Pace: Iraq Meeting Demonstrates Country's Leaders Committed to Success
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
LOUISVILLE, Ky., Sep. 6, 2007 The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Marine veterans here last night that he believes Iraq’s leaders know what it will take for their government to succeed.
“It was clear to me that those leaders fully grasped the need for reconciliation,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace told 4th Marine Division Association members here for their 60th reunion.
Pace shared with the World War II veterans his impressions of President Bush’s Sept. 3 meeting at Iraq’s Al Asad Air Base with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq al Hashimi, Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi, and Massoud Barzani, president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region.
The session was Bush’s last assembly of his top military advisors and Iraqi leaders before making a decision about the way forward in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are slated to deliver their long-anticipated assessment about conditions on the ground early next week.
Pace said he got a clear indication that the Iraqis know they can’t progress effectively without sewing rifts among the country’s factions.
During last night’s session with the Marine veterans, Pace compared some of the challenges the Iraqi government is facing -- particularly its effort to balance the interests of its three major sects -- to the states’ rights issues the United States has confronted throughout its history.
Iraq’s government is moving more slowly than U.S. leaders had hoped to reach many of benchmarks critical for reconciliation to move forward, Pace conceded. However, he noted that in some cases, concrete developments are moving ahead of the legislation that would promote them.
“Although they are having a hard time right now passing legislation that says ‘We will share oil revenues,’ they are actually sharing oil revenues on a per capita basis,” the chairman said. “They are having a hard time saying they will have reconciliation, but they just went out and did a complete scrub of all the former officers and NCOs in their army to see which of those might like to come back in and serve, as long as they weren’t criminals when they were in the army in the first place.
“So some of the things we are looking for them to do legislatively, they … very much are doing on a day-to-day, practical-living basis,” he said.
Establishing a basic level of trust needed for the government and the country to succeed has proven to be a huge challenge for Iraqis. Pace pointed to the decades of terror under former dictator Saddam Hussein that left deep, divisive scars.
“I’m not saying we should be patient forever,” he said. “But we do need to understand that these folks are trying to go from 35 years of terror, where anybody who was a promising leader was killed and families were encouraged to turn against each other, … and trying to rebuild trust is taking them some time.
“I’m not making excuses for them,” he said. “There is work to be done, and they need to get on with it.”
Pace pointed to signs of progress that give “the hope factor.” For example, security in Anbar province was terrible a year ago, until local sheikhs grew weary of al Qaeda hatred and violence and decided to team up with U.S. and Iraqi forces to fight it.
“The change is incredible in al Anbar province because of that leadership,” Pace told the group. “That tells me that the people -- whether Sunni, Shiia or Kurd -- will listen to their elected and religious leaders. And if they can come together and lead the way the sheikhs have in al Anbar, they can have a huge impact very quickly.”
He shared his personal experiences in two other Iraqi cities considered very dangerous until only recently. Pace walked through a marketplace in Ramadi in July wearing a flak vest but unarmed. Earlier this week, as he visited Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, the Marine unit in which he led a platoon in Vietnam, Pace witnessed the turnaround those Marines helped bring about in Karmah.
Pace said these developments show that many Iraqis “do get it” in terms of what they need to do to move ahead. “And we need more of them to get it so we can bring our guys and gals home and let them live in the country they want to live in,” he said.
The war has been difficult for the American people and a strain on the military, he conceded. He noted that the roughly 1 percent of Americans who serve in the armed forces is defending the other 99 percent of the country, requiring multiple deployments for many servicemembers.
It’s also made it relatively easy for most Americans to go on with their day-to-day lives without giving much thought to the threat violent extremists pose, he said.
Pace noted the Catch-22 the war on terror has created. While ensuring that terrorists haven’t succeeded in attacking the country again since Sept. 11, 2001, it’s also left some Americans wondering if the threat has simply gone away.
The chairman emphasized it hasn’t. Terrorists are patient people, and they’ve made it clear that they’re willing to wait out the United States and the coalition in Iraq with their 100-year plan, he said. “We are fighting against an enemy that is not going to give up just because they lost here or they lost there,” he said.
The United States didn’t listen when Adolph Hitler spelled out his intentions in his book “Mein Kampf” before World War II, Pace told the group of veterans who fought that war. But today, he said, the country needs to learn from that mistake and listen to al Qaeda’s stated intentions to destroy the American way of life.
“I have absolute faith that our nation will understand the true nature of this threat and will do all that we need to do to defend ourselves,” Pace said. “We are going to stand and fight. I have absolute faith in this nation in the long term to understand the threat to our existence and do to what we must do.”