U.K. General Says Quitting Iraq a 'Strategic' Problem

Lt. Gen. Graeme Lamb, the U.K.'s top army officer in Iraq, cites a "huge strategic problem" if Western powers leave. Lamb, whose yearlong tour of duty is coming to an end, spoke with Steve Inskeep.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, let's review some recent statements that officials have made about what they say must never happen. President Bush has said the United States cannot leave Iraq because al-Qaida could take over. Presidential candidate John McCain says the U.S. cannot leave Iraq because that could allow genocide. And a top British general says the Western powers cannot leave because it would leave a huge strategic problem.

In each case, supporters of the war speak in negative terms about what they want to avoid. It is less common, at the moment, to hear a statement of what Western forces realistically hope to achieve in Iraq, so we put a question to Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb. He's the British general who warned against that huge strategic problem, and he is almost finished with a year in Iraq.

I wonder if you can formulate a positive statement for us, if there is one. We must stay in the current strategy in order to accomplish what, precisely?

Lieutenant General GRAEME LAMB (British Army): Progress. There are some - I rather - I think there's a captain, 1930s, (unintelligible) who once said the object of war is to make a better peace. I believe that is exactly what we're doing here. We're doing it with Iraqi forces. We're doing it with this Iraqi government of the day. That said, there are enormous challenges in front of us, but my view is everything I have seen over these last 11 months is we are making progress.

But actually al-Qaida is finding itself more stressed, in more difficult circumstances. I see the Iraqi people taking ownership. They are in and taking ownership of the fight. That is the government of Iraq. That is its security forces and its people. So I see progress. I see all the indications, which tell me this is a worthy endeavor and we are making a difference here for the better.

INSKEEP: Are you closer to peace than you were three or four months ago in Iraq?

Lt. Gen. LAMB: I think we are closer towards stability. That will then bring about opportunity. With those opportunities, this nation will move forward and enjoy a peaceful existence the likes of which it has not seen for some considerable period of time.

INSKEEP: Is there any way for you to measure whether any progress that you see is permanent or at least enduring? That a neighborhood you've secured will be secured when the American troops leave? Or that Sunni groups that are fighting with you now will be fighting with you next month? Or the Shiite militias that are quiet now will stay quiet next year?

Lt. Gen. LAMB: If I had that sort of foresight, I'd just pick six numbers on a Saturday and make a great deal of money on the lottery. I see a tiredness where people want to try and get things in the right lane to move forward. Baqubah -the other day when the boys went up and went into Baqubah, you know, there was that - the streets were broadly empty, the town was pretty beaten up, not looking at all.

And, you know, down the street came about a dozen young school children going to take their exams. They brave, in effect, what is difficult and dangerous circumstances in order to place themselves in a position where they have a future and an opportunity. And that is worth fighting for.

INSKEEP: When do you leave Iraq?

Lt. Gen. LAMB: When do I leave? My clock is now running. I have about just a few more days to go.

INSKEEP: Coming back?

Lt. Gen. LAMB: I intend to come back. As I said to the good Dr. Rubaie today, who I was having a chat to earlier on…

INSKEEP: The national security adviser.

Lt. Gen. LAMB: …that to come back as a guest and eat some (unintelligible) down on the Tigris sometime in the future. Not too distant, I hope.

INSKEEP: Could you imagine being a tourist outside the Green Zone walking around?

Lt. Gen. LAMB: Sure.

INSKEEP: In the not too distant future?

Lt. Gen. LAMB: Yes, but of course my not too distant future. Probably, you know, we're talking about maybe three, five, I don't know. I don't have a clear (unintelligible) the answers, but I can see the opportunity is here for me to be enjoying a good meal on the banks of the Tigris in the not too distant future.

INSKEEP: Well, General Lamb, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Lt. Gen. LAMB: A pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That's British Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb. He is finishing one year serving in Iraq in a senior position. You heard him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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