WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2014 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is disappointed the Iraqis have not done more with the chance they have been given by the men and women of the U.S military.
“The young men and women who went to Iraq won their fight – they did exactly what we asked them to do.,” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said.
Dempsey told NPR’s Tom Bowman that the images of al-Qaida affiliates raising their flags over the embattled city of Fallujah triggers “the same thing that runs through any veterans’ mind who served there, which is disappointment.”
He is proud of what the U.S. military did, but said that Iraq has failed “to take advantage of what we gave them.”
The chairman was the commander of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004. He also commanded the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq from 2005 to 2007.
The situation in Iraq has deteriorated since U.S. troops pulled out in December 2011. Suicide bombing have become more frequent and Iraqi government statistics indicate that about 8,000 Iraqis were killed in 2013.
Fighting in Anbar province intensified at the end of 2013, and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant – an al-Qaida affiliated group – took control of Fallujah and made inroads in Ramadi, the provincial capital.
“I wouldn’t give up on Iraq yet though,” the chairman said. “It’s a little premature to declare that this conflict in Ramadi and Fallujah portends the collapse of the state of Iraq or an irreversible setback.”
Iraqi security forces are credible, the general said. The government is divided, and the forces have had challenges with logistics and command and control, but the forces remain tough.
U.S. military officials, including the chairman, had forecast these shortcomings with the Iraqi forces.
Given conditions in the country, Dempsey believes the government will be pressured to look for a political solution. But he said, “The hard-core al-Qaida – the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant – they are going to be a problem that will have to be rooted out by the Iraqi security forces.”
The civil war in Syria is spilling over into Iraq, reinforcing the chairman’s contention that problems in the area are regional in scope. “I’ve talked for some time about the fact that the conflict in the region stretches from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad,” he said. “It is a regional conflict that has the religious undertone of Sunni and Shiia, but even that has been hijacked by the radical extremists on both sides – Lebanese Hezbollah on one side and ISIL on the other.”
The United States is looking at how to help solve the problems of the region. Dempsey said the U.S. military can help in planning and logistics. “No one has asked, nor have we offered direct military involvement because of the underlying religious issues and extremist issues,” he said.
If the countries of the region can address the problems without U.S. direct action, the process “is far more likely to produce a positive outcome,” he said.