Biden Calls on Congress to Fund U.S. Commitments to Iraq

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2010 — Iraq has made tremen­dous progress, but the coun­try still needs Amer­i­can sup­port, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden said in a com­men­tary that ran in The New York Times this morn­ing.
Biden is the Oba­ma administration’s point man for Iraq.

The vice pres­i­dent praised the Iraqis for form­ing an inclu­sive gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad and made the case that the Unit­ed States must main­tain sup­port for the fledg­ling democ­ra­cy.

“Since the elec­tions there in March, our admin­is­tra­tion has said that the Iraqi peo­ple deserve a gov­ern­ment that reflects the results of those elec­tions, that includes all the major blocs rep­re­sent­ing Iraq’s var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties and that does not exclude or mar­gin­al­ize any­one,” Biden wrote. “That is what they will now have.”

The Iraqis are using pol­i­tics, not force, to work through the nation’s issues. “It hasn’t always been pret­ty, but pol­i­tics rarely is, in Iraq, in Amer­i­ca or any­where else,” the vice pres­i­dent said. “By agree­ing to form a nation­al part­ner­ship gov­ern­ment, how­ev­er, Iraqi lead­ers have sent an unmis­tak­able mes­sage to their fel­low cit­i­zens, their region and the world: after more than sev­en years of war and decades of dic­ta­tor­ship, Iraqis seek a nation where the rights of all cit­i­zens are rec­og­nized and the tal­ents of all are har­nessed to unlock the country’s full poten­tial.”

Iraq, how­ev­er, still faces enor­mous chal­lenges, and the Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue its engage­ment with Iraq. That engage­ment will change from a mil­i­tary to a civil­ian lead. About 50,000 Amer­i­can troops are in Iraq, down from a high of more than 166,000 in 2007. The troops who remain are in advise and assist brigades, and work to train the more than 650,000 mem­bers of the Iraqi army and police.

“Mean­while, we are estab­lish­ing a diplo­mat­ic pres­ence through­out the coun­try and, under the terms of our Strate­gic Frame­work Agree­ment, build­ing a dynam­ic part­ner­ship across a range of gov­ern­ment sec­tors, includ­ing edu­ca­tion, ener­gy, trade, health, cul­ture, infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy, law enforce­ment and the judi­cia­ry,” Biden said.

Iraq today is far safer and more sta­ble than at any time since the out­break of war in 2003, he said. In 2009, Iraqi forces took charge of secu­ri­ty in major cities, and in August, they assumed pri­ma­ry secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty nation­wide.

“In recent months, using their own intel­li­gence, Iraqi forces have killed or cap­tured dozens of senior lead­ers of al-Qai­da in Iraq and oth­er ter­ror­ist groups,” the vice pres­i­dent said. “The week­ly tal­ly of vio­lent inci­dents through­out Iraq has dropped to about 160, from near­ly 1,600 in 2007.”

But Iraqi forces are not yet ready to oper­ate ful­ly on their own, and the Unit­ed States must con­tin­ue its sup­port.

The Unit­ed States also must help the Iraqi gov­ern­ment with civil­ian chal­lenges includ­ing con­duct­ing a cen­sus, con­tin­u­ing to inte­grate Kur­dish secu­ri­ty forces, main­tain­ing com­mit­ments to the Sons of Iraq, and resolv­ing dis­put­ed inter­nal bound­aries and the future of the north­ern city of Kirkuk, which is claimed by both Arabs and Kurds.

The Iraqis still must pass a hydro­car­bon law and sta­bi­lize the econ­o­my to encour­age for­eign invest­ment.

“While the day will come when Iraq’s vast nat­ur­al wealth can ful­ly finance its secu­ri­ty and invest­ment needs, and when its civil­ian insti­tu­tions no longer require such inten­sive sup­port, it has not yet arrived,” Biden said. “Iraq has increased its own spend­ing in these areas, and with sus­tained Amer­i­can engage­ment, it will emerge from gen­er­a­tions of trau­ma to become a sta­ble and self-reliant nation.”

This hope is why the Unit­ed States — even as it faces eco­nom­ic trou­bles of its own — still needs to fund impor­tant ini­tia­tives in Iraq. Biden is ask­ing Con­gress to approve bud­get requests to sup­port the broad­er diplo­mat­ic pres­ence, mod­ern­iza­tion for Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces and financ­ing for a police devel­op­ment pro­gram.

“The draw­down of Amer­i­can troops will save $15 bil­lion in the com­ing fis­cal year — we seek to direct less than one-third of that amount to pro­vide need­ed assis­tance to Iraq’s secu­ri­ty forces and to our State Department’s civil­ian-led efforts,” he said.

“The Iraq war has cost our nation dear­ly, with the great­est price of all paid by the 4,430 heroes who have made the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice,” the vice pres­i­dent said. “Now it is in America’s fun­da­men­tal inter­est to help pre­serve the gains Iraq has made, pre­vent the re-emer­gence of vio­lent extrem­ists and encour­age Iraq to become a piv­otal Amer­i­can ally in a strate­gi­cal­ly crit­i­cal region, and a respon­si­ble region­al actor in its own right.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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