By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
AUSTIN – A key to winning the war on terror is helping Iraq become self-reliant, which will take as much American as Iraqi resolve, Fort Hood's top general said Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who took command of III Corps and Fort Hood on Monday, said the war likely will last decades, and the consequences of pulling American forces out of Iraq too soon could be dire.
"If we are not doing it (fighting terrorism) in Iraq, I truly believe we are threatened internally in the United States," Odierno said during a forum about the war at the University of Texas.
Odierno spoke with Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the State Department's coordinator for Iraq.
Odierno said he does not think the support of Iraqis will end. But, Americans should be prepared for a long, expensive war that is being solved as it evolves, Odierno and Jeffrey said.
"Iraqis have proven their resolve time and time again," Odierno said. "They continue to volunteer for the military and for the security forces. They continue to show up for the elections. ... The resiliency of Iraq is incredible."
If Iraqis and Americans can support the efforts in the Middle East until Iraq can be a self-sufficient country, the result will protect against "bordering nations that are worrisome," namely Iran, which Jeffrey called "a huge problem for all of us."
If Iraq splits apart, the country will be vulnerable to foreign interference, "and it's better to stay together even if you do disagree," Jeffrey said.
"Most Iraqis polled want a uniform Iraq because they fear (foreign interference)," he continued.
But Iraq is not the only front in the war on terror, and it will not always be the central front, Odierno said.
For now, several things need to come together – both in Iraq and in the U.S. military and government – before more fronts emerge, Odierno and Jeffrey said, as they discussed a "to-do" list in Iraq that includes a functioning, independent Iraqi government, eliminating the insurgency threat and increasing police and basic needs such as electricity.
Jeffrey said Iraq's unity is not necessarily required before the threat of Iran can be addressed but that Iraq's self-sufficiency will help because unity will protect it from foreign influence.
"I don't think you can say, Let's deal with one before we deal with the other,'" Jeffrey said. "The international community as a whole needs to deal with these issues simultaneously."
How best to unite Iraq is still being discovered as the U.S. military takes on an unfamiliar role of nation-building, Jeffrey said.
"No one else in the international community will do this (nation-building), so we have to turn to the U.S. military," Jeffrey said.
The U.S. military has the structure, discipline and self-sufficiency to handle the nation-building mission, which is why the U.S. military also is called to respond to natural disasters, Jeffrey said.
The Iraqi government has not yet been able to provide necessities on its own, Jeffrey said. Electricity has not been reliable because of corruption and the insurgency, which also is not allowing oil exports to reach their pre-war level.
The U.S. military is adapting to its new role, which is natural to accept because there is a period between combat and when state agencies can begin working during which someone is responsible for the nation, Odierno said. Giving that responsibility to the U.S. military protects troops because problems could arise if the military destroyed infrastructure without rebuilding it, Odierno said.
Systems need to be better linked within the U.S. government to support the military's changing responsibilities, Odierno said. If the U.S. military collects fingerprints or eye scans from suspected insurgents, that information needs to be available to other government agencies, for example.
Odierno also said the Army must learn more about breaking down front companies that fund terrorist groups and should examine international laws to determine whether they are adequate to combat terrorism.
When these wrinkles are ironed out, the government of Iraq needs to decide how the conflict will end, Jeffrey said.
"We have ideas," Jeffrey said. "If you are America, you always have ideas. ... But, in the end, it's their call."
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