WASHINGTON — The top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Sunday that U.S. troops likely will remain there for the next few years though the numbers will be scaled back as Iraqi forces gain strength.
“I see a couple of more years of this with a gradually reducing coalition presence here in Iraq ... as the Iraqi security forces step forward,” Gen. George W. Casey said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Casey said he did not think at the time the war began that the insurgency in Iraq would have been as robust as it has been.
Casey said he did not believe Iraq was in danger of falling into civil war, although he said it remained a possibility because of increased sectarian tensions and violence.
“The situation here is fragile,” he said. “I suspect it will remain fragile here until we get a new government, a government of national unity, formed.”
Citing training of Iraqi security forces and elections over the past year, Casey said good progress was being made politically and militarily in Iraq.
“What the long-term nature of our presence here might be is a subject for a discussion with the new government of Iraq,” he said.
A prominent opponent of the war, Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, repeated his call for redeploying U.S. troops over a six-month period to take them out of what he called a civil war.
“We have to say to the Iraqis, ‘This is your war. This is no longer our war. You’ve got an elected government. This is up to you now to settle this thing,”’ Murtha said.
Murtha, also appearing on NBC, said he didn’t see progress in Iraq in terms of the slow training of security forces and the low levels of employment, fresh water, electricity and oil production.
Cheney denies civil war
Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that Iraq is not in the midst of a civil war, but instead described the violence as a desperate tactic by terrorists in the country to stop the move to democracy.
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“What we’ve seen is a serious effort by them to foment a civil war,” Cheney said in an interview on “Face the Nation” on CBS on the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “But I don’t think they’ve been successful.”
Cheney said he disagrees with Iraq’s former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, who said in an interview Sunday that the increasing attacks across his country can only be described as a civil war .
“It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more,” Allawi told the British Broadcasting Corp. “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.”
Cheney said he did not think optimistic statements that he has made about the war have contributed to Americans’ skepticism about the war. For instance, the vice president predicted that invading U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators and then said 10 months ago that the insurgency is in its last throes, even though violence still rages. Cheney said the optimistic statements “were basically accurate, reflect reality.”
He said most Americans have a negative perception of Iraq because they keep seeing daily violence in the news instead of the progress being made toward democracy.
“There is a constant sort of perception, if you will, that’s created because what’s newsworthy in the car bomb in Baghdad,” he said. “It’s not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces.”
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