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Spokesman Puts Building Iraqi Government in Perspective

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2006 – Building a nation is tough business, and people tend to lose their frames of reference about the process, a Pentagon spokesman said here today.

People forget that the Iraqi government has been in place for only four months, Bryan Whitman said. “For us right now, four months seems like a long time,” he told reporters. “Four months in the history of a nation is the blink of an eye.”

The Iraqi government is continuing to move forward even as insurgent and sectarian violence mars the landscape. “There is slow and steady progress being made on all fronts: security, political, as well as economic,” Whitman said. The violence that’s occurring in Iraq today “doesn’t negate the fact that progress is being made,” he added.

Whitman spoke after U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, spoke in Baghdad about benchmarks and goals the Iraqi government has set. “The fact is (Iraq) is a sovereign nation,” Whitman said. “As a sovereign nation, they have to be able to recognize for themselves that there are various things they need to achieve to put themselves on a path to greater stability security and prosperity.”

Whitman shied away from calling the benchmarks a timetable. “When you set timetables, you give the enemy very precise decision points or basically outline goals for them,” he said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that there would be no penalties if the Iraqi government does not meet these benchmark goals. “These are decisions and milestones and benchmarks that any sovereign nation has to establish by themselves,” Whitman said. “They will determine the consequences of achieving them or not achieving them. It’s not up to the coalition or the United States.”

The spokesman said there are no requests for more U.S. troops in Iraq, but that conditions will always determine what the appropriate size of coalition forces is. “We’ve been very consistent with saying that we’re not going to pre-judge,” Whitman said. “It went up when General Casey requested some of the units stay there past their time for redeployment, and it went up to 15 combat brigades.”

Coalition forces in Iraq are using the strategy of “clear, protect and build.” “They are clearing areas; they are getting the necessary Iraqi forces in to protect the populations in those areas; and then they are building,” Whitman said.

He said the United States will continue to assist the Iraqi government. “The decisions that we are making are based on the environment that exists there, the best military judgment, the judgment of the people on the ground,” he said. “And the environment in Iraq and not the environment in the United States are going to drive the decisions. What are important are our efforts to assist Iraq stay focused even in this admittedly political season.”

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