Gen. Abizaid On Stabilizing Iraq

U.S. Commander Talks To Lara Logan About Iraq, Iran And Stability In The Middle East

When it comes to the war in Iraq, no other military man has a job more important than Gen. John Abizaid, the four-star commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East. He was the first person Congress turned to earlier this month for answers, after American voters demanded a change in course, frustrated by a war that seems to be going nowhere and grows more violent every day.

The general doesn't grant many interviews, but he agreed to talk to correspondent Lara Logan last week for the first time since that appearance on Capitol Hill. While Logan and Gen. Abizaid came to talk about Iraq, the 60 Minutes was struck by how much the general had to say about Iran.

Logan met Gen. Abizaid at his headquarters in Tampa, Fla., as he was preparing to leave on one of his frequent trips to the Middle East.

"Three years into this war, close to 3,000 American soldiers killed and more than 20,000 wounded. A lot of Americans are wondering how it is that we got to this point. I mean, they still remember the president saying, 'Mission Accomplished,'" Logan remarks.

"Nobody's more mindful of the sacrifices of our troops than those of us that command them," Abizaid says. "And I know that the losses have affected many, many lives. But the enemy that we fight is a tough enemy. The enemy can't be walked away from easily. We have to stabilize Iraq and the broader regional dynamic in order to make the region less conducive to extremism because if we don't, the extremist values will become mainstream and we will have a much worse security situation develop in the future."

According to a U.S. intelligence report on Iraq declassified in September, that's already beginning to happen. It found the war in Iraq is "shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders" and becoming a "cause celebre … for jihadists."

"Exactly on that point, a national intelligence estimate said it appeared that extremism was emboldened and strengthened by this war. So, how do you think we're doing on stopping those ideas taking root in the region?" Logan asks the general.

"I would tell you that there are parts of the extremist agenda, especially the al Qaeda extremist agenda that remains very dangerous, very deadly. I'd also tell you that there hasn't been an attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. That has a lot to do with our willingness to be forward and fighting there," Abizaid says.

But fighting the war on terror there has made life for many Iraqis unbearable. It's something Abizaid understands: He speaks their language. His fluency in Arabic makes him a military rarity. He's the grandson of Lebanese immigrants and a highly decorated combat veteran who understands the dynamics of this volatile part of the world and the consequences of failure in Iraq.

Asked what his greatest fear for Iraq is, Abizaid says, "My greatest fear is that neighboring countries like Iran and Syria decide that they will destabilize the country more, as opposed to help it come together."

Asked what that would mean for the U.S. if that were to happen, the general says, "If Iraq destabilizes and moves to civil war, it will be a point where Shiite extremists and Sunni extremists will be emboldened and will achieve safe haven, and it will create a problem not only for us but for everybody in the region. That will only lead to more conflict, not less."

But the conflict has already reached a level of violence that many Americans find unacceptable. October was the deadliest month since the war began for Iraqis, and in almost two years for U.S. troops. Snipers are now a constant threat, and roadside bombs continue to claim American lives.

They're dying, the general says, at the hands of both Sunni extremists and Shiite militants, which he told Logan are backed by the Iranian government's special forces, the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force, who are pouring weapons and money into Iraq.

"At the same time that the government of Iran is talking about stabilizing Iraq, these Revolutionary Guard Qods Force people are supporting the Shia death squads of some of the various splinter…," Abizaid explains.

"So, aren't we already at a war with Iran through its proxies in Iraq?" Logan asks.

"No. We're not at war with Iran through its proxies. We are in a period of making it clear to the Iranians that they need to move to help stabilize Iraq and not destabilize it," Abizaid says.