Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat – US military spokesman in Iraq, General Jeffrey Buchanan, has stated that the greatest threat facing Iraqi national security today comes from Iranian-backed armed militias.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat in an exclusive interview, US General Buchanan, stated that “I am most concerned about the military groups that are supported by Iran, whether we are talking about Asaib Ahl al-Haq or the Hezbollah brigades [in Iraq].”
He stressed that “all of these groups have ties to Iran; whilst their leadership is present in the country” adding that “these groups have clear ties with the [Iranian] Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp [IRCG].”
General Buchanan also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Iraqi forces and government has intensified their targeting of such groups, but Iran’s role in seeking to ensure that Iraq remains weak and isolated from the surrounding region makes me fear for Iraq’s future, particularly with regards to the role of Al Qaeda.”
The US military spokesman in Iraq also revealed that the greatest threat to Iraqi stability, rather than a pure security threat, remains the “the government’s ability to provide the people with simple and necessary services.” He added that the government must “foster genuine dialogue between the different communities” in order to strengthen Iraqi unity.
In addition to the threat of Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, Al Qaeda also continues to have a strong presence in the country. As for the coordinated suicide attacks that struck Iraq last Monday, killing around 70 people – not to mention the intensification of terrorist attacks in Iraq in general – US General Jeffrey Buchanan told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this reflects the general situation [in Iraq]. There is a complex security atmosphere, and there are several factors that give rise to the violence.” He acknowledged that “no party has claimed responsibility for these attacks” before adding that all signs indicate that “Al Qaeda in Iraq” is responsible for the attacks.
The US military spokesman stressed that these attacks “confirm that the Al Qaeda organization remain a dangerous threat [in Iraq]. Although it [Al Qaeda] does not represent the same threat to the entire country that it did in 2005 and 2006 due to its isolation, Iraq remains a dangerous place.”
General Buchanan also commented on the general security situation in Iraq, stressing that this was “moving in the right direction.” He said that “in 2007 there was an average of 145 attacks per day, whilst today this average stands at 14 attacks per day, so the number of attacks has fallen” adding that “the Iraqi security forces have taken over security control of the country and are doing an excellent job.”
He also stressed that Washington is aware of the threat of attack from “Al Qaeda in Iraq”, and the terrorist organization’s ability to import supports and suicide bombers into the country. US General Buchanan also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “despite some success in targeting Al Qaeda leaders in Iraq like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and others, the current [Al Qaeda in Iraq] leader remains present and relatively stable.” However he added that “mid-level and lower level leaders have been forced to constantly change their leaders because of our success in targeting them.”
Citing an example of this, General Buchanan said that the “military commander” of the Al Qaeda in Iraq group in Nineveh province has been forced to replace its leader 5 times this year, following the arrest or death of the previous 4 “emirs.”
He added that “those who are in these [leadership] positions do not have the same level of experience as the Al Qaeda old guard, but from another point of view, the [Al Qaeda] organization is capable of bringing in new leaders constantly.”
US General Buchanan also revealed that the major cause for the lack of security in Iraq today is the delay in the naming of the Iraqi Defense and Interior Ministers. He stressed that “this has affected the security situation and the daily operations of both ministries…for these are two large bureaucratic ministries that require the Minister to make important decisions on a daily-basis on a wide-range of issues, from allocating financial resources to specific security operations.”
He added that the solution of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki taking over the responsibility of both Interior and Defense Ministers – in addition to his own duties as prime minister – had led to the delay of a number of important but routine decisions. Buchanan stressed that “the impact of this, over a number of months, has led to a number of important decisions not being taken “” adding that “there is a need for leadership in both ministries. This is imperative.”
The delay in naming the Iraqi Defense and Interior Ministers has also affected the talks surrounding the possibility of Iraq agreeing a new security pact with the US which would see US troops remaining stationed on Iraqi after the end of 2011, when US troops must completely withdraw from the country, according to the US – Iraq Status of Forces Agreement.
US General Buchanan told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this has affected the process being undertaken by the ministries to identify their points of strength and weakness” as well as their operation and preparation for the forthcoming stage, following the US withdrawal.
As for the possibility of Iraq signing a new security agreement with Washington, Buchanan said “in the end, it is up to the Iraqi leadership to determine the risks associated with the threats they are facing, and whether they are capable of accepting these threats, for the question is: how will they deal with these threats? One of the ways…is for them to ask for the US to keep our troops stationed in the country.”