Mullen Points Out Progress in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
TALIL, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2009 Iraq has made remarkable progress in a short while, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a news conference here today.
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks with U.S. Navy sailors assigned to Riverine Squadron Three after an all hands call, Basra, Iraq, Dec. 18, 2009. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen praised Iraqi citizens and American civilian and military personnel for their hard work and sacrifice. The chairman also expressed his condolences to all Iraqis for the deaths in a recent series of bombings in Baghdad.
“At the heart of this is al-Qaida still at work in Iraq,” Mullen said. With national elections scheduled March 7, he added, unity is important in the face of attacks designed to derail progress. He noted the Iraqi government is investigating the explosions and will take appropriate steps.
“What I’m encouraged by for all these major attacks is there has been no response and outbreak of sectarian violence,” the admiral said. “I don’t underestimate the challenges, and I think everybody needs to be focused on this so the elections can be free and fair and representative of the democracy that Iraq has become.”
Mullen spoke to American and Iraqi reporters after concluding a meeting with Iraqi security and legal leaders and provincial reconstruction team leaders. He said the meeting pointed to work that still must be done. “And that work would focus on Iraq becoming even more stable,” he said.
The U.S. drawdown plan is still in place, Mullen said, and he expects the American personnel will begin to leave soon after the elections.
The United States will continue to fund infrastructure projects in Iraq centering on water and electricity, the admiral said. U.S. trainers also will work in advance of the Iraqi elections to help in training security forces for the important event.
The withdrawal will not mean the end of the relationship between the United States and Iraq, the chairman emphasized. “That relationship will be focused on a very strong partnership, and the United States will never forget Iraq,” he said.