Iraqi Elections, Forces Will Determine Coalition Size
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, Aug. 10, 2004 Elections and the status of the Iraqi security forces will determine the number of coalition forces in the country, said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during interviews here today.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff, speaks with Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu
Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, during a meeting at the prince's palace. Photo by
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said that events on the ground will set the pace for an eventual coalition withdrawal from Iraq.
Elections for a constitutional assembly are now set for December or January. Those will be followed by elections for a permanent government in 2006.
In the meantime, the Iraqi security forces are being built up. Myers said the equipment for the Iraqi army, National Guard, police and border patrol is flowing into the country this month and next.
"So by the end of this year certainly by next June Iraqi security forces will be reasonably well-trained, well-equipped, well-led, and then mentored by other coalition members," he said during an interview with Abu Dhabi Television.
Myers said NATO which agreed to help train the Iraqi security forces may be involved in the mentoring effort.
The chairman said he is pleased with the progress the Iraqi security forces are making. About 240,000 Iraqis are serving in the country's security forces.
Training them is a very important part of the mission in Iraq, Myers said. "We're probably about halfway through that training and equipping," said he added. "It will take us some time. It will take us many months to get them to the point where they can handle the security situation."
He said Iraqi forces' performance in the recent violence has been encouraging. "I will say with the recent increase in violence in Iraq, that the Iraqi security forces have acquitted themselves quite well," he noted. "They have performed very, very well in Najaf and Mosul and Baghdad."
This is in contrast to the uneven performance of Iraqi security forces in April, when some police and National Guard units fought well, but others simply melted away when faced with superior firepower.
While the violence inspired by radical Shiia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia is disturbing, the threat to Iraq remains in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," which runs from Baghdad to Fallujah to Tikrit and back through Baqubah and Samarra.
Myers said the Iraqi interim government has to deal with a number of basic questions in this area. "How do you ensure that the people in that area feel like they are enfranchised in the political process?" he asked.
He said Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is working the political portion to include Iraqis in the region who have no truck with terrorism and are just looking for a way to raise their families in safety.
"How do we secure cities for the people who don't want this insurgency to be going on around them?" Myers asked. "That's where the coalition forces come in, because we're going to have to help the Iraqi security forces for some time to maintain that security."
Myers said Marines are in Najaf to protect the city's inhabitants. Sadr's militia has fired mortars indiscriminately in the city and killed many innocent civilians. "They are not very careful fighters, and they have to be dealt with," he said. "And they are being dealt with by coalition forces."
How Sadr is dealt with politically is up to the Iraqi interim government, he said. "(Sadr) seems to have a very difficult time making up his mind what he wants to do," Myers said, "whether he wants to lead a militia and fight progress in Iraq, or whether he wants to join the political process and become a part of the new Iraq."
The chairman said that despite the insecurity in Iraq today, the life of the average Iraqi is better than it was under Saddam Hussein. "Here we have a country that has a media that reports on everything, and the beginnings of a political dialog," he said. "(These are) things that could have never happened under the Saddam regime. I'm very proud of what we're responsible for, and what I'm proud of is we freed 25 million people to choose their own way forward."
Still, the chairman said, it will be a challenge in Iraq. "There are those who do not want progress," he explained. "There are those who want to go back to the way it was under Saddam Hussein. They are going to have to be dealt with both politically and, in many cases, with force. And we're going to do that."
Myers said this is a tough enough challenge without neighbors trying to influence Iraqis. "It means that those countries that are its neighbors Syria and Iran come to mind need to stay out of the internal affairs of the Iraqis," he said. "They need to let Iraq handle this challenge and make its way to a new future."