Developments in Anbar province could set tone for nationwide cooperation
Washington -- The U.S. and Iraqi troop surge in Baghdad, Iraq, and Anbar province is making progress, but success requires political unity by Iraq’s government and quick results in economic programs, says the senior U.S. commander for the region.
In particular, conditions in the once turbulent Anbar province might set the tone for the future of Iraq, Admiral William Fallon told Congress. Sunni leaders north of Baghdad largely have halted violent opposition to the new Iraqi government and instead are seeking constructive political influence, he said. Fallon, the new chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), testified May 3 before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We have good indications that they are having success on the ground in expanding the areas of stability and security,” Fallon said. “But we need the parallel effort, as you would indicate, to make the political decisions to move forward.”
Along with the security mission in Iraq, Fallon said, he is giving equal importance to coordinating other U.S. government agencies assisting in the economic and political development of Iraq. This effort includes provincial reconstruction teams, which pool military and other U.S. government resources to focus on local and regional development projects.
“We need actions right now that are going to show results in the very near term over the next six months, say, that can be a direct follow-on to the security push,” he said.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin expressed impatience with Iraqi forces and the Iraqi government. “Iraqi military units were promised extra pay and short three-month Bagdad deployment to gain their acquiescence to the mission, while American Army units are being extended for 15-month tours,” Levin told Fallon. “Baghdad is burning while the Iraqi politicians avoid responsibility for their country’s future.”
Commanders report that violence between Sunni and Shiite communities appears to have subsided. But al-Qaida and foreign insurgents have tried to undermine reconciliation with a relentless series of spectacular and deadly suicide attacks.
“The Shi’a have not responded in a major retaliatory way to these attacks,” Fallon said. He credited the leadership of Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with preventing the Shiite community from retaliating. But U.S. officials have stressed that Maliki and other elected Iraqi officials must quickly demonstrate their ability to put aside partisan and sectarian differences and create a unified government.
“Success in Iraq is going to be greatly dependent [on] -- and I believe not possible without -- the firm commitment and demonstration by the political leadership … that they are acting in the interests of the entire population,” Fallon said.
Success also depends on getting support from other countries in the region, Fallon said.
Fallon said he was pleased that two regional conferences have just started in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, that will bring together all of Iraq’s neighboring countries as well as other members of the world community with a stake in the success of Iraq. (See related article.)
Fallon also said there has been a “dramatic shift” in Anbar province compared to six months ago, and that this move away from violence “is indicative of what could happen in this country.” Although the Baghdad surge has received most public attention, there also has been a surge of U.S. Marines in Anbar to build upon successes that began late in 2006.
“It looks like in Anbar there are people who [were] very clearly fighting us who have now stopped doing that and have gone over to the other side,” Fallon said. “These are disaffected, unhappy, disenfranchised Sunni who were the beneficiaries of certain things under the Saddam [Hussein] regime who, when they lost all this, saw that their best interests were served by fighting the coalition and fighting the government.”
The Sunnis of Anbar province were favored under the government of the late dictator and opposed the creation of a more inclusive government for fear they would be oppressed by Shiites, who make up the majority of Iraq’s population.
“After several years of this [armed opposition], it’s very clear that they have realized this is a mistake. And so they’ve opted to come over and help the Coalition and the government,” Fallon said of the Sunni leadership.
“I think the reason is self-interest. Frankly, they see that their future, a future with al-Qaida, is a loser, and they have a much better chance of now working and trying to influence this government to be more representative of them, and that’s why they’re doing it.”
As a result, the major towns and cities from the Syrian border to the Euphrates toward Baghdad are largely in the hands of the Iraqi security forces and U.S. forces, Fallon said.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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