Casey: Elections Will Be Triumph of Democracy Over Tyranny
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 26, 2005 With the Jan. 30 election the world will "see the continued triumph of democracy over tyranny," the commander of multinational forces in Iraq said.
Army Gen. George Casey told a press roundtable today that elections are just a step in the overall political process in Iraq.
These elections will be followed by Iraqis seating a national assembly, drafting and ratifying a constitution, and then, finally, electing a permanent government in December. "This election is the first major gate in the process," Casey said. "There is going to be violence on election day, but millions of Iraqis are going to vote on the 30th."
The general is also fighting a war against insurgents. He stressed that the counterinsurgency campaign is not solely the province of the military. The military does play a role, but for the insurgency to be defeated, he said, the fight must have political, economic and communications elements too. "We believe we have made progress along all those lines," Casey said.
"You defeat (insurgencies) when the people decide that they want to be part of the political process, when the economic gains that they can derive are better than they can derive by supporting the insurgency," he said.
The election is a sign that there is progress politically. There are literally thousands of candidates for the 275-seat National Assembly.
On the economic side, when the coalition returned sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, there were "230 projects that were turning dirt." Today there are over 1,600 projects, costing more than $4 billion, he said.
"On the military side, we set our sights on eliminating all the safe havens (for terrorists) in Iraq prior to these elections," the general said. Coalition forces, with help from Iraqi security forces, eliminated safe havens in Fallujah, Najaf and Samarra.
"We've continued the momentum of the military operations after Fallujah to keep the insurgents off balance, to target their leadership, to target their weapons caches, and to put ourselves in a position where the people of Iraq could vote reasonably safely ion election day," Casey said.
And the future looks better. The coalition will continue offensive operations that incorporate Iraqi security forces. Marines in Babil, an area south of Baghdad, found a weapons cache containing tons of explosives, ammunition and weapons. And success breeds success. Casey said information phoned-in to coalition forces has grown three-fold in the last month.
Casey said that he will continue to assess the force situation after the elections. He added that if he needs more forces he will ask for them.
The general disputed reporters who called the insurgency a Sunni insurgency. "The former regime insurgency is primarily Sunni-based, but it is not a Sunni insurgency," he said. "What we see is that the insurgents are intimidating Sunnis to keep them from voting. The majority of Sunnis don't want to be part of that process; they want to be in the political process."
The coalition has been working to arrest or kill leaders of insurgency. "Insurgents get pretty good (media) coverage of their car bombs, but we don't get the same kind of coverage on what we're doing," he told the assembled reporters. "Just this month, we've picked up around 60 key members of the (Abu Musab al) Zarqawi network and key members of the regime network. There has been an active program to go after the leaders of these organizations to keep them from disrupting the elections."
The general said the coalition has been working closely with Iraqi officials and members of the Independent Election Commission for Iraq. "When it's all said and done, I'm confident that we will have done everything in our power to ensure Iraqis who want to vote will have the opportunity to vote and do it reasonably safely," he said.