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Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni speaks to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday. Zinni was promoting his book “The Battle for Peace.”

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni speaks to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday. Zinni was promoting his book “The Battle for Peace.” (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

WASHINGTON — Former CENTCOM commander Anthony Zinni said he expects “five to seven more years of hell” in Iraq and a U.S. military presence there for years to come.

“I saw a soldier the other day that was interviewed in Baghdad,” the retired Marine general said. “And the reporter asked him, ‘What’s your hope for Iraq?’ He said, ‘I hope 50 years from now that Iraq looks like Germany, Japan and South Korea.’ You know what my thought was? We still have troops there, in all three of them.

“We may not have it in the sense of the big bases with Burger Kings, but the combatant commander of CENTCOM will have military efforts in that nation. You can’t just walk away from something that’s potentially a pit for problems that’s located itself right in the center of the Middle East.”

Zinni’s comments came during a news conference Thursday for his new book on military power in the post-Cold War era. He said much of the current military and political thinking regarding Iraq and Afghanistan still clings to old anti-Soviet planning that is no longer relevant in the war on terror.

“The mentality is this is somehow World War I … We go over there, we kick the snot out of them and we come home,” he said. “We don’t come home anymore, or we wouldn’t have a PACOM, a CENTCOM, a EUCOM,” referring to three major geographical commands — Pacific, Central Command (in Southwest Asia, the Middle East and the Horn of Africa) and Europe.

Iraq, he said, has too many natural resources, too much geographical strategic importance, and too long of a history of political and religious problems for the U.S. to completely abandon, even if the security situation stabilizes there in the short-term.

He said U.S. officials need to offer fewer political ultimatums on a time line for forming the new Iraqi government, and instead more political advice on coalition building and bureaucratic reforms.

Zinni also said that not enough has been done to help with the economic redevelopment of that country, even as the security situation in parts of the country improves.

“We’ve reduced this to, ‘If only they can create a unity government and we can bring up their security forces to some level, then it’s all over.’” Not true, he said.

“It’s gonna take time, and it’s going to be messy.”

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