By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
BAGHDAD, Dec. 12 -- The outgoing top U.S. operational commander in Iraq said on Tuesday that military might alone would not win the war and that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would not happen quickly.
"I wish I could tell you exactly how long it's going to take and exactly when U.S. forces and coalition forces could go home, but I am just not able to do that," said Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of the Multi-National Corps -- Iraq.
Chiarelli, who is preparing to end his second one-year tour in Iraq, gave a mostly positive but sober assessment of U.S. military involvement in Iraq.
He praised his forces' efforts to tamp down the violence that escalated after the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra in February. But he acknowledged that securing Iraq was taking longer than expected.
"None of us would make the claim that it's going as fast as we want it to go," he said.
Top military leaders had declared 2006 "the year of the police" to acknowledge the importance of training not just the Iraqi army but also the police in any strategy for withdrawing U.S. troops.
Chiarelli said military officials did not think the police would need so much training and did not know that "in some instances militia influence in the police was as high as it was."
Chiarelli expressed frustration that "we seem to be totally focused on the military solution to this, like somehow it will be the thing that will win this." He said that deploying additional U.S. forces would not solve Iraq's problems. Providing jobs, electricity and drinkable water and cleaning up streets would, he said.
"If I could drive down unemployment in this country just to something that was reasonable, or if other people could help me drive unemployment down here," he said, "I promise you, our casualty figures would not be as high, nor would Iraqi casualties be as high as they are today, nor would the level of violence be as high as it is today."
The bipartisan Iraq Study Group last week recommended that the focus of U.S. troops in Iraq be shifted from combat to training Iraqi soldiers and police officers, and that most combat brigades be withdrawn by early 2008.
The military has embedded U.S. advisers with Iraqi army divisions and the national police since 2004; 300 such teams are in the country, each with 10 to 15 members.
Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commanding general of the Iraq Assistance Group, which oversees the teams, said on Tuesday that he plans to add members to each team.
But Pittard warned that training the Iraqi forces should be coupled with a reconciliation of the government's warring factions as well as economic and quality of life improvements.
"The embedded transition team is not the Rosetta stone of Iraq," he said after meeting with 3rd Iraqi Army Division leaders at a base near Mosul. The division, one of three in the country that has taken control of security in its community, oversees an area spanning 30 miles between Mosul and Tall Afar in northern Iraq.
He called the study group's report "just one more opinion on how to help Iraq and America to be successful here, but it's not the end-all."
Pittard was reluctant to give a timetable for withdrawal. He called 2008 a "good goal" but said, "We really have to see how 2007 goes."