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Iraq 'Headed in a Good Direction,' Abizaid Says

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2006 – American troops are an "essential stabilizing tool" in Iraq and their presence is needed for "Iraq to emerge as a responsible nation in a tough neighborhood and to keep the terrorists out," the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East said today.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, discussed stabilization efforts and U.S. troop levels in Iraq during an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham via telephone from Qatar.

Abizaid spoke on how Sunni Muslims are helping rebuild Iraq.

"It's not just that we're fighting a Sunni insurgency, we're also having an opportunity to deal with an awful lot of Sunnis that are trying to build a better government," Abizaid said. "There are Sunnis in the army. There are Sunnis in the government. There are senior Sunnis that we deal with every day who tell us, 'Don't go anywhere. We need you for a while. We don't want you here forever, but we do need you long enough to become stable.'

"And that's exactly what we are going to do," Abizaid told Ingraham. "I'm confident we're headed in a good direction, and people are working to hold Iraq together, not tear it apart."

Ingraham also inquired about a reported "brain drain" of professionals, such as doctors and engineers, who are reluctant to work or stay in Iraq because of security concerns.

"When you look at Iraq through the prism of the American media, especially the visual media, you get the impression that its constant violence all the time," Abizaid said. "You get the impression that nobody who's sane would live there, but the truth in my experience is just the opposite."

Abizaid said he just spent three days in Iraq, where he visited several hospitals and saw doctors who had come back from exile to take part in Iraq's future.

"No doubt it's a dangerous place, and I don't want to minimize the difficulties in stabilizing Iraq, but all of us involved in it, American and Iraqis alike, are confident that we can do this. Thanks to our young troops and their courage and sacrifice, we can do this," Abizaid said.

The general would not predict a reduction in troops levels. "But I can say without any hesitation that in 2006 it's our intention to hand over the bulk of the counterinsurgency missions to the Iraqis," he said.

"If good governance comes along, economic prospects improve, and the security forces continue to develop along the direction we're seeing already, we're confident our troops levels can be substantially less," Abizaid said.

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Gen. John Abizaid, USA

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