- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

The top U.S. commander for Iraq urged “patience” from “within the Beltway” on the war in Iraq and predicted that the tide of battle will improve next year once a permanent Iraqi government has been elected and put into place.

In a wide-ranging interview, Army Gen. John Abizaid refused to be drawn into the debate in Washington on whether there should be a U.S. troop pullout.

But the head of U.S. Central Command was emotional in making his case that a rejuvenated Iraqi security force will be able one day to defeat terrorists led by Abu Musab Zarqawi and former aides to deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

“It’s not hard to deal with patience in the Middle East. Everyone is patient,” Gen. Abizaid told reporters from three daily newspapers, including The Washington Times. “The only problem that there appears to be a patience problem is within the Beltway. … When I talk to civilian audiences, I don’t get the same sense of impatience that I detect here in the Beltway.”

“Inside the Beltway” is usually seen as a label for the politicians and press who dominate the culture in Washington. Gen. Abizaid made it clear that he is unhappy with press coverage, saying journalists do not report adequately on the enemy’s brutal tactics, such as blowing up mosques and schools, kidnappings and videotaped beheadings.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” he said. “What makes you guys think that we’re about to be thrown into the sea?”

He pointed to 2006 as a turning point.

“If we show patience and persistence, we can actually be successful,” he said. “There is no reason why we should look at the campaign at this particular time and say we can’t be successful, when all the indications are [that] we can and that we are being successful.”

Gen. Abizaid said he has been at command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., the past two weeks, so it is difficult to judge whether the political debate over Iraq has hurt troop morale.

The Senate defeated a Democratic proposal for a timetable for bring troops home. Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, last week urged an immediate withdrawal, producing a 403-3 vote in the House against such a measure.

The general said one of his first chores when he tours Iraq in the coming weeks will be to ask commanders whether the political process is hurting the troops.

“I’ll be out in the region. I’ll tell you whether I notice anything different,” Gen. Abizaid said. “But so far, it’s too soon to say whether the troops are wondering what’s going on. The last time I was out in the field was four or five weeks ago. Confidence was very high. That was right after the [Oct. 15] elections.”

The Dec. 15 elections for a permanent government are vital, he said.

“It will take the new government to get elected, and there will probably be a lot more continued violence between now and then,” he said.

When asked about charges from some Democrats that President Bush misled the country on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Gen. Abizaid talked about the war on terror’s broader goal, which he said is to keep such weapons out of the hands of al Qaeda and other terror groups.

Postwar inspectors found no major stocks of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but did find that programs remained in place and that Saddam planned to resume full-bore pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons once U.N. sanctions disappeared.

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