Odierno, Crocker: Iraq’s Future Still Hinges on U.S. Support

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2010 — Two for­mer top U.S. lead­ers in Iraq said today that even if America’s war there is over, its work is not yet done.
“The Iraqis believe that they … have the poten­tial to be a leader in the Mid­dle East,” said Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no, who left Iraq in Sep­tem­ber after two years in com­mand of U.S. forces there. “They believe they have the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tems, and the edu­cat­ed, to do that. They believe they have the nat­ur­al resources to do that. But they need sig­nif­i­cant help, because those resources and the infra­struc­ture asso­ci­at­ed with it have been ignored, real­ly, since about 1980.”

Odier­no, who now leads U.S. Joint Forces Com­mand, spoke today along with Ryan C. Crock­er, U.S. ambas­sador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, at the World Affairs Coun­cils of Amer­i­ca nation­al con­fer­ence.

The gen­er­al said a sta­ble Iraq could help to assure secu­ri­ty not only for the Mid­dle East, but also for the Unit­ed States.

“Iraq, as every­one knows, is in a very strate­gic loca­tion inside of the Mid­dle East,” he said. “It’s a mix­ture of many dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple: Sun­ni, Shi­ia, Kurds. They have start­ed to move toward a demo­c­ra­t­ic process. They are inter­est­ed in hav­ing an open eco­nom­ic envi­ron­ment inside the coun­try. And once this starts to take hold … it could then cre­ate an atmos­phere of more sta­bil­i­ty and an exam­ple for oth­er nations.”

Odier­no said Iraq had seen a decrease in vio­lence over the last few years from all-out insur­gency across the coun­try to a “very small” insur­gent group and al-Qai­da in Iraq, a ter­ror­ist group he said still threat­ens the Iraqi peo­ple, though much less than it used to.

“The impor­tant piece is that we’ve now cre­at­ed a secu­ri­ty force that is capa­ble of deal­ing with this,” Odier­no said. “Iraq is now about pol­i­tics and about eco­nom­ic issues, … and I think that’s what is impor­tant as we look to the future.”

Odier­no said most Amer­i­cans don’t real­ize the effect on Iraq’s infra­struc­ture over years of war – first with Iran, then against coali­tion forces dur­ing Oper­a­tion Desert Storm in 1991 — fol­lowed by more than a decade of sanc­tions. Med­ical sys­tems, the elec­tri­cal pow­er grid and oth­er vital infra­struc­ture decayed, he said.

“I call it soci­etal dev­as­ta­tion,” the gen­er­al told the audi­ence. “We under­es­ti­mat­ed this soci­etal dev­as­ta­tion when we went into Iraq, and that’s part­ly why it’s tak­en so darn long there, because we didn’t under­stand what would come out of that – part of it is an insur­gency, [and] part of it is oth­er peo­ple think­ing they can take con­trol.” Odier­no said Iraqis believe the Unit­ed States could fix its infra­struc­ture if it chose to.

“And they think we’ve cho­sen not to fix it,” he said. “We’ve explained to them time and time again that we’ve done every­thing we can to help them fix their prob­lem.”

Odier­no said Iraq’s chal­lenge now is to build the nation­al strength and uni­ty it needs to repair itself.

“The peo­ple of Iraq believe they need our help to do that. There is still a mis­trust between ele­ments inside of Iraq; they have not built up trust yet,” he said. “We work as an hon­est bro­ker, some­one who is there to help them work out their issues. … I think that’s the role we have to play mov­ing for­ward.”

Crock­er agreed that Iraq faces chal­lenges now that it may not meet suc­cess­ful­ly with­out U.S. help.

“I was struck by two polls con­duct­ed Oct. 31,” Crock­er said. “A poll here found that 70 per­cent of Amer­i­cans were done with Iraq. ‘Time to get out, been too long, cost too much, too many oth­er things to do.’

“A poll con­duct­ed in Iraq the same week had the same per­cent­age – 70 per­cent of Iraqis – but it was 70 per­cent of Iraqis who thought it would be a ter­ri­ble mis­take for them if the [Unit­ed States] decid­ed to cut sling and head home,” he said.

For all the progress in Iraq, over the last three years in par­tic­u­lar, the chal­lenges remain immense, Crock­er said.

“Sec­tar­i­an ten­sions between Shi­ia and Sun­nis have sub­sided; eth­nic ten­sions between Kurds and Arabs, though, have increased,” he said. “Those ten­sions lie on a rick­ety foun­da­tion of unre­solved insti­tu­tion­al and con­sti­tu­tion­al issues: … the author­i­ties of a region­al gov­ern­ment in Kur­dis­tan ver­sus a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad ver­sus provin­cial gov­ern­ments else­where.”

Crock­er said while U.S. forces in Iraq have been suc­cess­ful in keep­ing a frag­ile peace among gov­ern­ment fac­tions, “the hard deci­sions still lie in front of Iraqis.”

“Gen­er­al Odier­no has paint­ed the pic­ture of what Iraq could be: an enor­mous strate­gic asset for the region and the world,” Crock­er said. “Iraq for the last half-cen­tu­ry has real­ly defined itself in the oppo­site man­ner — an adver­sary, a prob­lem, an ene­my.”

The Unit­ed States now has an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a last­ing change in that rela­tion­ship, Crock­er said, with a secu­ri­ty agree­ment and a strate­gic frame­work agree­ment in place to guide rela­tions with Iraq.

“Here’s my biggest wor­ry,” he said. “In Amer­i­ca, as we look at oth­er issues over­seas like Afghanistan and Pak­istan, as we look at our econ­o­my, that we are not think­ing of ‘turn­ing the page,’ as Pres­i­dent [Barack] Oba­ma said, [but rather] are think­ing of clos­ing the book in Iraq.

“If our think­ing and our resources … go along these lines, I think the chances for long-term strate­gic suc­cess, built on the great work that Gen­er­al Odier­no and his troops and a lot of brave civil­ians have already put into this, will dimin­ish sharply,” Crock­er added. “Amer­i­can inter­ests will pay, and the Iraqi peo­ple will pay even more.”

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

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