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US General: Iraqi Government, Local Insurgents, Keys to Iraq's Future

The top U.S. military officer expressed the hope on Thursday that as a new Iraqi government takes power in the coming months, many of the Iraqi insurgents will decide to lay down their arms. But a member of the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee says that may not happen very quickly. Both men have just ended visits to Iraq. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon on comments the two officials made on Thursday.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, says he found a much improved situation during his visit. He says more and more Iraqi military units are demonstrating their competence and taking control of parts of the country, freeing up U.S. troops to perform support and training functions.

General Pace attributed the continuing violence, including high death tolls from bombings this week, to an effort mainly by foreign insurgents to disrupt the formation of the new Iraqi government. He said that effort will fail and predicted that foreign insurgents will become increasingly isolated as the new government takes power and native-Iraqi insurgents move to become part of the political process.

"As they see the results of these elections, as they see their own government providing a way ahead that all of their citizens can understand as progress for their country, that those who are fighting against the government right now who are Iraqis will more and more lay down their arms and decide to become part of the future of Iraq, and not the past," he said.

General Pace says for that to happen, the Iraqi government will have to be inclusive and effective, the Iraqi military and police forces will have to continue to develop and the Iraqi people will have to stop allowing insurgents to operate in their cities and towns.

Senator Jack Reed, a Democratic Party member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, agrees that the performance of the new Iraqi government is crucially important. But he says even if it is successful Iraqi insurgents are not likely to lay down their arms anytime soon.

"Hopefully that's a goal, but I would guess that that process would take many, many years," he said. "I think you would be, I think, somewhat naïve to assume that some of these people who are resisting, native-Iraqis, would come in peacefully or in the near future, even if the government was making progress."

And speaking from Qatar, where he arrived Thursday after two days in Iraq, Senator Reed said if the Iraqi political parties fail to form an inclusive government, or if the government is not competent and effective, the Iraqi part of the insurgency could pose a greater threat than the foreign fighters.

"If this political process does not prevail or succeed, if the ministries of Iraq don't function, if the leadership of Iraq is not inclusive and people lose faith in this governmental process, I don't think they'll turn to Islamic fundamentalists, international terrorists," he said. "They may turn to native-born nationalists, who are urging that this government be thrown out and that the Americans leave with it. So, in my view, that's a much more credible threat."

Senator Reed says it is essential for the United States to continue providing support for the Iraqi military, and also to provide civilian support for the new Iraqi national government, and for provincial governments.

General Pace also called for continued U.S. support for Iraq, but he said whether the country's democratic experiment succeeds depends mainly on the Iraqis themselves.

"The difference will be the ability of the Iraqi armed forces and Iraqi police to maintain order inside the cities and countryside, and the desire of the Iraqi people to lead a normal life," he said.

General Pace says the U.S. military is putting increasing emphasis on training elite Iraqi police commandos in order to provide security in local areas throughout the country.