By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 4, 2008 - The former commander of Multinational Corps Iraq reflected today on vast improvements made during the past 15 months and said Iraq is approaching the point where no single incident or chain of events will be able to reverse those positive trends. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who returned from Iraq about two weeks ago, credited the troop surge in Iraq, as well as changes in troops' tactics, techniques and procedures, with helping set conditions to reduce violence. This, he said, opened the door for other broad improvements.
"We were focused for 15 months in Iraq on improving the security situation, which allowed a window of opportunity for economic development, improved governance and enhancement of the Iraqi security forces," he said. "The improved security conditions, in part from the surge of 2007, have given the Iraqis an opportunity to choose a better way."
To ensure security gains made aren't able to reverse, Odierno said, the emphasis must shift to other critical to ongoing success, including jobs and economic opportunity, national and local governance, and continued improvement among Iraqi security forces.
Odierno said he's encouraged by advances on all three fronts, particularly as the Iraqis push legislation and other efforts to promote reconciliation.
"I think once people are convinced that we're moving forward with reconciliation, Sunni and Shiia will be able to come together and work toward Iraq's goals in the future," he said. "I think that's when we really start to see what I believe to be irreversible (progress)."
Odierno said he's concerned by destabilizing Iranian influences at play in Iraq and believes it's important to keep pressure on Iran to ensure it doesn't hamper progress being made.
"They have a huge role to play in Iraq as helpful partners in the Middle East and to the Iraqi government," he said. "What they have to stop doing is training surrogates, funding surrogates and supplying weapons to them, which they are still doing today."
As the Iraqi government confronts destabilizing external influences as well as internal struggles for power and resources, Odierno said, he's confident progress made in the last 15 months will continue.
He expressed confidence in Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, of the 18th Airborne Corps, to whom Odierno transferred command of Multinational Corps Iraq in mid-February.
"The corps is poised to continue helping the government of Iraq in moving forward on all the critical issues facing the country," he said. "General Austin is keenly aware that much work remains ahead and is sharply focused on the numerous tasks at hand."
The mission remains challenging, he conceded. "Iraq is a complex country; There is no blanket solution for the country," he said.
Ultimately, he added, success in Iraq will be up to the Iraqi people themselves.
"The future of Iraq belongs to the Iraqis, and we must support them in moving toward that future," he said.
Odierno emphasized that gains made in Iraq have come with big sacrifices in injuries and lives lost.
"Their sacrifices were (not) and will not be in vain," he said. "And because of them, Iraqis have the right to choose their own destiny. Let us forever remember our noble and gallant warriors who gave everything so others can enjoy life and liberties of a truly free people."