Friday, December 17, 2004

A word from the man in charge

GEN Casey, Commander MNF-I, gave a press conference yesterday in Washington. I read through a transcript, and pulled out some key points:

I can tell you that I feel that we're broadly on track in helping the Iraqi people complete their transition to a constitutionally elected government at the end of next year. We also believe that this objective is both realistic and achievable.

Now let me just make a couple of points with you. First of all, the insurgency that we're fighting is not 10 feet tall. They're a tough, aggressive enemy, but they're not 10 feet tall. They're the same people who have oppressed the Iraqi people for the last 30 years. They're the reason that over a million Iraqis are missing and why probably several hundred thousand of those missing Iraqis are likely in mass graves around Iraq. They're focused on their return to dominance, so that they can continue to plunder the great natural resources of Iraq. They offer no alternative vision. They offer only intimidation and subjugation.

So they're attacking our will and the will of the Iraqi people, and I personally do not believe that they will defeat the indomitable spirit of 25 million free people who want to build a better life for themselves and for their families.

We need to remember that most Iraqis are like us in that they just want a decent life for themselves and their families. They are not dumb - they can assess their options, and most of them choose to side with us.

Second point: The Iraqi security forces are getting stronger every day. By February there will be 70 trained and equipped battalions in the Iraqi army.

Progress has also been made in the police and special police forces. By February there will be six public order battalions, a special police regiment, four police commando battalions and some nine regional SWAT teams -- special weapons and tactics teams -- all of them contributing to the fight against the insurgents and the terrorists on a day-to-day basis.

Building a military and police force isn't like hiring a kid to cut your grass. Training and unit cohesion take time, and both are required for success.

Third point: Reconstruction momentum is building. In June there were only around 230 projects actually what we call turning dirt, actually started, on the ground. By the end of November there were over 1,000, with a value of over $3 billion. All of this in spite of insurgents' efforts to disrupt the reconstruction process.

Reconstruction is key, mainly since it provides jobs for locals. An idle mind, after all, is the devil's workshop.

Fourth point: The interim government and their security forces are broadly accepted by the Iraqi people. Some poll ratings for the government are as high as 70 percent approval rating. The Iraqi people express a generally favorable opinion about their new army and about their police, and more than 60 percent of Iraqis believe that the country is headed in the right direction and they are optimistic about their future.

We're also broadly on track for the elections. Fourteen of the 18 provinces have less than -- four or less incidents of violence a day, and the registration process in most of the country was executed.

I want to be clear: The insurgents and the terrorists will continue to attack and attempt to disrupt the election process. And we see that daily. They won't succeed. And the elections in January will then be but another step forward in our relentless progress toward a new Iraq.

Progress towards a constitutionally elected government will not be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. But the challenge of helping the people of Iraq build a better future is one that the Iraqi people in the armed forces of 30 freedom-loving countries can take on.

On the bad idea of extending the timeline for elections (as the Hindrocket says, the only people who want the elections postponed are the ones who want them never to take place):

I do not think the extended election period is still on the table.

I think there will be sufficient Sunni participation in this for people to accept the fact that it is a reasonably free and fair election.

You gotta love the tone of this question, but the response is spot-on.

Q: General, you talk about the progress in security across Iraq. It seems that that airport road is a symbol of what many people say is a growing insurgency. What is the story with that road? And why can't U.S. and Iraqi forces patrol it effectively to stop the attacks that are happening on it?

Casey: I wouldn't necessarily see it as a symbol of a growing insurgency. I would see it as a symbol of the growing use of car bombs in the insurgency. And that really is the question of the airport road. It's a tactic that's been adopted by the insurgents. They don't have to do much. A car bomb a day in Baghdad or on the airport road sends a symbol that the insurgency is very powerful, when in actuality I don't believe that they are.

Constant bombing headlines and TV reports with plumes of smoke in the background indeed make the terrorists appear more powerful than they are.

Here's another classic question:

Q: General Casey, if you -- if indeed, as you say, the terrorists and insurgents have lost the ability to operate with impunity, they've lost their safe havens, then how do you explain the fact that they continue to take such a toll, to be so effective against the Multinational Forces?

Casey: They are not necessarily operating effectively against coalition forces. In fact, when we look back, the numbers of attacks don't necessarily produce a very high volume of casualties. In fact, a lot of the attacks are in fact ineffective against coalition forces.

The reporter apparently defines "so effective" as losing somewhere between 20-100 of your men to every 1 enemy killed. I'm glad I don't work for him.