War in Iraq Moving in the Right Direction, Says CENTCOM Leader
By Samantha Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26, 2004 As January elections loom in Iraq, Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said today the country is headed in the right direction.
"We are in fact moving in the direction that will allow Iraq to emerge as a democratic and representational state. I think that our military activities there have moved it ahead in a positive manner," Abizaid told host Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." "It's a tough fight, it's a hard fight. But we shouldn't lose heart because there are difficult times. We know that there will be fighting through the elections."
Insurgent resistance continues to plague coalition and Iraqi troops, Abizaid said. He was asked about a Turkish journalist's report that all Iraqis near Mosul, including the children, are involved in or supporting the resistance. Abizaid responded that if that was true, Iraqi forces would not number 100,000, nor would that number be climbing.
"If everybody in Iraq was in the resistance, Prime Minister Allawi would not be trying to lead his nation forward to a better future. If everybody in Iraq happened to be part of the resistance, they wouldn't be volunteering for the armed forces," Abizaid aid. "There's more people that are coming forward to fight for the future of Iraq than are fighting against it."
While the resistance continues, Abizaid said he thinks there are fewer than 1,000 foreign fighters in Iraq, adding that the primary problem in Iraq is former regime elements fighting against the government. He said those elements are trying everything in their power to upend the election process.
"Yes, there is a resistance. Yes, it is hard," the general noted. "But the truth of the matter is that Iraqis and Americans and other members of the coalition will face that resistance together (and) will, through a series of political, economic and military means, figure out a way to defeat it and will move on to allow the elections to take place and a constitutional government to emerge."
Abizaid said that regardless of the insurgency situation, he and his commanders feel sure they can provide stability for the January elections. "Commanders in the field are confident about the military mission, they're confident about our ability to have an election period that is fair and relatively stable," he said.
Abizaid also commented on statements that it's possible only a portion of Iraq, maybe three-fourths of the country, would be stable enough to hold elections. He replied that no election is perfect and that to have most of the country to vote was the goal.
"That the election will be able to be held in the vast majority of the country under good circumstances is our goal. But right now, considering that 25,000 more Iraqi forces will join the effort, between now and the late-January elections, that election will be able to be held," Abizaid said. "We'll have to fight our way through the elections with a lot of violence between now and then."
He noted that Iraqi forces will most likely take the lead on securing elections in the stable areas, while U.S. troops would probably handle the hotspots.
The CENTCOM commander said Americans need to brace themselves for a long war in the Middle East and Central Asia, though not necessarily one that requires huge numbers of American troops. But the war will be long because the battle being waged is between extremists and moderates.
"It'll be a long process. It'll be a difficult process. But it'll be one that can be successfully fought not only at home, but in the international community and with the peoples of the region to set the standards for good government and the standards for a moderate lifestyle," he said.