Odierno warns of potential revolt by Iraqis
September 29, 2008, Baghdad, Iraq — Dramatic security gains made in Iraq over the past year could be jeopardized if its government doesn’t improve essential services such as electricity and bring together rival political and religious factions, the new top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday.
“They’re working toward this, but if they don’t do this, the citizens over time will potentially start to move against the government if they have to wait too much longer for services or if they don’t see progress in services,” Gen. Ray Odierno said.
“What has happened is they have rejected al-Qaida, but if the government fails them, what would happen?” he said.
Odierno told USA Today he was confident he could recommend pulling more U.S. troops from Iraq next year but called for a cautious, deliberate approach “to make sure that we don’t step backward.”
Odierno replaced Gen. David Petraeus as the commanding general of U.S. forces here in a ceremony this month. Odierno was Petraeus’ No. 2 in Iraq before returning to the United States in February. The two executed the strategy that added 30,000 troops to Iraq and helped reduce violence over the past year.
“In 2006, it was a failed state,” Odierno said of Iraq. “In 2008, it’s a fragile state. We’ve got to move it to a stable state.”
Odierno takes command as the American public grows weary of the war and President Bush is preparing to leave office. Republican John McCain backed the White House’s latest strategy, which also deployed troops in smaller outposts in neighborhoods to protect Iraqi civilians. Democrat Barack Obama has advocated withdrawing U.S. forces in Iraq over 16 months while increasing forces in Afghanistan.
Odierno’s first assessment about extra troop cuts could come early next year after a new president is elected, the general said.
“My experience tells me that whoever the new administration is, they will listen to what we have to say,” he said. “They will then conduct their own assessment. I feel comfortable with that.”
About 80 percent of Iraq is stable or secure, said Odierno in his office in the U.S. Embassy, once a palace for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Provincial elections next year could shift the balance of political power, giving more influence to Sunnis who mostly sat out local elections in 2005. National elections later in the year could transfer power to new national leaders.
“We have to make sure that we have the forces on the ground to make sure those things happen in a proper way,” Odierno said.
There are about 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The White House recently announced plans to draw down by about 8,000 troops early next year.