ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT – Iraqis need to "pull together" and include more Sunni Arabs in government and security forces, the U.S. military chief said, amid concerns that post-election wrangling will set back efforts to form a broad-based government that will provide the stability needed to bring American troops home.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that Iraqis have made great strides in forming a democracy but a representative government was needed to fight a rampant insurgency.
"I'm very confident about what has taken place so far and what I see as possible for the future," he said. "The Iraqi people especially are going to have to decide to pull together, to work through whatever factional differences they have and realize the benefit of getting all elements of society involved in the government — that you can capitalize on the strengths of all of the people and not just some of them."
Pace also said the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was working with Iraqi leaders to bring more Sunni Arabs into the security forces but stressed it was up to the Iraqis to resolve the issue.
The discussions over forming a government come at a critical time for Iraq. The United States has high hopes last month's parliamentary elections will lead to a broad-based coalition government that will provide the stability and security needed to allow American troops to begin returning home.
Pace spoke in a conference room aboard a military plane after taking off en route to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., from the U.S. base at Ramstein, Germany, where he and celebrities traveling in his delegation visited with wounded soldiers on the last stop of a weeklong holiday USO tour to rally the troops.
The trip also included stops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, the impoverished East African nation of Djibouti and the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier somewhere in the central Persian Gulf.
"Our troops' morale is sky high as you saw and they are properly proud of what they accomplished here in Iraq and Afghanistan and Djibouti and elsewhere," Pace said.
His comments came as an international team began reviewing the Dec. 15 election amid complaints of fraud from Sunni Arab and secular Shiite groups. An Iraqi elections official said results might not be ready for two more weeks.
Preliminary results give the governing Shiite religious bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, a big lead, but one that would still require forming a coalition with other groups.
"This is truly the Iraq government's responsibility to determine how best to do it for their people," Pace said.
But he said the armed forces and the police need to include more Sunnis, who were dominant under Saddam Hussein but lost power after his ouster.
"I think that any security force for any country needs to be representative of the people of that country," he said. The country's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are "all Iraqis."
Pace also addressed concerns that U.S. forces don't have sufficient protection as U.S. and British troops are being killed in Iraq by increasingly sophisticated insurgent bombs.
At least 2,183 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
"I am confident that we have taken the technologies that we had and we're bringing them into the force as fast as we can," he said.
But he said the military also needs to update its tactics as it faces a clever insurgency.
"We just need to continually hone our skills not only in the way we use our technology but also in our tactics, techniques and procedures so that we don't set a pattern that the enemy can exploit and so that we constantly respond to the way that they operate," he said.