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Odierno: Iraq's democracy rests on equality of Islamic sects

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Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2006 12:00 pm | Updated: 3:16 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Emily Baker

Killeen Daily Herald

Iraq's government must view its citizenry as one people and not as a handful of religious sects in order for democracy to flourish and to become an ally in the war on terrorism, the III Corps' commander said Friday.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, who is scheduled to take III Corps back to Iraq in the coming months, said Iraq's military leaders believe in their mission to protect Iraq's citizens regardless of their religious faith.

"We need to make sure the government is in the same frame of mind," Odierno said at a Killeen Heights Rotary Club meeting at the Plaza Hotel.

Odierno also suggested keeping an eye on the northern section of Iraq because discussion of declaring independence has been buzzing among Kurds there. If the area, which residents call the Kurdistan region, does declare independence, instability in the Middle East could result, Odierno said. Kurds in neighboring Turkey and Iran could support the move toward independence.

So far, Kurds have cooperated with the central government, Odierno said. The Kurdistan region has flourished with plenty of private investing coming into the area, he said.

"You would almost like to bring other Iraqis up there and show them, Look, this is what you could be,'" Odierno said.

The economy in the rest of the country is not improving as quickly as Odierno would like. Private investment has been stifled by security risks.

In the year Odierno and the III Corps headquarters leads Multinational Corps-Iraq, he hopes to get private investments rolling into Iraq, continue handing over responsibility of security to Iraq's military and police and secure Baghdad.

Controlling sectarian violence in Iraq's capital has been one responsibility of the 4th Infantry Division and a mission the division's commander, Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, has repeatedly called "tough."

If the networks creating roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq, can be defeated, the insurgents "won't really have a way" to attack troops, Odierno said.

The government also has to establish a rule of law by defining and imposing punishments for breaking the law, Odierno said.

Once that happens, the environment will be more friendly for investments. Investing in Iraq's economy is responsible because it promotes hope among Iraqi people, said a restaurant chain president and chief executive officer who was in town Friday for a separate event.

Richard Snead, who leads Carlson Restaurants, under which T.G.I. Fridays is organized, said as soon as it is safe to do so in Iraq, he would like to build restaurants there.

The chain has opened four restaurants in the Middle East in the past eight months, said Snead, who treated soldiers and families of Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division to an appreciation luncheon at Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area on Friday.

Three more restaurants are under construction in the region, Snead said. The chain's restaurants are located in Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Strengthening the economy, continuing to improve public health and education systems, upgrading more infrastructure and improving the country's police also will help defeat the insurgency, Odierno said.

But, because Iraq is a sovereign nation, it's government must take the lead, Odierno said.

The leader Odierno is relieving in Iraq agrees.

"We are looking to the Iraqi government, and they are moving to provide the basic services," Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli said Sept. 15 during a video-teleconference linking his office in Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon. "I think that when the history is written of this fight, it will not be compared with any other fight that we've ever been in (because of the public works improvements being part of the strategy). And it's absolutely critical that we get all those lines of operations going in order to win, and we are dependent on the Iraqi government to help us in that process."

Iraq's government continues to be in tune with the needs of its people, said Barham Salih, the country's deputy prime minister, during a news conference at the Pentagon on Sept. 14.

"The important thing that the mainstream Iraqi leadership are aware of the challenges that are before us and are aware of the imperative of rising to that challenge," Salih said. "At the end of the day, it will be about Iraqi leadership; it is not about American leadership as such, at least from the way that we are seeing it in Iraq.

"American support and sustaining American support is crucial. But, at the end of the day, Iraqis will have to make the tough decisions in order to make their country more peaceful and deal with the problems that we have."

Contact Emily Baker at ebaker@kdhnews.com

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