The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters security has improved in the country since the Iraqi government assumed the lead on June 30, but that the price has not been cheap.
“Never far from my mind is the sacrifices made by coalition forces, Iraqi forces and the Iraqi people to make this possible,” he said.
Terror groups are still trying to impose their will on Iraq and terrorize its people. A car bomb on Dec. 8 was responsible for many deaths and wounded many others. “While a grim reminder of the threat that remains among us, these attacks cannot dissuade is and must not deter us from the course we steer,” the chairman said.
Mullen said he was especially proud of the response of the Iraqi people. He said American officials here suspect that al-Qaida was probably behind the attack and two others that caused many civilian casualties. The group is seeking to divide the Iraqi people and begin a civil war between factions. The Iraqi people have not responded with sectarian violence he said.
The United States will maintain forces in Iraq at their current level of around 112,000 through the elections set for March 7, Mullen said. “We look forward to seeing free, fair and safe turnout,” he said.
After the elections, the United States will rapidly draw down forces to around 50,000 in the country by the end of August. All U.S. forces will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
The United States wants to maintain a long-term partnership with Iraq, he said, The relationship will be based on trust and mutual respect.
The admiral said he is in Iraq as part of a week-long trip to speak to American troops and to thank them for their service. But, “they aren’t home yet and their job isn’t done yet,” Mullen said. “We will not forget our investment here, we will not forget Iraq.”
The news conference was just one stop in a busy day for the admiral and his party. He started the day with a walk through a market in Abu Ghraib. He then went and met with Iraqi Defense Minister Qadir and Gen Babakir, the Iraqi military’s chief of defense. He next traveled to the new American embassy and met with Ambassador Christopher Hill and Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multinational Forces Iraq.
Mullen and his party then flew to Ramadi where he met with Anbar Governor Qasim al Fahawadi. Following the meeting, he flew to Al Asad Air Base to meet with Marines before leaving for Germany.