November 29th, 2006 07:44 EST
Bigger problems await if extremists hold sway on region, general says
WASHINGTON — It’s imperative the United States, its allies and the Iraqi Government stop Islamic extremists from achieving their goal of controlling Iraq and the surrounding region, a senior U.S. military officer said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” Sunday.
“We have to stabilize Iraq and the broader regional dynamic in order to make the region less conducive to extremism, because if we don’t, the extremist values will become mainstream and we will have a much worse security situation develop in the future,” Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, told CBS reporter Lara Logan.
Recent heightened sectarian violence in Iraq “is worrisome,” Abizaid acknowledged, noting “it can be fatal to Iraq if it’s not checked.” Yet, he dismissed talk of partitioning Iraq into separate Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni segments.
“There’s no good solution to a divided Iraq,” Abizaid asserted. “It’s got to come together. It’s got to stabilize. And, it’s going to require Iraqi sacrifice and courage and responsibility along with that of the United States and our allies.”
U.S. military commanders “don’t believe that they’ve been defeated” in Iraq, Abizaid said. His greatest concern for Iraq, he said, is that neighbors like Syria and Iran decide to further destabilize the country, rather than help it to coalesce.
The Iraqi Government has shown its desire to confront the sectarian violence, including violence committed by illegal militias, Abizaid pointed out. “They know that the militias have got to be taken on,” the general said.
A major element in stabilizing Iraq, Abizaid said, involves employing the country’s army to stop the sectarian strife.
“The (Iraqi) government must get behind its army in order to give it confidence that it can operate on the non-sectarian plain,” the four-star general said. “And, it’s a very, very complicated problem. But, it is one that can be solved.”
The Iraqi Army is improving daily in both numbers and quality, Abizaid pointed out. During his recent testimony before Congress, the general noted he’d never ruled out that more U.S. troops could be sent to Iraq.
“I had not precluded the notion of more (U.S.) troops coming into Iraq,” Abizaid said. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to stabilize the situation. As, I said in my testimony, all options are on the table.”
Abizaid rejected the idea that Americans have given up on the mission in Iraq.
“I think people in the country are trying to figure out how to manage our involvement in Iraq so that Iraq can stabilize,” Abizaid said. “You just can’t walk away from these problems in the Middle East and hope that things are going to get better.”