By Gen. George Casey Commander, MNF-I
Our recent celebrations of religious holidays provide opportunities to honor and reflect upon what is important to us. We are indeed fortunate to be able to acknowledge our differences and practice our religion freely without fear of threats or retribution and we look forward, along with our Iraqi friends, to the days in the near future when the Iraqi people will enjoy the same opportunities. Indeed, this season is a season of hope for all who desire to turn away from violence and embrace a free, pluralistic, and democratic society.
Prime Minister Al Maliki recently hosted the Iraqi Political Parties' National Reconciliation Conference to bring together leaders from different sects within Iraqi society. In his own words, "the aim of this meeting and the meetings preceding it was not just increasing hopes and expectations, but to identify difficulties and challenges which are facing the country, and we strongly believe that national reconciliation is the only salvation's raft that will guarantee achieving results leading to achieving peace, stability, and prosperity, because the reverse alternative (god forbid) is death, destruction, losing Iraq and tearing of its national unity."
This is a tremendous sign for the Iraqi people as its leaders engage in discussion and debate in lieu of violence to resolve the problems facing Iraq today. I am hopeful of the progress being made by Iraqi leaders on behalf of the Iraqi people in terms of security, economic, and health issues. I applaud the Prime Minister's efforts to create a strong and capable Army which has a national alliance first and one that is not an army of privileges and military coups. I am confident in our ability to assist the Prime Minister in the development of the Army and its capability and in the transition of the security mission from Coalition Forces to the Iraqi Army. We have agreed to the quickening of the transfer of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces and will maintain support to the Iraqi government until the full transfer of security responsibilities has been completed. We are engaging in a historic opportunity to provide training, assistance, and support to a society determined to depart its past history and chart a new direction for its people---one that recognizes and respects the value of diversity among its citizens.
In this season of hope, we as members of the Multi-National Force- Iraq traditionally spend time with family and friends. I recognize and appreciate your sacrifices and, in particular, your separation from family and friends during this special time of year. And, more importantly, our fellow citizens at home have demonstrated in many ways their appreciation of your dedication, your selfless service, and your commitment to the mission at hand. You are true heroes, to give up so much for the sake of others. To those who have served in this theater, I offer my sincerest gratitude and admiration. Let us all take time this week to remember and honor those of our brothers and sisters who have served selflessly and faithfully, and offered the ultimate sacrifice.
God bless you, your families, the United States of America, our coalition partners, and the freedom-loving people of Iraq.