Myers, coalition forces have killed about 250 and captured more than 400 of Zarqawi's closest lieutenants.
Myers noted that Iraq also has made strong progress on the path toward political reform: drafting a constitution, holding elections, and establishing an effective, representative government.
"It wasn't too long ago that people said, 'Well, you can't have an interim government,'" he said. "Well, an interim government has stood up; and now we have a transitional government. ... We've got some good ministers that are working the problem really, really hard trying to accommodate the Sunnis who did not vote in the election (and trying to involve them in the) constitutional process."
For these reasons, Myers dismissed the prospect of a civil war in Iraq.
"I don't think we're close to a civil war at this point," he said. "All the indications are that the religious leaders -- particularly the Shiia religious leaders, (who are) the majority in the country, are very moderate" when it comes to the political process and political involvement.
Myers did acknowledge that progress in Iraq has been slower than the Pentagon had initially expected.
"I think what we underestimated was the devastation of the human spirit of the Iraqi people," he said. "For decades they suffered under Saddam Hussein and his regime. And if you were somebody that was innovative or entrepreneurial and stuck your hand up, it was likely they were going to either chop the hand off or deal with your family in some way that would cause you to go back to ground. And that was true for their infrastructure as well."
In light of this deeply ingrained mindset, Iraq "wasn't just going to naturally blossom" once it had the opportunity for freedom and self-rule, Myers said. "But they've pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. ... And it's up to the international community, and (it's) up to us to help nurture this, to keep this spirit."