London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director Plans and Policy in the United States Central Command, said that the multinational forces are working on “driving a wedge between insurgents in Iraq and terrorists” so that all Iraqis may participate in the political process. General Kimmitt’s remarks came during a meeting with Arab journalists in London, after which he gave exclusive statements to Asharq al-Awsat, in which he stressed that “there is no place in Iraq for militias”, warning of the spread of the “seeds of sectarian divisions” there. Kimmitt went on to say that his country, along with its allies, is waging a “long war” on terrorism that will rage on for years to come, and which will not end with the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, even though he considered him “the greater threat” to the world today.
General Kimmitt said that the United States is focusing its efforts on “driving a wedge between the terrorists in Iraq, and those who feel left out of the political process”. However, he went on to stress: “we will not negotiate with terrorists who have blood on their hands.” He added, “A lot of people are still sitting on the fence. We wish to persuade these people to participate in the political process.” The general went on to say that, the United States is reaching out to “groups that might have contributed to limited operations, or might have provided assistance to other groups. We must distinguish between those who have blood on their hands, and those who provided limited assistance. All 25 million Iraqis have to be (politically) represented, not a few thousand terrorists.”
General Kimmit warned that “the seeds” of civil war have found their way into Iraq, but “are not being spread on fertile ground, which is in the form of 25 million Iraqis who do not want war.” He added, “There are those who wish to sowthese seeds and divide the country. This is what Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (leader of the Al-Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers) wants. Greatest way to prevent that is by the 25 million Iraqis who want to live in peace not to allow it to happen”.
Kimmitt voiced concerns over the possibility that “brothers might raise arms against one another because the United States is no stranger to this scenario, which we do not want to see happen in Iraq because it divided our country and it divides our country up to this point”.
Kimmit maintained that “there is not a place in Iraq for militias and extra-governmental security forces. Militias have to be gradually disbanded and absorbed into a single national Security apparatus.” He added, “The presence of militias gives meaning to the notion that this is not one national country, but is a collection of pockets of groups and tribes that are responsible for their own well-being. This is not what national sovereignty is about.” The general went on to say that the Coalition Provisional Authority (which ruled Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime) sought to dissolve the militias “when clear directives were issued regarding the need to disband militias in the long run. The process of demilitarization, demobilization and reintegration of some groups started, but it is not as far along as one would have hoped at this point. Clearly this is the long-term aspiration, not only for the Coalition but for the government themselves, that there would be no militias in the country”.
With respect to Kurdish militias, the General said: “Special arrangements were made in the Transitional Administration Law (TAL) and the current Iraqi constitution for the Peshmerga being a regional force. Over time, I see a day when these forces will be integrated in the overall national security apparatus, when the north will no longer have any reason to fear. That is a very important process of bringing all people together under the banner of one national army”.
General Kimmitt commended the Iraqi people, “who voted in the elections despite the dangers involved,” and said he was happy to “see all segments of the Iraqi people participating in the elections.” He added, “The discussions and neogitations over the formation of the government is a good thing because it is a sign of pluralism.” Kimmit did however express a “military fear from a surge in violence in Iraq,” noting “Al-Qaeda its affiliated movements want to see the political process fail. We expect Al-Zarqawi will launch violent strikes and step up his attacks, and will therefore double the efforts we are exerting with our Iraqi partners in confronting him.”
General Kimmit stressed that “we do not have an exit strategy in Iraq, but a success strategy that empowers Iraq,” and said that he has no knowledge “of the status of deliberations on the deployment of Arab forces in Iraq, but we welcome all organizations that serve progress in Iraq.”
Turning to the Iranian issue, General Kimmit denied there was a “direct link at the military level between Iraq and our attitude toward Iran.” He expressed “our fear of Iranian interference in Iraq, but we must admit that Iran is a strategic neighbor of Iraq, one that will always have influence in it. We want this effect to be a positive and constructive one.” He added, “We worry that Iran might be a source of IEDs and other unhelpful elements in Iraq, but we do not know if these elements are backed by the Iranian Government or other Iranian groups; nonetheless, the government must control these elements.”
As for the US Army’s readiness to take on new military operations despite its preoccupation in Iraq, the general said, “I am confident that the US Army and its allies are capable of carrying out any operation our government orders,” including operations in Iran. He did however stress that “we are not in the process of drawing up military plans for Syria.”
General Kimmitt said that “we have a long way to go before we can say that Iraq’s borders are secure,” but pointed out that the problems along the Iraqi border “are no different from those we face along different borders around the world, take for example the US-Mexican border which is somewhat porous. It is therefore important that we understand that problems with borders extend well beyond the narrow geographic strip between two countries”. He added, “For example, if Syria was to do more in Damascus at its airport, and if the policemen tighten their grip on the roads leading to the borders, then the borders would be much more secure because the insurgents would never get to the borders”.
Regarding US-Syrian ties, General Kimmitt said, “The United States obviously expects Syria to be a positive contributor to the region’s stability, but, like Iran, it refuses to cooperate.” He added,” Syria provides a safe haven to members of the former Iraqi regime, acts as a transit point for foreign fighters, and facilitates the flow of funds to terrorist organizations in Iraq.” The General went on to say: “One must admit that the Syrian Government and its army helped secure the borders to some extent, but this is not enough, Syria must ask itself whether or not the instability it is helping spread in Iraq is in its best interest.”
The General did not provide an exact figure for the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq through land borders, but said, “We estimate they are in the range of three digits, not in the two or four digits.”
General Kimmitt explained that his country is a waging a “long war on Al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements”, and compared this war to the “battles we waged against 20th century movements like Fascism and Communism.” He cautioned against “examining this problem from only the Iraq and Afghanistan perspectives, which would mean a failure to understand this movement’s ideology.” He added, “This movement’s main objective is to possess and deploy weapons of mass destruction. This movement and its leaders must therefore be defeated.” He maintained that this movement “will not die with the deaths of Bin Laden or Al-Zarqawi. The ideology fueling this movement must be defeated.” He described Al-Zarqawi as a “local threat to Iraq and its neighboring countries, whereas Al-Qaeda, under the command of Bin Laden, is far more dangerous, for it has struck in capital cities around the world.”