By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 18, 2007 – Suicide-bomb attacks on coalition and Iraqi troops and civilians, orchestrated by Al Qaeda and Sunni extremists, present the top challenge in establishing security and stability in Iraq, the commander of U.S. Central Command testified at a Congressional hearing on Capitol Hill today. "Of all the things that we have on the plate in Iraq, the one that I think is first and foremost as a target for us to try to get a grip on and to neutralize is the group that is very clearly al Qaeda-motivated that is linked to Sunni extremists in this country that are perpetrating these big suicide bombings," Navy Adm. William J. Fallon told House Armed Services Committee members.
Al Qaeda in Iraq and affiliated Sunni extremists want to kill and maim U.S. troops in Iraq in order to sap the coalition's will, Fallon said. The extremists also want to kill and injure as many civilians as possible to foment sectarian strife and destabilize the new Iraqi government.
"In Iraq, we need an essential degree of security and stability so that the fledgling institutions in this country can actually be able to benefit the citizens," Fallon said, adding he'd like to see "a substantially reduced level of bloodshed and violence."
Fallon took over as CENTCOM's chief March 16. Since then, he told the committee, he's traveled to Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern couintries that come under his command's purview.
After discussions with key U.S. and Iraqi military and civilian leaders and sifting through reams of data, Fallon said, he found significant signs of a reduction in the number of murders and other kinds of sectarian violence in Iraq.
"However, I will tell you quite honestly that it bothers me and I hold my breath regularly in anticipation, regrettably, of the suicide bombers," Fallon said. "These people that are just seemingly, totally bent on creating as much chaos and bloodshed as possible, particularly against the civilian communities. I think we are challenged to work against this problem."
The best way to circumvent al Qaeda's strategy in Iraq is to convince the country's Sunni population that it has a viable stake in the new Iraq's future, Fallon said.
The al Qaeda-Sunni extremist nexus "is the most destabilizing" element in Iraq today, he reiterated.
A key to establishing stability across Iraq is to convince its people there's a better life for them down the road, the admiral said.
"I'd like to see a place in which people have confidence that their future is going to be better than what they'd seen in the past and what they have today," Fallon said. "And how we're going to measure that (Iraqi confidence) is one of the key things that I'm working on right now."
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