Iraq Could be ‘Significant Power’ if Iraqis Commit to Reconciliation
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2006 Iraq could be “the most significant power in the region” if the coalition can help the Iraqi government to stabilize the country and improve its economy, the commander of maneuver forces in Iraq said today.
“In order for these things to succeed, however, we need a commitment by all Iraqis of all the ethno-sectarian groups to commit first to nonviolence and to resolving their differences through the political process,” said Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, outgoing commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, said from Baghdad via satellite link with Pentagon reporters. Chiarelli has been MNCI commander since January, and he gives up command Dec. 14.
“We need, quite frankly, to move toward reconciliation,” he said. “Iraqi citizens must feel that their government is a genuine unity government that is working for the benefit of all its people.”
Peace can’t be reached in Iraq until all Iraqis decide that their children’s future is more important than past or present problems, Chiarelli said.
“What I see happening on a daily basis is a needless loss of life because foreign fighters and some members of this society would rather use violence to settle the issues they are working through rather than the political process,” he said. “At some point Iraqis need to decide they want peace.”
The United States and other countries also need to realize the solution in Iraq does not lie in military might alone. Militarily, the United States is winning the war in Iraq, Chiarelli said. “We’ve never been defeated on any battlefield … in this conflict, nor will we be,” he said.
But, the general added, the real question is: “Are we making progress toward our strategic objectives?”
“Civil-military integration” is the key to solving Iraq’s problems, Chiarelli said. Political and economic progress are as important as military might.
He outlined two key areas he believes will make a difference in the level of violence in Iraq: establishing provincial elections and creating employment opportunities for Iraq’s multitudes of “angry young men.”
Provincial elections are “absolutely critical” in getting people to feel they are properly represented in their government at all levels, Chiarelli said.
Sunnis in many provinces boycotted the January 2005 round of elections in many provinces and now are underrepresented in those areas. Provincial elections would be a critical element in reconciliation, and announcing dates for such elections would be a sign that the national government is listening to the concerns of Sunnis and will have a positive impact, Chiarelli said.
In addition, he said provincial governors tell him that creating jobs will have the most impact on building a safe society. “They unanimously tell me every time, ‘Put the angry young men to work; find jobs for them,’” Chiarelli said.
Despite the current level of violence, the general said he believes the U.S. can achieve its goal of building a peaceful democratic society in Iraq. “I still believe the mission can succeed if the proper resources are brought to bear at the issues at hand,” he said.