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Time Is Short For Iraq Turnaround

US Admiral William Fallon.
by Jim Mannion
Washington (AFP) Jan 30, 2007
US forces are running up against the clock in implementing a badly-needed new strategy in Iraq, the admiral who is set to take over the command of US forces in the Middle East said Tuesday. "I believe the situation in Iraq can be turned around but time is short," Admiral William Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "There are no guarantees but you can depend on me for my best effort."

Fallon, who has been named to replace General John Abizaid as head of the US Central Command, said US troops would be at greater risk but there was a pressing need to try a different approach.

The admiral, who currently heads the US Pacific command, also said he would seek regional and allied support for efforts to counter Iran which he said was developing military capabilites to deny US forces access to the oil-rich Gulf.

"It seems to me in the entire approach to Iran we'll be looking for help from the region, and to look at the full range of options, diplomatically and every other way," he said.

Fallon endorsed the broad outlines of the US administration's new strategy of deploying an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq, mainly to secure Baghdad, but said details of the plan have yet to be developed.

"What we've been doing is not working. We've got to be doing something different," he said.

The Iraqi government commitment to take a series of political steps as part of the new strategy was a "critical question," he said, adding that "unless this begins to happen I doubt we're going to be effective in the military arena."

The so-called "benchmarks" include promises to deploy Iraqi brigades in Baghdad, the passage of a hydrocarbons law assuring equitable distribution of oil revenues, provincial elections, and the dismantling of militias at the source of the sectarian violence.

"I believe there will have to be a firm understanding that we are not in an open-ended situation where we're just going to sit around and wait for things to happen."

"I believe in giving the Iraqis some time. How much time I don't know. But time is running out," he said

At the same time, Fallon said he said it would be "wise to temper our expectations" and called for a reassment of US goals.

"Let's get an assessment of what's realistic and what's practical and maybe we ought to redefine the goals here a bit and do something that is more realistic in terms of getting some progress, and then maybe take on the other things later," he said.

Senators complained the military had not been candid in their past assessments of progress in Iraq, leaving the United States now facing what may be its last opportunity to salvage the situation.

"Of all places we need candid assessments and you'll get them from me," Fallon promised.

As an admiral, Fallon is an unusual choice to lead the US Central Command, which oversees the ground wars under way in Iraq and Afghanistan and traditionally has been led by army or marine corps generals.

But he comes with a reputation as a gifted strategist who in his current assignment has pushed for greater military contacts with China and a steady approach to dealing with an unpredictable, nuclear armed North Korea.

His appointment, which the Senate was expected to confirm, coincides with a decision to send a second US aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf, raising the US naval presence in the region to its highest level since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Asked whether he had been asked to update war plans for Iran, Fallon said he had not and was not aware of any such plans at the US Central Command.

The admiral did not rule out engaging Iran diplomatically, but said he would have to get "a better assessment of exactly where we stand."

Judging from its weapons acquisitions and tactics, he said, Iran is "trying to grow an anti-access force that would, I believe, be intended to try to deny us access to the Gulf if the situation arose that they might feel compelled to do that."

Asked about a report that Iran and North Korea are working in concert on the development of a long range missile, Fallon said, "There is no doubt there has been an interaction between North Korea and Iran in exchanging technology."

Fallon added, however, that Iran's economy also is critically dependent on oil exports.

"And those exports, of course, go through the same Straits of Hormuz that they would potentially seek to deny us access to," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Iraq Beset By Soaring Civilian Death Toll
Washington (UPI) Jan 30, 2007
How many civilians have died or are dying in Iraq? No one knows for sure. But the figure is definitely in the scores of thousands -- and the rate and scale of killings appears to be rapidly accelerating. The Web site as of Monday, Jan. 29, said that a minimum of 55,136 civilians had been killed by military intervention in Iraq. It gave its estimated maximum figure as 60,821.

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