After 30 years in the Army, Col. William Ivey is retiring, again. At his previous retirement he was Chief of Staff, US 8th Army, Korea. Col. Ivey returned to active duty so he could serve in Iraq, where he was Deputy CO, Task Force 134 for 14 months. He has kindly given us permission to publish his final assessment of the situation there.
We salute this distinguished warrior, and add our deep thanks for his long and devoted service to our country.
Al Qaida is wounded and is lashing out. Although not defeated, our operations have significantly degraded their leadership capability. They are having success in killing Shia civilians, which gives the Shia militias an excuse to murder Sunnis in retaliation. This sectarian militia violence poses the largest threat to the stability of Iraq, and therefore we are focusing much of our effort against the various militias.
Despite the impression given by much of the press, we don't ride and walk around all day waiting to be blown up by an IED. Our intelligence enables us to conduct raids every day and every night to kill or capture specific targets, which in turn leads to more intelligence. Concurrently we are training the Iraqi Army, which is becoming quite good at accepting battlespace from us and taking the lead in the fight. We still have a number of challenges training the police. We turned over the security of the first province to the Iraqi security forces, and will steadily add provinces this fall.
Caught up in the day to day operations, casualties, and events of this fight, it is easy to become mired in the belief that we are not making progress. One has to occasionally step back from the current fight and assess how far we have come. Since my arrival in May 05, the Iraqis have written and ratified a Constitution, elected a government in a free, democratic process, and made significant progress in developing a capable Army. We have inflicted significant damage on Al Qaida and its leadership, and have prevented them from gaining the initiative. Much work has been done to rebuild the infrastructure that received no attention during Saddam's regime.
However, we still have a tough fight ahead of us. We are focusing on disarming or destroying the militias and securing Baghdad, while concurrently continuing to pound Al Qaida. The Government leaders have said the right things, but now need to follow through with action. They must take concrete steps to unify Iraq and eliminate sectarian violence. They have about six months to get it right and show some progress. Our DOD, DOS, and DOJ advisors are working hard to make it happen.
I think it is important to remember that Al Qaida chose to fight us in Iraq, not the other way around. We are their main effort, and their senior leadership understands what is at stake in Iraq. It's about defeating the United States and establishing a base of operations in the Middle East from which to continue their terrorist quest to establish a caliphate that reaches across North Africa and into Europe, increasing their chances for successful strikes against the U.S. homeland. America needs to wake up and understand that we have more at stake as a country in this fight than we did in WW II. Losing Iraq will provide Al Qaida a significant base of operations and the psychological edge to continue to attack America and enlist allies in their cause. Conversely, defeating Al Qaida in Iraq and establishing a democracy with an economy embracing capitalism will start to unravel the repressive regimes of the Middle East that provide the support base Al Qaida so desperately needs.
As I close out this tour, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the great Americans carrying this fight to the enemy, GEN George Casey. In June he began his third year as the overall commander in Iraq. The continuity he provides in both defeating the enemy and building a democratic Iraq cannot be underestimated. He is shouldering a heavy burden for our country, and America owes him a heavy debt of gratitude. It was my honor to serve with him on both ends of my career. With him the entire tour has been another outstanding Soldier, CSM Jeff Mellinger, an NCO who truly exemplifies the NCO and Ranger Creeds as he moves around Iraq checking on the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who are doing the heavy lifting.
As I depart, I will miss the great young Americans who do our country's tough work every day and every night. Their selfless service, dedication, teamwork, camaraderie, and humor in the face of adversity are beacons for all Americans to follow. I will miss the smile on an Iraqi child's face when we open her new school, and the satisfaction our engineers have when they provide potable water to a village. I will miss the determination of the Iraqi people to risk death in order to exercise their right to vote. I will miss the NCO Corps, truly the backbone of our Army and the single characteristic that distinguishes our Army from every other army in the world. The NCOs guarantee us victory in every endeavor. I won't miss the rear echelon military bureaucracy we have created to support this operation, despite the valiant efforts of outstanding staff officers and NCOs to fight through it and accomplish the mission. I won't miss performing or attending memorial services. I thought I had attended my last one on Sunday, but we had another Soldier killed by an IED four days before I left. Losing these great young Americans has become progressively harder each of my 31 years in this business. I guess it has a cumulative effect.
We have made an astounding amount of progress in the past 14 months, and are on the edge of winning this fight. The next six months will be decisive. We will destroy the militias and continue to decimate Al Qaida. Our biggest challenge is to get this new Government to step up to the plate, begin cleaning out the corruption, and take decisive steps in securing its people. Concurrently we must help them fight the growing Iranian influence. It is a tough fight, but the Iraqis can do it as long as America does not lose its resolve. With what is at stake for us, we cannot afford to.
John B. Dwyer 8 03 06