Effort in Iraq 'Going to Take Time,' Myers Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MANAMA, Bahrain, Apr. 13, 2004 People around the world are going to have to realize the coalition effort in Iraq is a long-term project, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers arrived here today for meetings with Bahraini leaders. On the flight over, he said the problems in Iraq can be solved, but it will take time.
"We've been there just a year," Myers said to reporters traveling with him. "We've got a country that lived for decades under a dictator that ruled by fear. The thought that you are going to turn that around in a year, or two years, is not reasonable. It's going to take a lot longer than that."
Myers said the coalition found a country with a dilapidated infrastructure, a failing economic structure and a political vacuum. On top of those problems, he added, is the fact that some Iraqis don't want the country to be free and democratic. "That's what you're seeing now," he said.
He said the coalition is making great progress on all fronts. Electricity generation is above pre-war levels, Iraq's oil is flowing to market, children are being educated and the health system is being bulked up. "On any front, we're making great progress," he said.
Yet there are those who don't want to see Iraq succeed, the chairman said, and they "want to throw a rock into these gears to stop it from happening."
The prime rock thrower is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian national affiliated with al Qaeda. The chairman said Zarqawi would like to foment a civil war in Iraq. "And he is frustrated, because despite all the attacks on the U.N., the Red Cross and others, there still is the march towards sovereignty and democracy in Iraq," he said.
"I don't think a civil war will come from the Iraqi people," Myers said. If such a war were to happen, he said, it would be the work of "agitators like Zarqawi, who see this as a fundamental fight for his views."
Myers said the path to a free, democratic Iraq will be bumpy. The key, he said, is to ensure all in the country including those favored by Saddam Hussein have a stake in the new Iraq that is emerging.
The chairman said the coalition will stick to the strategy of moving security missions to Iraqi forces. He said the recent fighting showed the Iraqi security forces were "uneven," but added that elements of the Iraqi army, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the Iraqi police that have done well.
"There are other elements that have not done as well," he said. "I don't think it speaks that they don't want to be part of a free Iraq. I think it speaks to the other issue, which is making sure they have clear guidance from Iraqis on what it is they are supposed to be about."
Myers said the Iraqi forces need to have guidance and orders from an Iraqi political leadership. "We haven't completed that chain of command yet," he said. "Iraqis have to have their own chain of command to know they are moving forward and working for a greater Iraq."
Myers said the coalition also must beef up training for Iraqi security forces and get them the right equipment. "There is no indication that the Iraqis are not willing to fight and die for a better Iraq. They have," he said.
The chairman said the disturbances caused by Muqtada al-Sadr have worked against the radical Shiia cleric. "This doesn't have any of the trappings of a popular uprising," Myers said. "(Sadr's) actions have further marginalized him. The Shiia are not homogeneous, and his following was not large to begin with, and there is nothing at this point to point to an uprising in the south."
The chairman said the coalition took advantage of the ongoing troop rotation from the United States to place units where they will do the most good. Some 1st Armored Division units, for example, moved to quell the disturbances in the south. He said the United States now has 134,000 troops in Iraq. Some troops due to go home will stay in Iraq longer, the chairman said, adding that defense leaders are working through this and an announcement will be made at the Pentagon soon.
He said about 40,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq from Operation Iraqi Freedom 1. Not all will be held, he said. The 1st Cavalry Division officially will relieve and assume authority from the 1st Armored Division on April 15, as scheduled, he said.
The chairman said the difficulties in Iraq will not affect the U.S. Army's effort to reconfigure itself. "In terms of being able to respond to other major crises in the world, that won't change either. We have that capability," he said. "Obviously we've got ground forces that are really busy now, and what we have to look to is the next rotation to Iraq and Afghanistan."
He said he believes the troops affected by the decision understand that "the security situation has changed, and we have to make adjustments."