Casey Reflects on Last Day as Multinational Force Commander
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2007 A day before leaving his command in Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. today expressed gratitude for the 30 months he served in the country and optimism for the Iraq’s future.
“I want to say thank you to the Iraqi people and tell them that it has been my honor and my privilege to serve Iraq over the last two and a half years,” the outgoing commanding general of Multinational Force Iraq told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus will succeed Casey tomorrow as the top coalition military leader in Iraq.
Casey is leaving an Iraqi force that has greater autonomy than when his command began, he said.
“What's interesting is tomorrow at the change of command, General Petraeus will be my successor,” Casey said, “but it will be Prime Minister (Nouri al-) Maliki and Iraqi generals who will be my successor in leading the Iraqi armed forces.”
Casey outlined other Iraqi accomplishments that occurred during his command.
“Two and a half years ago, Iraq was almost entirely dependent on coalition forces for their security,” he said. “But today, the Iraqi security forces are poised to assume security responsibility by the end of 2007.”
The general said there are four reasons for his optimistic outlook on Iraq.
“One, I believe in the inherent desire of people to live and prosper in freedom,” he said. “I know the Iraqi people suffered terribly under 35 years of tyranny. And I know the Iraqi people don't want to go back to that.”
Casey acknowledged that “things in Baghdad aren’t where we want them,” but he said progress is evident every day outside the Iraqi capital.
“I travel all around the country,” Casey said. “All across Iraq, Iraqis are going forward in small steps every day.”
In the past, when Iraqis have applied their common will toward progress they have accomplished “big things,” Casey said.
“The January 2005 elections, the constitution, the referendum on the constitution, the elections, and the peaceful transfer of two governments,” he said, “those were all huge historic events and they happened because the Iraqi people wanted something better.”
The “absolute competence and professionalism” of coalition and Iraqi security forces makes Casey confident that Iraqi security forces will soon emerge as the dominant security force in the country, he said.
When asked if he is satisfied with his performance in Iraq, Casey replied, “I'm not happy with where we are in Baghdad right now.”
Casey blamed the February 2006 bombing of Samarra’s Golden Mosque for much of Baghdad’s violence.
“The sectarian situation is something that we can help resolve, but it is something that ultimately Iraqis have to resolve themselves,” Casey said.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished with the Iraqis here in the last two and a half years, but there's a lot more work to do,” he added.