18 March 2007
U.S. Troop Surge Aiding Security Efforts in Iraq, Officials Say
Gates, Hadley say al Qaeda in Iraq deliberately fueling sectarian violence
Washington -- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says he sees early indications the U.S. troop surge in Iraq can succeed in stabilizing the security situation there, but that a firm judgment may not be possible for months.
Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation March 18, Gates said that while it is “very early” to assess results of the new push, “I think that the way I would characterize it is, 'so far so good.'”
“I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us. They have made the appointments, the troops that they have promised are showing up, they are allowing operations in all neighborhoods, there is very little political interference with military operations,” the secretary said.
But in light of continued al Qaeda and insurgent activity that has partly moved out of Baghdad into surrounding areas in the face of the crackdown, “we have to wait and see what kind of trend line appears over the next weeks and few months,” Gates said.
The secretary stressed that reconciling differences between various groups in Iraq, not military action, is the key to resolving the security situation in the country.
The U.S. presence in Iraq is “basically buying them time. That’s the whole purpose of this strategy," he said. The Iraqis are "going to have to step up to the plate, and we can help them by giving them the time to do that and to make their military forces able to carry the burden by themselves."
Gates said al Qaeda in Iraq is deliberately fomenting violence between Shi’a and Sunni groups. And, he said, the terrorist group’s leaders have “made no bones about the fact that once they’ve been able to establish a firm base in Anbar [province], or in Iraq more broadly, that they intend to try and destabilize the neighbors and eventually attack the United States. They’ve not made any secret of that.”
In an appearance on CNN’s Late Edition the same day, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley echoed that position, asserting that al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq “have the intention to do something, but their hands are full in Iraq.”
Rejecting the notion that the situation in Iraq amounts to a true civil war, Hadley said, “The key element of our strategy is to, with Iraqi security forces, bring down the level of violence in Baghdad so the unity government can pursue reconciliation, which is the key path to peace.”
Hadley gave an upbeat assessment of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's performance.
“He has grown in office. He has grown in confidence. He has grown in competence. You can see it. That is what we hear from our commanders. That is what we hear from our ambassador,” he said. “He is holding out a clear vision to the Iraqi people that security is a priority,” and has made clear that enforcement must not “show any favorites or partisanship” between Sunni and Shi’a.
PALESTINIAN UNITY GOVERNMENT
Hadley reiterated U.S. policy with regard to the Palestinian unity government. The United States “will not deal with this government” until it meets specific principles: renouncing terror and violence, acknowledging the right of Israel to exist and recognizing agreements entered into between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, he said.
”We will be watching, obviously, for the words and deeds of this government,” Hadley said. But he added, “It was a little troubling that Prime Minister [Ismail] Haniyeh in his statement in the program of the government talks about the right of resistance…. This is not the same as ... giving up violence and terror.”
(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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