Leaders: Vigilance Critical for Success in Iraq, Around World
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2006 The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East told Congress today he’s “rarely seen it so unsettled or so volatile” and urged continued regional and coalition pressure to confront problems before they escalate further.
Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, joined Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The leaders expressed concern about growing sectarian violence in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad. Abizaid called the violence “as bad as I’ve seen it” and warned that if it’s not brought under control, “Iraq could move toward civil war.”
U.S. and Iraqi forces recently increased their presence in Baghdad to help quell this violence, and Abizaid expressed confidence that it’s possible to prevent Iraq from slipping into civil war.
But preventing that from happening is ultimately up to the Iraqis, not U.S. troops, Pace told the committee. “Shiite and Sunni are going to have to love their children more than they hate each other,” he said. “The weight of that must be on the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government.”
“It is a decisive time in Baghdad, and it requires decisive Iraqi action with our clear support,” Abizaid agreed. “Despite the many challenges, progress does continue to be made in Iraq, and I am confident there are still many more people in Iraq trying to hold that country together than there are trying to tear it apart.”
The leaders expressed confidence in Iraq’s new government and progress in the country’s security forces, but they emphasized that continued success depends on ongoing U.S. support.
Terrorists recognize what’s at stake in Iraq and are waging a “psychological war of attrition -- planning attacks to gain the maximum media coverage and the maximum public outcry,” Rumsfeld told the committee. “They want us to think about what will happen if our forces stay in Iraq, as opposed to the consequences if our forces were to leave prematurely. They want us to be divided, because they know that when we are united, they lose.”
By leaving Iraq prematurely, the U.S. would send a clear message to terrorists, emboldening them as they spread militant ideology, he said.
“We can persevere in Iraq, or we can withdraw prematurely, until they force us to make a stand near home,” Rumsfeld said. “But make no mistake: They are not going to give up, whether we acquiesce to their immediate demands or not.”
Although today’s hearing focused on Iraq, Abizaid urged the committee to recognize Iraq as “only one part of a broader regional struggle under way.” That struggle, between moderates and extremists, “remains a serious danger to global peace and stability,” he said.
Resolving underlying problems will take considerable time and effort, Abizaid said, but ignoring them “will further encourage extremism and could eventually lead to a broader, even more dangerous conflict.”
Abizaid cited three strategic objectives the United States and its coalition partners must focus on to succeed against extremism:
- Synchronize diplomatic, economic and military means required to defeat al Qaeda and its associated movements;
- Deter Iran’s ambitions in the region, including its sponsoring of terrorist organizations and development of nuclear weapons; and
- Find a comprehensive solution to the “corrosive” Arab-Israeli conflict.
Abizaid called the arming of independent militias -- which, in turn, undermines state institutions -- “the curse of the region.”
“If this century is to be dominated by non-state actors with no respect to the international community, we are in for even greater dangers,” he said. “It should not be lost on us, for example, that Hezbollah fields greater and longer-range weapons than most regional armed forces.”
Should this situation be left unchecked, a state actor could some day transfer chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to the hands of militias or terrorist organizations, Abizaid said.
“There is no doubt that these are dangerous times for the world,” he said. “But there should also be no doubt that with concerted international action and the application of our own substantial power, these dangers can be overcome.”
Pace told the committee the fight against extremism won’t be easy or quick and will involve more sacrifice. He noted the American casualty count so far in the terror war is approaching the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that sparked it.
“We’ve come a long way in Afghanistan. We’ve come a long way in Iraq and elsewhere in the war on terrorism,” the chairman said. “We have a long way to go. … But we will persist, and we will prevail.”
Rumsfeld emphasized the fortitude of the American people in the face of adversity. “Americans didn’t cross oceans and settle the wilderness and build history’s greatest democracy only to run away from a bunch of murderers and extremists who try to kill everyone that they cannot convert and to tear down what they could never build,” he said.