Panetta: Campaign to Establish Sovereign Iraq Was ‘Worth It’
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ANKARA, Turkey, Dec. 16, 2011 Acknowledging that entering the war in Iraq was divisive for the United States, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today that the United States is united in leaving the war and said, ultimately, the effort has been worth it.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta participates in a press briefing in Ankara, Turkey, Dec. 16, 2011. DOD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Speaking with reporters here a day after participating in ceremonies in Baghdad marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq, the secretary called the milestone a time to reflect on what was gained, what was lost and the price paid during the effort.
"There is no question that the United States was divided going into that war," he said. "But I think the United States is united coming out of that war. We all recognize the tremendous price that has been paid in lives, in blood. And yet I think we also recognize that those lives were not lost in vain."
The result, he said, has been establishment of a sovereign and independent Iraq that can govern and secure itself and become “an important, stabilizing factor in that region of the world.”
“As difficult as [the Iraq war] was,” and the cost in both American and Iraqi lives, “I think the price has been worth it, to establish a stable government in a very important region of the world,” he added.
Panetta expressed hope that the people of Iraq will be able to “enjoy the freedoms and liberties and opportunities that all people ought to be able to enjoy.”
Asked if he believes the Iraqis are up to the task of continuing the effort, the secretary said he is optimistic.
“My sense is that they are very loyal to their country. They want a sovereign Iraq. They want a strong Iraq,” he said.
Panetta said the Iraqis will face challenges, including efforts both inside and outside the country to cause divisiveness and derail progress.
“But I think the people of Iraq and the leadership of Iraq is committed to a strong and sovereign and independent Iraq,” the secretary said. “So for that reason, I am confident that they are going to be able to succeed.”
Panetta said the Defense Department will factor lessons learned in Iraq as well as Afghanistan as it sets budget priorities for the future.
“As we go thru the process of having to achieve savings in the defense budget,” he said,
“I think it is an opportunity for us to shape a defense system for the future based on learning the lessons of the past.”