Irak — Danger Remains in Iraq, Austin Says

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2010 — Iraq has been trans­formed, but dan­gers remain, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nee to lead U.S. forces there said today.

Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III tes­ti­fied before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee in a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. If he’s con­firmed by the Sen­ate, he’ll receive his fourth star and suc­ceed Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no as com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq. Odier­no has been nom­i­nat­ed to lead U.S. Joint Forces Com­mand.

Austin salut­ed the ser­vice and sac­ri­fices of U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers who have answered the call in nine years of sus­tained com­bat. “They are per­form­ing mag­nif­i­cent­ly,” he said. Cur­rent­ly the direc­tor of the Joint Staff, Austin had com­mand­ed Multi­na­tion­al Corps Iraq in his pre­vi­ous assign­ment.

“If con­firmed, I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our nation’s work in Iraq,” Austin told the com­mit­tee. “I under­stand that a sta­ble envi­ron­ment in the Mid­dle East and South­west Asia is essen­tial to U.S. inter­ests and that the future of Iraq is insep­a­ra­ble from the future of this crit­i­cal region. A sov­er­eign, sta­ble and self-reliant Iraq will con­tribute to the sta­bil­i­ty in the region and will be a major ally in our fight against al-Qai­da and its extrem­ist allies.”

By any mea­sure­ment, con­di­tions in Iraq have improved sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the past three years, the gen­er­al said. “The gov­ern­ment has demon­strat­ed respect for the rule of law and is mov­ing toward the peace­ful trans­fer of pow­er through legit­i­mate elec­tions,” he added.

Gov­ern­men­tal capac­i­ty and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions con­tin­ue to improve, and al-Qai­da in Iraq and oth­er vio­lent extrem­ist groups have been severe­ly degrad­ed, Austin said. “While we have achieved progress over the last few years, I am keen­ly aware that the mis­sion is not with­out risk, and our work remains unfin­ished,” he said.

Malign exter­nal influ­ences con­tin­ue to infringe on Iraqi sov­er­eign­ty, he said, and al-Qai­da and oth­er vio­lent extrem­ists still pose a threat to the gov­ern­ment and to the Iraqi peo­ple.

“Eth­no-sec­tar­i­an ten­sions con­tin­ue to impede a uni­fied nation­al vision for all Iraqis,” Austin said. “If con­firmed, I would focus on a num­ber of things. We would con­tin­ue to devel­op a long-term and mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ship with the Iraqis.”

The gen­er­al said an endur­ing U.S.-Iraqi strate­gic part­ner­ship and pos­i­tive strate­gic rela­tion­ships between the gov­ern­ment of Iraq and its region­al neigh­bors are essen­tial to secu­ri­ty and pros­per­i­ty.

Austin said he would con­tin­ue the U.S. mil­i­tary draw­down already under way.

“Dur­ing this tran­si­tion peri­od, our forces would con­tin­ue to advise and train the Iraqi forces, to devel­op their secu­ri­ty capa­bil­i­ties and sup­port their abil­i­ty to pro­tect the Iraqi peo­ple,” he said.

Amer­i­can forces would con­tin­ue to work with Iraqis and region­al part­ners “to con­duct part­nered coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions to defeat al-Qai­da and oth­er extrem­ists in Iraq, Austin said.

“We would assist the devel­op­ment of effec­tive min­istries and enable Iraq to meet the needs of the peo­ple,” he said. “And we would sup­port efforts to advance endur­ing solu­tions for Iraqi nation­al uni­ty.”

The foun­da­tion stone for progress in the coun­try has been the devel­op­ment of pro­fes­sion­al, capa­ble Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, Austin said.

“We’ve achieved much in Iraq through the courage and sac­ri­fice of our U.S. ser­vice­men and women and the Iraqi peo­ple, and the coali­tion forces that fought along­side the Iraqis in some of their most per­ilous times,” he said. “I am com­mit­ted to achiev­ing our nation­al objec­tives, and I am ded­i­cat­ed to all of the brave peo­ple who sac­ri­ficed to help build towards a sta­ble and secure Iraq.”

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