|WASHINGTON, March 19, 2006 The top U.S. general in Iraq said today, on the third anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, that despite media reports of an imminent or impending Iraqi civil war, the vast majority of Iraq is stable, calm and peaceful. |
"In 15 of the 18 provinces, there are six or less incidents of violence a day -- (and) that's not just sectarian (violence), that's all kinds of violence, said Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, during today's Sunday morning talk shows. "So the country is not awash in sectarian violence."
Casey, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," NBC's "Meet the Press" and CNN's "Late Edition," said he disagreed that Iraq is experiencing a civil war and doesn't believe one is imminent or inevitable. "I don't see it happening, certainly anytime in the near term," he said.
The general acknowledged that Iraq is facing sectarian tension and sectarian violence, but said it's "focused primarily in the center of the country around Baghdad." Even there, the situation is not as dire as media reports suggest, Casey said.
Casey said he recently drove around Baghdad for three hours to get a precise sense of what's happening there. He reported "a lot of bustle [and] a lot of economic activity. Store fronts [are] crowded [and] goods [are] stacked up on the street. And the traffic cops are wearing white shirts and neckties, not armored vests."
Despite political and media hand-wringing over Iraq, Casey said he's optimistic that victory is ahead. "I'm fairly confident that what we're doing here in Iraq will be successful," he said.
Casey cautioned that there will be "some tough days ahead," particularly in light of the challenges of fighting the insurgency, building a new Iraqi government and rebuilding the country's economy. "There's a lot of hard work still to be done here in Iraq," he said. "But I'm optimistic that we will ultimately be successful."
The general pointed to political and security progress already made in Iraq.
Iraqi political leaders, Casey noted, "are meeting almost around the clock" to form a new national unity government that will protect the rights and interests of all Iraqis, regardless of their ethnic and sectarian background. "That's huge progress," he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has described these recent meetings as "very productive and very substantive," Casey said. Khalilzad "feels that the [Iraqi] leaders are committed to going forward as rapidly as possible," he noted.
Last year, Casey said, Iraq held three national elections; and for each subsequent election, turnout grew and violence decreased. "I believe that as the leadership of this country comes forward [and] forms a government of national unity, and [as] that [process] begins to move forward... we'll gradually see these tensions ebb," he said.
Progress in training and deploying Iraqi security forces also has been impressive, Casey said. We "went from almost nothing to the point now where two of the Iraqi divisions, 13 of the Iraqi brigades and almost 60 of the Iraqi military and special police battalions are actually in the lead, conducting counterinsurgency operations in Iraq," he said.
By year's end, Casey said, eight out of 10 Iraqi Army divisions will be equally capable of leading counterinsurgency operations. He agreed with an assertion by Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, that, about 75 percent of Iraq's battle space will be turned over to Iraqi units by the summer's end.
"We're finding Iraqi units, with our support, can be used in just about any operation we do in a counterinsurgency role," Chiarelli told reporters March 17. "This is a force we have built -- and the Iraqis have built -- for that counterinsurgency fight. And I think they're particularly well-prepared [and] well-trained, and have the ability to do that in just about any area."
Iraqi security forces responded well to recent spate of attacks designed to fuel sectarian violence, including the bombing of the Golden Mosque, a Shiite religious shrine in Samarra, Casey said.
He acknowledged that some Iraqi police have been compromised by militia units. Consequently, U.S. military leaders in Iraq have shifted some of their resources and efforts to better training the local police there. Still, "it was the Iraqi military and the police that were the dominant forces on the ground here, supported by the coalition, in the aftermath of this Samarra bombing," Casey said.
Progress taking place on a wide range of fronts all bode well for Iraq's long-term future, he said.
"I do believe that we'll be successful here," Casey concluded. "There's a lot here that I don't think people back in the United States get to see. And it's probably difficult for them to feel the optimism that [I] and my subordinate leaders and members of the armed forces feel about the possibilities here in Iraq."