WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2011 — Iraq’s citizens want a U.S. civilian presence in their country and overwhelmingly reject the insurgency, the top U.S. military and civilian leaders in Iraq said here today.
“The people do not want what al-Qaida brings to their country,” Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I don’t see them returning to the prominence they had a while back. The [Iraqi] people have seen better days.”
Polls show Iraqis are supportive of plans laid out in the U.S.-Iraqi strategic framework agreement calling for all U.S. military to leave Iraq by the end of this year, turning future operations over to the U.S. State Department, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey said.
“In all these [Middle Eastern] countries, there is a nervousness about having too close a relationship with any foreign country,” he said. “They have a long history of being exploited by their neighbors, and colonization. But, we would say there is a general, positive feeling in Iraq toward the United States.”
Those positive attitudes from Iraqis will help the 17,000 or so civilians who stay in Iraq after the military leaves, Austin and Jeffrey said.
It was the second time this week that the two testified before Senate committees about the transition from military to civilian-led operations in Iraq.
Austin and Jeffrey said they are confident the State Department can complete the mission if Congress fully funds their budget requests.
“We are dedicated to partnering with our embassy teammates,” Austin said. “The key is to fully resource the embassy.”
Jeffrey said failure to fund the effort properly would be a mistake. “Given all the U.S. has sacrificed in Iraq,” he said, “now is not the time to be penny-wise and pound-foolish and risk ceding the field to al-Qaida and Iran.”
The U.S. budget in Iraq will decrease from $78 billion for Defense Department operations there last year to a State Department request of about $6 billion for next year, Jeffrey said. That would make Iraq the State Department’s largest program expenditure and would double its costs there now, he said.
Jeffrey added that Iraq increasingly is paying more for its own governance, security and programs, and currently pays for half of civilian construction projects.
As part of its role to advise and assist, Austin said, the military is working to turn over its training of Iraq’s 650,000 security forces to embassy personnel in Baghdad as part of a new office of security cooperation. The office is slated to have 157 personnel to advise, assist and develop Iraqi forces and oversee $13 billion in U.S. military equipment sales to Iraq, he said.
State Department workers now have military escorts everywhere outside of Baghdad, but that has not always been the case, Jeffrey said.
“We have operated with our own contract security in Iraq under far worse conditions than we’re under now,” he said. “We continue to operate in Baghdad with our security personnel, and we’re prepared to do this throughout the country.” He added that he expects the civilians to have more than 5,500 security personnel, doubling their current numbers.
Iraqi security forces have had the lead in providing the country’s internal security since last year and are prepared to continue after U.S forces leave, Austin said. U.S. forces will continue to train and equip Iraqi forces to better prepare them for external threats, which will remain a challenge through 2012, he said.
Iraq’s continued development of its new national government will be critical to sustaining progress, Jeffrey said. “We’ve pressed them, but more importantly, they’ve pressed themselves,” he told the committee.
The national government recently signed a 19-point plan with leaders of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq on issues such as revenue sharing and oil exports, Jeffrey said. And Iraqi leaders, cognizant of potential threats from neighboring Iran and are “nationalist in their orientation” to dealing with them, he added.
“The Iraqi government is well aware of the potential for trouble,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)