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U.S. General Says Iraq Will Move Toward Stability

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, expressed optimism about the situation in Iraq, saying the country is moving toward stability despite reports of growing sectarian violence.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And now to our interview with Army General John Abizaid, commander of the Central Command, which includes all U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I talked with him earlier today.

    General, welcome. U.N. Secretary-General Annan said the other day that, if current trends continue, Iraq could break down into a full-scale civil war. Is he right?

    GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, Top U.S. Commander in the Middle East: I think current trends today look certainly better than when I testified back in August. The situation is improving somewhat.

    Certainly, there's a lot of sectarian violence. I believe that we've got the military capacity and the Iraqis have the political will to get things under control. And I think it will start moving towards stability slowly but surely.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Why can't the sectarian violence be stopped?

  • GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:

    The sectarian violence is very, very difficult to control, because it involves very small, cellular groups of death squads that move about the city, that move into pre-designated targets that they've already selected, that has already been surveilled, that have certainly been well-known to various people that are plotting to get these particular people.

    And they go in and get them. And then, when they can't get their designated targets, they go after completely random targets, so it's a very, very difficult military security problem that's tough to defend against.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And you're saying that's getting better? It seems, in the last several weeks, at least on our program every day, we've been reporting more and more bodies found, people being tortured. There seems to be on the increase, but you're saying it's getting better?

  • GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:

    It's certainly better in the areas where we've applied military forces. The overall numbers show a slight decrease; I wouldn't say it's substantial. But in the areas where we've been operating, in the Doura district and the Amiriyah district and others…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    In Baghdad?

  • GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:

    … in Baghdad. And Baghdad's really the key problem. As a matter of fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of the sectarian difficulties that take place in Iraq take place within a 30-mile radius of Baghdad.

    In those areas that we've been operating with U.S. forces and Iraqi forces — and we continue to operate — there is a decrease. But we're not everywhere. We're moving step by step, section by section, and it will take some time. We will begin to really see whether or not we're being successful in a month or two.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    In a month or two?

  • GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:

    That's right.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And how will success be judged?

  • GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:

    Success will be judged by the level of sectarian violence, murders, in particular, in the areas where we're operating being less.

    And it certainly — look, it's a program that involves not just putting military forces on the street, but it also requires that Iraqi and U.S. special forces go after the death squads. We have to target them. We have to do the intelligence work necessary to know where they are. Then we've got to go after them and take them out of action, whether it's by direct military action or some other form.

    But it's very, very important that these death squads be put out of action. The militias have to be, over time, brought under governmental control; that still remains a problem. Then there has to be, most importantly, I think of all, a reconciliation program moved forward that gives people in Baghdad reason to believe that things are going to get better.

    I was in some of these neighborhoods. I went there after I testified last summer. I talked to some of the folks in the Sunni neighborhoods that were having the most difficulty. They are more appreciative to have coalition forces in their neighborhoods than they have been at any time since we've been there, and so that's a good sign.