Iraqis, International Community Working to Secure Iraq
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2003 Securing and rebuilding Iraq "is not an American-only mission by any stretch of the imagination," the American general in charge of coalition forces in the region said in the Pentagon today.
"It's an Iraqi mission; it is a coalition mission," Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said in a press briefing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
During a question-and-answer period, the general agreed with a reporter's contention that Iraqi police and military forces need to be more active in their own security.
"I think it's clear that we've got to do a lot more to bring an Iraqi face to the security establishments throughout Iraq very quickly," Abizaid said.
However, he noted, there are already more than 50,000 Iraqis "under arms that are working in coordination with the coalition." These Iraqi security forces include 35,000 in the police forces, 2,300 in a civil-defense corps, 17,000 security guards hired to defend infrastructure.
"So it's not the lone American rifleman out there defending Iraq," Abizaid said. "We're working in conjunction with Iraqis to make the place a better place to live."
Abizaid also spoke of the burgeoning threat of terrorism in Iraq, as demonstrated by the attack on the U.N.'s Baghdad headquarters Aug. 19 that killed at least 23 people. He said terrorism "is emerging as the number-one security threat" in Iraq.
Ansar al-Islam, an established terrorist group that previously operated predominantly in the northern reaches of Iraq appears to have "migrated from the north" and established itself in Baghdad, he said, adding, "It's not good for us when they get established in an urban area, as you can well appreciate."
Other foreign fighters are infiltrating the country via the porous border with Syria. However, Abizaid noted, coalition forces are "working very hard" in conjunction with Iraqi security forces to stem this flow.
He also said terrorist elements may or may not be working in conjunction with remnants of Saddam Hussein's deposed Baath Party. Both groups appear to work in a "cellular structure," and there appear to be "some indications of cooperation in specific areas." However, the two groups "are not at all compatible" ideologically, Abizaid said.
He said the two groups might cooperate despite their ideological differences because they share a common enemy: coalition forces in Iraq.
Whether they're former-regime holdouts or foreign terrorists, the enemy forces have one thing in common: They see progress in Iraq as a threat, Rumsfeld said.
Coalition accomplishments in forming a representative government and improving the daily lot of ordinary Iraqis "are victories for the Iraqi people and defeats for the Baathists and their terrorist allies," the secretary said.
"This much is certain," he added, "their cause is lost."
Referring to troop strengths in Iraq, Abizaid and Rumsfeld refused to draw a correlation between increasing numbers of Iraqi and international forces and decreasing American troops on the ground. During a speech at the United Nations in New York this morning, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged more countries to support coalition efforts in Iraq.
"The number of boots per square inch is not the issue," Abizaid explained. Rather it's a question of the types of troops used, what they're trained to do, and how they're employed.
Responding to calls by pundits to increase troop strength in Iraq, the general explained that he thinks it's possible to have too many troops on the ground.
"Clearly there's a downside when you increase your lines of communication, you increase your number of logistics troops, you increase the energy that you have to expend just to guard yourself," Abizaid said. "I have never been one in favor of huge, ponderous forces, but (of) light, agile, mobile forces that not only can deal with the problem in Iraq, but throughout the theater."