LONDON, Asharq Al-Awsat- despite Iraq and Afghanistan remaining the central focus in the war against terrorism, the US is more concerned with the Al-Qaeda movement said Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director of Plans and Strategy for Central Command.
Kimmitt a senior American military strategist, told a group of Arab Journalists at the American Embassy, in central London, that the US believes that even if Iraq and Afghanistan would stabilize tomorrow there would still be a residual and long-term presence of al Qaeda and its associates in the region.
The affects of al Qaeda and its associates in the region are "profound and deadly", he said during a short stop-over in London on his way to Brussels.
These groups and their base al Qaeda represent a far greater threat in the long run than Iraq and Afghanistan, the General surmised.
He referred in this connection to the Madrid bombings, the Jeddah bombings and the bombings in Jakarta, London, Istanbul, and many other places.
In the meantime, Kimmitt said that the Central Command has a positive view towards the future of Iraq and Afghanistan as the result of the great organization set up to handle both problems.
However, the long-term threat remains al Qaeda and its extremist movements "and how they must be battled, in the same way that we battled fascism and communism".
"This ideology threatens secular nations in the region and this is an ideology that wants to return the world to what was happening 1,000 years ago", he said.
Brigadier General Kimmitt was confident that tremendous progress was achieved in the region in the fight against internal terrorism, as moderate Muslim voices speak out against violence and terrorism.
On the other hand he believed that in the long run the US presence in the region must be much smaller not larger, and not the same as it is now, and would be more able to help those nations "help themselves".
"One must have patience as insurgencies could go on for ten or twelve years on the average, so putting any kind of timeline on the US withdrawal from Iraq is unhelpful".
"We must have the patience to reach the conclusion, and the second element of success is it must be the Iraqis that take on the majority of military and political efforts, and in that regard we are making significant progress".
Brigadier General Kimmitt recalled that the Iraqi army is being rebuilt from scratch "and now there are more than 100 battalions created within its ranks".
But he acknowledged that the Iraqi army is not a first rate military force yet "they are getting better, but it takes time".
In a related development he supports the idea of re-integrating lower military ranks in the old Iraqi army in the new armed forces.
He emphasized the need for the Iraqi army to represent all sections of the Iraqi society, the Sunnis, the Shiites, the Kurds, and all other ethnic groups.
"We do not want the Iraqi army to make the same mistake of Saddam Hussein to exclude large parts of the population as the Sunnis were in that time over represented"
"The army must be answerable to the constitution and not to a dictator, and that the purpose of that army is for the peoples” protection and not for extortion or to carry out genocide as Saddam had done", he said.
In answer to another question, Brigadier General Kimmitt said that there are no plans at this point that the operations in Iraq would be either a model or a template nor strategy for operations.
However, the US army will take some lessons from the Iraqi experience, Brigadier General Kimmitt underlined.
On the initiative to organize a national reconciliation conference in Iraq to help stabilize the country, Brigadier General Kimmitt expressed his support for such a move.
The US Government is interested in any efforts that could lead to a
decrease in tension and help national reconciliation, he said.
On the deployment of a Muslim or Arab peacekeeping force in Iraq, he said the US would be "very open minded about this in order to help the political process".
Turning back to al Qaeda and its threat, Kimmitt declined to comment on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden.
However, he made clear that the al Qaeda ideology "is not that of one man, it is much larger than that".
On the Iranian interference in Iraq, he said that the US remains concerned as to the Iranian motivation in Iraq.
"Clearly Iran is a geographic neighbor and it will always have relations with Iraq".
The senior US commander said that the US has seen evidence of arms being transferred across the borders, and Iranian intelligence activities inside
He called on Iran to be helpful in the process of reconstructing and
rebuilding Iraq on a democratic basis.
On Syria, Kimmitt spoke about the transference of terrorists into Iraq through Aleppo and Damascus airports.
He accused Syria of creating instability inside Iraq while also indicating that rejectionist Palestinian groups are still operating inside Damascus.
Brigadier General Kimmitt recalled what the US Secretary of State Dr
Condoleezza Rice has said that Syria should be part of the solution and not the problem, and it should halt the flow of foreign fighters over the border, turn over the Iraqi Baathist and close down the Palestinian rejectionist offices there.