By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 1, 2007 – President Bush's new strategy for Iraq can work and set the conditions for the Iraqi government to deal with sectarian and ethnic divisions that are hurting the country's fledgling democracy, the top U.S. general in Iraq said here today. The new strategy is really an enhancement of the previous policy and retains a strong focus on transferring responsibility to Iraqi security forces, which is the key to success, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing to become Army chief of staff. Iraqi forces cannot take control over the country, particularly in Baghdad, until the levels of violence are brought down, he emphasized.
"For the Iraqis to successfully assume and sustain security responsibility, their security forces must emerge as the dominant security forces in the country," Casey said. "To do this, political and militia influence over the security forces must be eliminated and levels of sectarian violence, particularly in the capital, must be brought down substantially -- brought down to the point where the people in Baghdad can be safe in their neighborhoods. This is what we are working toward in Baghdad. It will take time, and the Iraqis do need our help."
Casey, who has commanded in Iraq since July 2004, said he is generally opposed to increased U.S. troop levels in Iraq, because that would increase Iraqi reliance on the coalition. However, the new plan developed with the Iraqi government calls for more Iraqi forces in Baghdad, and those forces will need additional coalition support, he said.
"I don't think there is any question that the situation in the center of the country, particularly the capital, is bad, and we are working very hard to rectify that," Casey said. "The country won't be able to move forward with their security forces and won't be able to move forward politically or economically until they come to grips with that situation."
The five additional U.S. brigades Bush has pledged to Iraq will give commanders on the ground extra flexibility they need to accomplish the mission, Casey said.
The United States is relying more on Iraqi forces and requiring them to take responsibility for security in Baghdad, Casey said. However, the Iraqi population does not have high levels of confidence in the security forces, especially the police, he said. To deal with this problem, the coalition will team with Iraqi army and police units in daily operations.
"That's where the coalition comes in, because when they see us operating with the Iraqi police particularly, the population has a greater level of confidence that they'll be treated properly," he said.
The firefight that took place this week in Najaf was a perfect example of how Iraqi and coalition forces should work together, Casey said. The Iraqi police responded to a situation and found they couldn't handle it alone, so they called the Iraqi army; the Iraqi army arrived and needed support, so they called for coalition backup. "The Iraqis dealt with it with our support," he said.
Three provinces in northern Iraq will soon be under Iraqi control completely, and more provinces are to follow, Casey noted. Across Iraq, 14 of the 18 provinces have 10 or less incidents of violence per day, he added. However, he acknowledged that the situation in Baghdad is grave and said the city's importance as the center of government cannot be overlooked.
Casey outlined several things U.S. leadership can look for when measuring the success of the Iraq security plan. The first indicator will be a reduction in lawlessness and the level of sectarian killings, he said. Second is continuing work on the security situation in Baghdad until the people can feel safe in their neighborhoods. Another measure will be the emergence of the Iraqi security forces as the dominant force in the country. Also important are an improvement in basic services in Baghdad and the engagement of political and religious leaders in the peace process.
The situation in Iraq is not nearly where he thought it would be, Casey said, but he stressed that his experience in the country has strengthened him as a leader. He has dealt with the highest levels of U.S. government, mentored three Iraqi prime ministers, and dealt with different ambassadors, he said. "I have learned an awful lot about strategic leadership, and I believe that will help me greatly as the chief of staff of the Army," he said.
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