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Retired Colonel: Iraq Violence Will Remain Problem


Peter Mansoor served at General David Petraeus' executive officer in Iraq. He was a colonel in the U.S. Army. He's now retired and teaching military history at Ohio State.

Welcome to the program once again.

Colonel PETER MANSOOR (U.S. Army, Retired; Professor of Military History, Ohio State University): Well, thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: For some years, U.S. leaders have said that we will stand down as the Iraqis show that they can stand up. Can they actually stand up to the threats facing their government?

Col. MANSOOR: It remains to be seen. Clearly, the ball is in their court now. The Iraqi security forces have come a long way since their total dissolution in the 2003. Some units are clearly more ready than others, but they're going to be put to the test, and put to the test sooner rather than later.

SIEGEL: U.S. troops, of course, are still in Iraq. It would seem that they're in a difficult situation in which, if they are deployed on behalf of the Iraqis, then the withdrawal could appear to be a failure. But if they're called in to play a too large a role, then the Iraqi training effort looks like a failure.

Col. MANSOOR: The key, really, is the advisory effort at this point. Our advisors and trainers will remain embedded in Iraqi units, which will be in Iraqi cities. So we will have a few American soldiers and officers working with the Iraqi security forces wherever they are. And that really should become the main effort. Our combat forces are repositioned on the outskirts of the cities. They still are conducting counterterrorist activities in the rural areas and on the borders, but the main effort clearly is the Iraqi security forces, which now have the main responsibility for ensuring that sectarian violence doesn't erupt again.

SIEGEL: A lot more than just a few U.S. troops still there doing anti-terrorist work.

Col. MANSOOR: A hundred and thirty thousand. But it's pretty difficult since - this is really an urban-based insurgency. It's an urban-based terrorist environment - pretty difficult for U.S. forces positioned on the outskirts to do more than work at the margins of what is really the critical tasks ahead.

SIEGEL: Colonel Mansoor, I want to read you two sentences from today's Washington Post dispatch from Baghdad. Quote: "There is little talk among U.S. commanders and diplomats of engineering a victory in the two-and-a-half years they expect to remain here. Some officials have begun saying privately that the best case scenario would be to depart with a modicum of dignity." What do you think of that?

Col. MANSOOR: Modicum of dignity for sure, but also what you want to depart with is to leave a stable situation behind. And it's the creation of stability in Iraq that should be the operative goal moving forward.

SIEGEL: But those are relatively modest aims at this time, compared to where we were a few years ago.

Col. MANSOOR: Much more modest, but you can't forget that we have created a democracy. The Iraqis have created a democracy. It is a representative form of government, which is really the only form that will keep Iraq together as a nation-state. I think any other form would see a dissolution of the Iraqi state into two or three parts. So there is that. And whether that becomes some sort of model for other nations in the Middle East remains to be seen. The tides of history wash in strange directions.

SIEGEL: Do we have to accept that there will be a certain amount violence? That there will be acts of terrorism and some sectarian violence no matter what?

Col. MANSOOR: There will be. Iraq will be a violent place for years to come. There will be factions that don't accept the way the government is designed. They think that they could get more out of violence than through the political process. But clearly, it's in the Iraqi's interest and our interest, as well, to keep those elements in the strict minority and to do what we can to, again, continue to reconcile with those factions willing to reconcile and continue to hunt down those that aren't. Terrorism will be a fact of life for - that Iraq's going to have to deal with for a long time to come, unfortunately.

SIEGEL: Colonel Mansoor, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Col. MANSOOR: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Peter Mansoor. He's a retired U.S. Army colonel, and now teaching military history at the Ohio State University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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