Fallon: Agencies Must Act Now to Move Iraq Forward
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 3, 2007 U.S. and coalition troops have made significant progress in improving the security situation in Iraq, but the Iraqi government and other U.S. government agencies need to act more quickly to improve the political situation and build infrastructure needed to sustain the country, the commander of U.S. Central Command said in congressional testimony today.
“Time is of the essence, and it’s right now,” Navy Adm. William J. Fallon told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “My perception is that we need actions right now that are going to show results in the very near term, over the next six months, say, that can be a direct follow-on to the security push that’s ongoing.”
One of the biggest challenges CENTCOM leaders face is ensuring that U.S. government efforts are coordinated after the initial security push so political and economic initiatives are carried out properly, Fallon said. To that end, CENTCOM is working closely with the State Department and is deploying new provincial reconstruction teams that are closely aligned with the military leadership on the ground.
Beyond U.S. involvement, success in Iraq depends largely on the actions of the Iraqi government, Fallon said. While the government has made progress in some key areas, it has not moved fast enough on key issues that support the U.S. effort in Iraq, he said.
“I think that making sure the leadership in Iraq understands that we don’t have unlimited time, that we must move forward, that they’re going to have to make these tough decisions, is important,” Fallon said. “I understand it’s complex; I understand it’s challenging. But they are going to have to make the kind of progress that will give the people in this country the confidence that they can believe in this government.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other leaders are working on achieving benchmarks they set for themselves for political progress, Fallon said, and ongoing security operations are important to give them a stable environment in which to operate. He noted that Maliki faces a serious challenge in dealing with the country as a whole instead of with sectarian divisions. Maliki himself doesn’t have a lot of experience dealing with people from different sectarian groups, and he has to take into consideration the long history of ethnic divisions in Iraq, Fallon said.
Right now, the largest destabilizer in Iraq is the ability of Sunni insurgent groups allied with al Qaeda to conduct large-scale car-bomb attacks, Fallon said. These attacks are aimed at inciting sectarian violence and give Shiites a reason to caution Maliki about reaching out to Sunnis, he said. Breaking the link between these Sunni groups and al Qaeda could prove to produce a substantial turn of events in the country, he said.
“We need to convince (Maliki) that taking steps to give some sense of inclusion to the Sunnis so they will then lessen their support for al Qaeda would be the biggest and most important thing that could happen in the political realm of this country,” Fallon said.
Since taking command of CENTCOM about six weeks ago, Fallon said his main focus for Iraq has been supporting Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, as he implements a new strategy on the ground. However, Fallon said he also has his staff thinking about the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq, such as what the enduring force will look like and when that transition might occur.
“I envision that we will want to be and we will be asked to be in Iraq for some period of time with some representation of U.S. capability, just as we do in other countries,” he said.
Long-term success in Iraq depends not only on internal efforts within the country, but also on external support from neighboring countries, Fallon said. He expressed optimism about the launch of the International Compact with Iraq and the Expanded Neighbors of Iraq Ministerial, with diplomats from more than 50 countries coming together this week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
“This place doesn’t exist by itself in another galaxy,” Fallon said. “The influence of the neighbors, certainly very unhelpful from two of them in the recent past, but the willingness of others to come and assist Iraq, is critical.”