By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 22, 2008 - The United States "is not out of the woods yet" in Iraq, but the nation is headed in the right direction, the man nominated to be the next Multinational Force Iraq commander said today. Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would not take the job "if I didn't think that we could be successful" in Iraq.
Odierno, who served as Multinational Corps Iraq commander until October 2007, said Iraq has made significant progress, specifically over the past 18 months. "I believe a self-reliant government of Iraq that is stable, one that is committed to governance and protecting its own people and serving all its people, a place that's denied as a safe haven for terrorists and extremists and one that is integrated into the international community and a partner of the war on terror is absolutely possible in Iraq," he said. "And I think it's closer today than it has been."
Odierno told the senators that he would not make sweeping pronouncements about Iraq, but he did say that, generally, the increased capability of the Iraqi security forces has been extremely important to progress here.
"What we've seen consistently over the last 12 to 14 months is an improvement in the command and control, the ability of the Iraqis; they're learning," he said. "They're starting to understand the command and control at brigade, battalion, company level. We've seen significant improvements in that and in their ability to do planning.
However, the Iraqis don't have the capacity yet to sustain operations, Odierno said. "We still have to work on their full capacity to do this across the entire force, but we are seeing consistent improvement in these areas, and that's what we have to continue," he said.
He added that the United States needs to continue to send military and police transition teams, noting that it's important for U.S. and coalition units to continue partnering with Iraqi units.
Odierno emphasized that different places in Iraq require different solutions, but that it is important for the Iraqi government to be part of all these solutions. "In Sadr City and in Basra, I would argue ... that it's important for the Iraqis to lead in those areas and take on the majority of the responsibility," he said.
The general said he is humbled and honored to be considered as the next Multinational Force Iraq commander. "I understand the great cost that our nation has endured in Iraq," he said. "I also understand the importance of our mission there and the responsibility that comes with this position.
"I'm inspired, and I feel a tremendous sense of awe for the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and their families for their demonstrated resilience and accomplishments and commitment to the tasks at hand," he said. "I consider myself blessed that I've had a chance to continue to serve in their ranks. And if confirmed, I will do so with integrity, commitment and drive that such a special position of trust and responsibility demands."