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Danger remains in Iraq, commander says
Austin taking over U.S. troops in Iraq
Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III - photo by U.S. Army photo
WASHINGTON, June 24, 2010 - Iraq has been transformed, but dangers remain, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead U.S. forces there said today.

Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a confirmation hearing. If he's confirmed by the Senate, he'll receive his fourth star and succeed Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno as commander of U.S. Forces Iraq. Odierno has been nominated to lead U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Austin saluted the service and sacrifices of U.S. servicemembers who have answered the call in nine years of sustained combat. "They are performing magnificently," he said.

Currently the director of the Joint Staff, Austin had commanded Multinational Corps Iraq in his previous assignment.

"If confirmed, I look forward to continuing our nation's work in Iraq," Austin told the committee. "I understand that a stable environment in the Middle East and Southwest Asia is essential to U.S. interests and that the future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of this critical region. A sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq will contribute to the stability in the region and will be a major ally in our fight against al-Qaida and its extremist allies."

By any measurement, conditions in Iraq have improved significantly over the past three years, the general said. "The government has demonstrated respect for the rule of law and is moving toward the peaceful transfer of power through legitimate elections," he added.

Governmental capacity and economic conditions continue to improve, and al-Qaida in Iraq and other violent extremist groups have been severely degraded, Austin said. "While we have achieved progress over the last few years, I am keenly aware that the mission is not without risk, and our work remains unfinished," he said.

Malign external influences continue to infringe on Iraqi sovereignty, he said, and al-Qaida and other violent extremists still pose a threat to the government and to the Iraqi people.

"Ethno-sectarian tensions continue to impede a unified national vision for all Iraqis," Austin said. "If confirmed, I would focus on a number of things. We would continue to develop a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship with the Iraqis."

The general said an enduring U.S.-Iraqi strategic partnership and positive strategic relationships between the government of Iraq and its regional neighbors are essential to security and prosperity.

Austin said he would continue the U.S. military drawdown already under way.

"During this transition period, our forces would continue to advise and train the Iraqi forces, to develop their security capabilities and support their ability to protect the Iraqi people," he said.

American forces would continue to work with Iraqis and regional partners "to conduct partnered counterterrorism operations to defeat al-Qaida and other extremists in Iraq, Austin said.

"We would assist the development of effective ministries and enable Iraq to meet the needs of the people," he said. "And we would support efforts to advance enduring solutions for Iraqi national unity."

The foundation stone for progress in the country has been the development of professional, capable Iraqi security forces, Austin said.

"We've achieved much in Iraq through the courage and sacrifice of our U.S. servicemen and women and the Iraqi people, and the coalition forces that fought alongside the Iraqis in some of their most perilous times," he said. "I am committed to achieving our national objectives, and I am dedicated to all of the brave people who sacrificed to help build towards a stable and secure Iraq."

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