Top US general warns against
sectarian tensions in IraqGeneral Lloyd Austin warns Iraq remain fragile amid sectarian
tensions, political discord in country.'Some of
the things that we're seeing in Iraq are very troubling'Middle East Online WASHINGTON:
Sectarian tensions and political discord in Iraq signal a "troubling" trend in
the country since US troops withdrew a year ago, a top American general warned
Iraq has remained stable but "fragile," said
General Lloyd Austin, who was the last US commander in Iraq before all his
forces withdrew in December 2011.
Austin offered his assessment when pressed by
Republican Senator John McCain, a hawk on the Iraq war who has heavily
criticized President Barack Obama for pulling out American troops.
"So do you believe Iraq is headed in a positive or
negative direction?" McCain asked the general.
"Sir, I think, again, some of the things that
we're seeing in Iraq are very troubling, with the Arab current tensions, with
the Sunni protests," he said.
McCain then asked: "So whether we had troops there
-- a residual force there or not wouldn't have mattered?"
Austin acknowledged that a US troop presence would
have been helpful.
"I think that, certainly, if we could have
continued to advise and assist the Iraqis, I think certainly it would have
continued to make them better."
The Obama administration says it sought to
negotiate a follow-on force but the Iraqi government refused to grant legal
immunity to US forces deployed there.
McCain and some other lawmakers, however, have
argued that the White House did not make a concerted effort to clinch an
Austin said that while there was cause for
concern, there were also some encouraging signs, citing oil production and the
performance of Iraqi security forces, which he said had remained united despite
"They've been challenged several times, in terms
of security, but the security forces have really held, and they're still loyal
to the civilian leadership. They haven't fractured," the general said.
"And so there are a couple of things in there that
do indicate that if they begin to make the right decisions politically, that I
think they have a chance at moving in the right direction."
Austin discussed Iraq and other hotspots at a
Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to take over US
Central Command, which oversees US forces across the Middle East and
Iraq has been rocked by a wave of car bombs and
suicide attacks in recent weeks, raising fears of a return to the sectarian
bloodshed that plagued the country from 2005 to 2008.
The violence has come against a backdrop of
political crisis and weeks of protests in Sunni-majority areas demanding the
ouster of Shiite prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.