U.S. military: Reconstruction
of Iraq is behind schedule

Thursday, September 3, 2004

U.S. military officials said that despite pumping $18 billion into the reconstruction of Iraq, the United States has failed to make a significant dent in either the Shi'ite or Sunni insurgency.

The officials pointed to the Al Qaida-inspired takeover of several Iraqi cities, including Faluja, Ramadi and Samara as well as the endurance of the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army in wake of its month-long showdown with the U.S. military in Najaf.

Ramadi is in the Anbar province near the Syrian border, where nearly 150 U.S. soldiers have been killed in fighting Sunni insurgents.

Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, deputy chief of U.S. Central Command, said that so far the U.S.-led military coalition has not accomplished its major goals in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Smith said this has included the establishment of a democratic Iraq as well as the elimination of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The assessment by the military came as U.S. officials expect the White House to reduce the American military presence in Iraq in 2005. Currently, Washington has sought to achieve sufficient stability to enable Iraqi national elections in January 2005. Officials said the Bush administration plans to transfer funds allocated for Iraqi reconstruction to the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces.

Smith told the Egyptian state-owned Al Ahram daily that the United States has pumped $18 billion into the reconstruction of Iraq. He said this has included the training and organizing of Iraq's military and security forces.

The general said much of the violence in Iraq, including insurgency attacks, stemmed from the lack of legitimate employment. He said the United States would continue to invest to create economic opportunities, particularly for young Iraqis.

Smith said Israel was not helping the U.S.-led effort in Iraq. He denied reports that U.S. special forces were training at military bases in Israel.

The general differentiated between the U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Smith said the United States would leave Iraq as soon as possible, but envisioned a much longer stay in Afghanistan. He cited Iraq's modern orientation and energy resources.

Smith's assessment appeared to echo that of his superiors, including Central Command chief Maj. Gen. John Castellaw. Castellaw acknowledged the slow pace of the U.S.-led effort to stabilize Iraq.

"It never goes as fast as you want to go, but we continue to have successes," Castellaw told a briefing in the Qatari capital of Doha on Aug. 31. "Though we like to run sprints, in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that we have been, we know that it takes a while to accomplish the objectives."

At the same time, Castellaw refused to disclose a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He suggested the success of the Iraqi elections would comprise the key to any decision for a coalition withdrawal.

"We want it to be sooner rather than later," Castellaw said. "And we don't want to come up with some date as we are following an event driven schedule."

Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Sunni Triangle the area north and west of Baghdad has remained a major challenge to the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government. At the same time, Myers told an audience in Nashville, Tenn. on Aug. 31 that the long-term prospect in Iraq "is very, very good."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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