Three Years Into Iraq, Defense Leaders Assess Successes, Challenges
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 14, 2006 Nearly three years into Operation Iraqi Freedom, it's fair for people to ask why the United States should see the mission through, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.
In a Pentagon news briefing, Rumsfeld acknowledged Iraq is facing "a very difficult situation."
Similar questions were raised in the past when the country confronted tough challenges, he said. And just as past generations endured tough times, so too must Americans today in Iraq. "Consider what the world would be like if, whenever things seem to go wrong or to have grown more difficult than expected, the Americans and the leaders in that generation had simply thrown in the towel rather than persevering," the secretary said.
Rumsfeld ran down a litany of examples of how history would have changed if the United States had cut and run when the going got tough. Europe probably wouldn't be free and united, he said. The Soviet Union would not have dissolved. Germany and Japan would not be democratic allies, and the Republic of Korea wouldn't be an important ally with the world's 12th-largest economy. "So too the sacrifices of today will, over time, prove the worth of this cause (in Iraq)," Rumsfeld predicted.
The secretary acknowledged that Iraq faces challenges: Violence continues; the democratic process can be frustratingly slow; predictions of an imminent civil war circulate.
But to get a real handle on the overall situation in Iraq, Rumsfeld proposed three questions to consider:
- Are the Iraqi people supporting their nation's democratic transformation?
- Are the Iraqi forces taking on responsibility for the security of their country?
- Are the coalition forces in Iraq helping to make the United States safer?
Rumsfeld answered all three questions with a clear "yes."
The vast majority of Iraqis support the country's new democracy and oppose the people who threaten it, he said. Iraqis turned out in force during national elections despite threats to their lives and families. They're volunteering in droves to join the security forces, even as terrorists target these forces. They're reporting tips about terrorist activities to authorities at "encouragingly high levels," he said.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters most Iraqis are choosing the path that leads to freedom, a representative government and a prosperous future -- not civil war. "They are very much looking toward how can they have a unified government and move down that path," Pace said. "And there are many, many more voices for unification and freedom amongst the leadership, both elected and religious, in that country than there are voices of opposition."
Reflecting on progress among Iraqi security forces, Rumsfeld said the army and police are growing in both numbers and capabilities. Some 100 Iraqi battalions are in the fight against terrorists, with 49 of these battalions controlling their own battle space. Iraqi security forces control about 60 percent of Baghdad, including some of the toughest areas there: Haifa Street, Sadr City and the airport road. In addition, Rumsfeld said, about 75 percent of operations involve Iraqi security forces, nearly half of them independently planned, conducted and led by Iraqis.
Rumsfeld said he's a firm believer that progress in Iraq is helping protect the United States' long-term security. "A free and stable Iraq will not go to war against its neighbors, will not use chemical weapons against its own people, will not harbor or support terrorists, will not pay rewards to the families of suicide bombers, and will not seek to kill Americans," he said.
"Our coalition is fighting terrorists in Iraq so we do not have to fight the terrorists here at home," Rumsfeld said.
The coalition also is bringing hope of living in a free society to millions of Iraqis, just as is happening in Afghanistan, he said. "And as that desire spreads, it will severely undermine the militant ideology that feeds terrorism and opposes the rights of free people," he said.
Pace reminded the group that Iraq is just one part in the global war on terror. Even if the United States were to leave Iraq tomorrow, it would still have a long effort ahead to defeat terrorism around the world, he said. "And we as a nation need to understand that, to understand that it takes decades for terrorist organizations to either be defeated or to lose their ideology," he said.
Although it won't be at the current numbers, the United States will have to continue deploying troops overseas for the foreseeable future to respond to terrorist threats. "And that will take a long time," Pace said.