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Pace: Iraq Government Must Do Better
Associated Press  |  March 23, 2006
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The Iraqi government must do a better job recruiting members of all religious sects to help stem the unrest rocking the country, the top U.S. military commander said Wednesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said he had underestimated how reluctant Iraqis would be to accept a unified government. He blamed it on their wariness after the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Pace said the U.S. must continue to encourage the Iraqis to bring more Sunnis into the Shiite-dominated military and police. There have been reports of death squads among the security forces killing and torturing minority Sunnis.

"They realize that they need to have a balance," said Pace in an interview en route to meetings with members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia.

"Units that are purely Shiite or Kurd or Sunni are looked on by various other sectors of the community as not being representative of their needs," Pace said.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra, creating concern that the country may be tipping toward civil war. Pace and other military officials have said they do not believe Iraq is about to go over that edge, though Pace has said he thinks the country is at a crossroads.

Leaders of Iraq's factions are still blocking each other in efforts to form a new government, more than three months after parliamentary elections. Pace said he had thought the people would be quicker to embrace the idea of a central government.

"I certainly did not understand the depth of fear that was generated by the decades of Saddam's rule," said Pace. "I think a lot of Iraqis have been in the wait-and-see mode longer than I thought they would."

Deep divisions between the country's religions sects have triggered deadly attacks, particularly in the volatile region north of Baghdad that includes Samarra.

The sectarian violence has slowed the move to a unified government, a process that U.S. officials have said is critical to the ability of the country to stand on its own and improve its economy. Stability, in turn, would let the U.S. begin more substantial troop withdrawals.

Pace, who spent two days in Pakistan earlier this week, said the U.S. can help the Iraqis better integrate their forces by providing computer systems and other aid to help them weed out people who have acted against other sects.

With integration of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds into the government and the security forces, people will more easily believe they are part of the process, said Pace.

"A unit that has all Iraqis embedded in it is better able to handle whatever kind of strife comes along," the general added.

Currently there are about 240,000 Iraqi soldiers and police, with the most gains coming in the military, Pace said.

But those joining are still largely Shiite. War coalition and Iraqi officials have said they need to bring in more Sunni soldiers and police to better control the Sunni-dominated regions of the country.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, Pace met with King Abdullah for more than an hour. He also met with Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz, who is the defense minister, and Prince Khalid Bin Sultan, the deputy defense minister.

One of the topics was the Saudis' desire to have more training and military exercises with the U.S.

Pace toured the farm estate of the crown prince, which includes a replica of the ornate mud hut he grew up in.

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