WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s top general acknowledged Sunday that “anything can happen” in Iraq, but he said he did not think a full-blown civil conflict would break out, and that things in Iraq aren’t as bad as some say.
“I wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they’re going very, very well from everything you look at,” Gen. Peter Pace said Sunday.
The comments drew criticism that Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is glossing over problems in the three-year-old U.S. campaign.
“Why would I believe him?” asked Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a major critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the war. “This administration, including the president, (has) mischaracterized this war for the last two years.”
Pace cited political progress such as holding elections and writing a constitution as well as military progress like training Iraqi security forces.
“No matter where you look – at their military, their police, their society – things are much better this year than they were last,” Pace said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Murtha, responding to Pace in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said that Iraq has 60 percent unemployment, oil production below prewar levels, and water service to only 30 percent of the population.
American troops are doing everything they can militarily but “are caught in a civil war,” said Murtha, a former Marine who has called on the administration to bring U.S. troops home.
“There’s two participants fighting for survival and fighting for supremacy inside that country,” he said of ethnic divisions. “And that’s my definition of a civil war.”
Murtha added: “The rhetoric is so frustrating – when they keep making statements which are very optimistic, and then it turns out to be the opposite. … And the public has caught on to that, and they’re very pessimistic about the outcome.”
Pace said the violent firestorm that followed the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque two weeks ago had forced Iraqis to look into “that abyss” and realize “that’s not where they want to go.”
“Anything can happen, I agree,” Pace said, then added: “I believe the Iraqi people have shown in the last week to 10 days that they do not want civil war.”