Iraqis Hold Key to Legitimizing Their Own Security Forces
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 12, 2004 Iraqis, not the U.S. military, will ultimately solve security problems within their country, the top American general in the region said today.
"I think we all need to understand that the solution to Iraq's security problems does not lay with the United States armed forces," Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said. "It's with the Iraqis themselves."
Abizaid and Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 7, spoke from Baghdad via a video link to reporters in the Pentagon.
Abizaid said it's important to be both patient and innovative in building institutions for various security forces, including the country's military, police and civil-defense forces.
The two generals addressed the status of Iraqi security forces following recent news reports outlining desertions and ineffectiveness. They conceded there have been failures, but said there have been many successes as well.
"There are many Iraqis that have paid the ultimate sacrifice," Abizaid said. "And we're extremely proud of the way that many of them have fought."
He said he believes the Iraqi forces will improve once there are solid chains of command in place. "The truth of the matter is that until we get well-formed Iraqi chains of command all the way in the police service, from the minister of interior to the lowest patrolman on the beat in whatever city it may be, and the same for the army, from private to minister of defense that it's going to be tough to get them to perform at the level we want," Abizaid said.
A key addition will be the involvement of more senior Iraqis. The general said senior officers in several important positions in the Ministry of Defense, the Iraqi Joint Staff and field commands will be appointed over the next several days.
He noted he and Sanchez have been closely involved in vetting and placing these officers. "And I can tell you the competition for these positions has been fierce," he added.
Sanchez pointed out American officials have consistently said it would take time to build legitimate security forces within Iraq. "It's still going to take us a significant amount of time to ensure that they are properly equipped, properly trained and credible and capable with their countrymen," he said.
"It takes a long time to take security institutions from zero up to a level of about 200,000 and expect them to come together and gel the way that they should," Abizaid added.
Still, Abizaid said he believes the Iraqi forces are on the right track.
"We should not discount the Iraqi security services," he said. "They will become the bulwark against terrorism and anti-democratic forces of this country, because that's what the people want them to be."