By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 14, 2008 - The United States will help the Iraqi government sustain the country's security gains, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said yesterday. "We have to continue to help build Iraqi security force capability," Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said in an interview on Fox News Channel.
Improving security for the Iraqi people was Mission One of the successfully concluded surge-of-forces campaign directed against al-Qaida and other insurgents in Iraq, Odierno said, and it reduced overall violence in Iraq by 80 percent.
Though the capacity of al-Qaida in Iraq has been "significantly decreased," Odierno said, the terrorist group has regrouped in and around the northern city of Mosul in Ninevah province, after being pushed out of Baghdad and its environs during the surge. Meanwhile, continued U.S. and Iraqi joint military efforts targeting al-Qaida remnants are making things hot for the terrorist group, the general said.
"We're making it more and more difficult for them to be successful here," Odierno said of al-Qaida's current situation in Iraq. "We're eliminating the paths of support that we've gotten from the citizens, because we've been able to provide them security."
Improved security realized in Iraq bodes well for that country's upcoming provincial and national elections, Odierno said.
"They're going to have provincial elections in January of 2009, followed at the end of 2009 by national elections," Odierno said. Next year's national elections will be of particular import to Iraq, he said, because, "it proves that they're serious about having elected officials run their government."
Odierno surfaced his concern about Iranian "meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq," noting the Iranian government does not want U.S. and Iraqi officials to complete a status-of-forces agreement to replace the United Nations resolution that governs the U.S. military presence in Iraq and expires at the end of the year.
The Iranians, Odierno said, see such an agreement "as something that will challenge their ability to influence Iraq in the future." Some reports, the general said, say that the Iranians may attempt to bribe Iraqi lawmakers. But, Odierno said, he has faith in the Iraqi government's ability to see through and reject any attempted Iranian manipulation.
"I believe Iraqis are nationalists, and I believe that they will do what's best for their country," the general said.
The United States has invested considerable blood and treasure in Iraq, Odierno acknowledged. However, he said, it is in America's long-term best interests to "have a strategic relationship with Iraq inside of the Middle East."
"And, I believe, over time, it will ensure that we have better security inside of the United States," Odierno said.