Iraq Moving Forward to Establish Democracy, Panetta Says

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, July 11, 2011 — Though Iraq has devel­oped the lead­ers it needs to move the coun­try for­ward, form­ing a democ­ra­cy has its per­ils, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said here today.
Iraq is devel­op­ing a democ­ra­cy that can be an impor­tant exam­ple to oth­er nations in the region, Panet­ta told ser­vice mem­bers dur­ing a talk at the Hope Chapel.

Amer­i­cans must have patience with the nascent Iraqi democ­ra­cy, the sec­re­tary said.

“We may not agree with every­thing they do. Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult as they work their way through the issues,” he said. “But the nature of a democ­ra­cy … is you’ve got to fight your way through these issues. Peo­ple are going to dis­agree, [and] there are peo­ple that are going to have dif­fer­ent views. That’s got to play out.”

But wait­ing as these issues play out can be frus­trat­ing, the sec­re­tary acknowl­edged.

“I’d like things to move a lot faster here in terms of the deci­sion-mak­ing process,” Panet­ta said. “I’d like them to make a deci­sion. I’d like them to make the deci­sion: Do they want us to stay, or not stay? Do they want to get a min­is­ter of defense or don’t they want to get one? But damn it, make a deci­sion!”

Still, Panet­ta said, that’s the nature of a democ­ra­cy. The dia­logue will go on, and it is healthy, he added.

Iraq is mov­ing in the right direc­tion, the sec­re­tary told the ser­vice mem­bers. “I think there’s a lot of hope here,” he said. “Bot­tom line here is the rea­son there’s hope here is because of you guys. Take that home with you.”

Panet­ta spoke to the ser­vice mem­bers about the changes he has seen in Iraq.

“The first time I came to this coun­try was as a mem­ber of the Iraq Study Group [in 2006], and this place was in tur­moil,” he said. “As a result of the great sac­ri­fice and work of the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary, this coun­try is on a much bet­ter path.”

In an era of the Arab Spring — with demands for democ­ra­cy being made from Tunisia to Syr­ia to Yemen — Iraq is a sym­bol for the rest of the nations in the area, Panet­ta said, open­ing up the pos­si­bil­i­ty for “bet­ter rights, bet­ter dig­ni­ty, bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ties” for their peo­ple.

More work to be done in Iraq, Panet­ta said, and Iraqis and Amer­i­cans must work togeth­er to ensure all the sac­ri­fices that brought the coun­try to this point are not in vain.

The sec­re­tary point­ed to the sol­diers, sailors and air­men and told them they have made a real dif­fer­ence. “The test in life is whether or not peo­ple look to you and say, ‘That per­son made a dif­fer­ence,’ ” Panet­ta said. “I can look at you and say each of you, in your own way, has made a dif­fer­ence.”

In hon­or of that com­mit­ment, Panet­ta pledged to the ser­vice mem­bers that he will fight for them in Wash­ing­ton.

“As you fought here, I will fight in Wash­ing­ton to make sure that you are pro­tect­ed, that you receive the best train­ing [and] the best equip­ment, that you receive the best sup­port in terms of the ben­e­fits that have been promised to you, and that we also pro­tect your fam­i­lies,” he said.

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

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