Marine Commander on Iraq Handover - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

06/28/04

Marine Commander on Iraq Handover

After 14 months of occupation, the US-led coalition handed power over to the interim Iraqi government two days ahead of schedule. Officials moved up the transfer of power to throw off insurgents. While traveling in Turkey, President Bush acknowledged the security problems, but said the insurgents have not prevented democracy in Iraq.

"This is a day of great hope for Iraqis and a day that terrorist enemies hoped never to see," he said. "The terrorists are doing all they can to stop the rise of a free Iraq, but their bombs and attacks have not prevented Iraqi sovereignty and they will not prevent Iraq's democracy."

President Bush says US troops will stay as long as stability of Iraq requires or when the Iraqi government asks them to leave.

Today's transfer of power to the new Iraqi government surprised everyone. Most agree it was a good move. But many believe the US--especially our military--will still have a big role to play for many years to come. Forces stationed overseas will now have to play a supporting role to the Iraqi people.

We talked with retired Marine Corps Air Station commander Col. Chuck Hoelle, who told us, "That's going to be very difficult because the first thing that comes to mind is the security of the American military personnel."

Which may already in jeopardy. The insurgents are getting bolder, kidnapping a US Marine over the weekend. Troops still scheduled to deploy over there, like our own Third ID, will now face new dangers.

It's something all deployed military forces will have to work through. "I think we just press on," Col. Hoelle said. "And I know that sounds very callous, but I will tell you that that Marine, like any other Marine, is going to say 'Hey, you can't stop doing your mission because of me.'"

It's a mission that up until now has had very little support from the United Nations. Col. Hoelle says now that there's a new Iraqi government, the UN needs to get more involved. "We didn't need the UN to fight the war," he said. "We could win it without them. But we have got to have the UN and multinational forces to provide security."

But Col. Hoelle says the war in Iraq--and continuing US presence in the country--has been worth it so that people who once lived in fear can now live in peace. "Once again, we have gone to a foreign country and freed an oppressed people."

Col. Hoelle is estimating US military forces will remain in Iraq for at least another three to five years, if not longer.

Reported by: Melanie Ruberti, mruberti@wtoc.com

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