Operations Update, July 10, 2006
Sunday, 09 July 2006
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV & Maj. Gen. William McCoy
IRAQ OPERATIONAL UPDATE BRIEFING BRIEFERS: MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, USA, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ; AND MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM MCCOY, COMMANDER, GULF REGION DIVISION, CORPS OF ENGINEERS LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 9:00 A.M. EDT DATE: MONDAY, JULY 10, 2006
GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Today we're going to focus on areas of Iraq's future that rarely garner headlines but remain at the very heart of Iraq moving forward, marching towards independence, shaping itself anew.
Major General McCoy will address reconstruction issues, noting some key elements of Iraq's economic progress: water, oil, employing Iraqis to help rebuild Iraq. These items, many such as that, are the lifeline of Iraq's future and their daily life, and are linked to the prosperity the Iraqi people envision for their future.
To begin, I'd like to speak briefly about a first in the history of the democratic Iraq -- first slide, please; first chart -- and this is the transition to provincial Iraqi control. As you know, Muthanna, deep in southern Iraq, will soon become the first province in which Iraqis, specifically the governor, will be in charge of Iraqi security forces and, of course, the security for all the Iraqi people who live there. He will assume the day-to-day responsibility not only for the governance of there, but the overall responsibility for law enforcement and security. It's a huge step, but it's also a first step, but also a very critical step in the chain of events ultimately leading over time to Iraq standing entirely on its own.
The evolution to provincial Iraqi control has many long and difficult days ahead. Standing on its own may, in fact, be harder for the governor of Muthanna than it has been as it stands today. However, the government of Iraq and coalition members have evaluated the threat level, the level of coalition force support needed, the capability and potential of the Iraqi security forces, and the state of governance in the province, determining that Muthanna is ready. The decision was not taken lightly; it involved determined efforts by the Iraqis in Muthanna themselves, and concerted efforts by our British, Australian and Japanese coalition partners. The Ministerial Committee for National Security, which is chaired by Prime Minister Maliki himself, maintains the authority for final approval authority, ultimately deciding when a province is prepared to assume self- governance and its own security.
The upcoming transition in Muthanna province indicates the increased capability of the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government not just to operate independently, but literally to replace coalition forces.
This is an Iraqi success in developing the capabilities of a free nation, a government accountable to the people, civil defense forces capable of maintaining order, and a population invested in supporting a legitimate authority.
But what does that mean for the half million people that live in Muthanna? It means the prime minister will announce provincial Iraqi assumption of control, that civil authorities, through the provincial security committee, will be responsible for the council but may request assistance from the prime minister through what's called the PJCC or the Police Joint Coordination Center. The governor assumes supervision and general direction of all provincial police. However, all national police and Iraqi army within the province will remain under national control of that of the prime minister. The provincial Iraqi police service assumes the lead for domestic security. The provincial director of police will lead the daily security operations within the province through the PJCC, which coordinates all security operations within the province.
Multinational forces will move out of all urban areas, assume a supporting role, and provide assistance teams -- transition assistance teams as requested, and remain postured to assist, but only at the approval of the prime minister of Iraq.
Now in support of civil authority, Iraqi army in the province will continue training and stand ready for possible remissioning, and national police, Iraqi army and multinational forces will support as requested through the chain of command. There is, of course, a process for crisis resolution and if required will be made available to the governor after a request is made through the prime minister's office.
The transfer of security responsibility in Muthanna province remains a very real and tangible beginning to a new phase in the history of Iraq. Take note: This is just the first province of 18 that will go through this process; a process that is not driven by any timeline other than the readiness of leaders and the people of each Iraqi province. Muthanna now begins that journey. Transitions to provincial control are conditions-based. They can neither be rushed nor fabricated, but they can be crafted by diligence, stewardship, patience and the vision of the Iraqi people.
With that, I'll be followed by Major General Bill McCoy. GEN. MCCOY: Thanks, Bill.
Well, good afternoon. I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to talk about some of the good news that's happening in Iraq today. As a commander of the Gulf Region Division Corps of Engineers, I've been given the opportunity to help Iraqis rebuild their country. It's hard work.
It has cost the United States billions, and it will cost Iraq tens of billions before it is over. But it is yielding tangible results every day, and every day, as projects are completed, the lives of individual Iraqis are slowly improving.
The original goal of the United States' contribution to this reconstruction effort was to kick-start -- by that I mean to begin -- the process of infrastructure improvement and prosperity in Iraq. I believe, despite the violence and those who wish to see failure here in Iraq, that we are in fact making steady continued progress towards meeting that goal.
Of course, part of the issue with our flagging public support in both Iraq and in America is the simple fact that the public has not been informed completely and in a balanced way. So I do indeed appreciate this opportunity today to lay out some of the positive things that are happening in Iraq that will help the Iraqis improve the living conditions and move forward towards a more prosperous future.
First slide, please.
In total, the United States has contributed $21.9 billion towards Iraq's reconstruction. Today some 3,700 projects are planned for construction using those funds, and of that, over 3,400 of those projects have been started, and 2,700 have been completed.
This slide would indicate to you that -- the green dots on there are completed projects. The yellow dots are projects that are under way, and the red ones are ones that we have yet to begin.
Everything imaginable has been undertaken in every sector. We have built new power plants and refurbished dozens of turbines around the country. We are building water treatment plants to provide fresh potable water to Iraqis. We are now installing sewage treatment plants in parts of the country to begin the process to get the sewage out of the streets and make Iraq a more healthy country.
We have built, renovated or expanded thousands of schools to improve the learning environment for children, hundreds of police stations and fire stations to make Iraqi communities more secure, and clinics and hospitals to allow the great doctors of this country to provide quality medical services that the people of Iraq deserve. Finally, we've improved Iraq's oil infrastructure and transportation infrastructure to enable a better economy.
All of this has been done in close coordination with the Iraqi government and now, with the permanent government in place, with their leadership. We confer with, coordinate with and seek the government of Iraq's approval and direction on literally every project, and we are working more and more closely every day, both at the national and the local level, to ensure that the people of Iraq have what they need.
More and more, as we continue this great endeavor with the Iraqi people, we recognize what a devastating effect Saddam Hussein had on the lives of the people here. When the World Bank did their first assessment in 2003, they thought that the cost of reconstruction in Iraq would be about $60 billion.
In point of fact, that was probably a conservative figure, and it's more like 80 (billion dollars) to 100 billion (dollars), based on three decades of little or no new infrastructure work, combined with deterioration in the existing infrastructure due to no maintenance.
Before Saddam, Iraq was the second-most prosperous country in this region. During his tyrannical regime, the nation fell to one of the poorest in the region. Part of the reason is that little attention was given to proper operations and maintenance. As a result of that, the United States has focused more attention on capacity development. We are spending several hundred million dollars to assist the people who will operate the facilities we are building to be ready to do so. This includes equipment maintenance, repair and operations, plant management and national infrastructure development. We work with the provincial and national engineers to build capacity in contracting, project management and construction planning and execution. An area we have been particularly successful in is in the development of the women-owned businesses in Iraq, where, since the initiation of the program, we've assisted in the organization of over 300 women-owned businesses.
Three elections have provided the country a springboard to the future. This is a clear message to the Iraqi people and the world that Iraq is moving towards its own form of democracy and self- reliance. With a stable and maturing government will come increased security, which will be good for the Iraqi people. The facilities that we are building with the Iraqis today are but the beginning of the great future this country has.
Before I take any questions, I'd like to tell you about some projects that are making or soon will be making a major impact on the lives of the Iraqi people.
In our facilities in transportation sector, which includes health, schools, police and fire, rail stations, ministry buildings and many other important areas, including roads, airports, ports, seaports and railroads, we've completed 99 percent of the schools that we are charged with, and those schools are providing a better learning environment today for the Iraqi children.
The Advanced First Responder Network, AFRN, is a data and voice communication system that provides emergency service for more than 16 million Iraqis across 14 provinces. We first used it on the 15th of December during their national elections, and as of the 1st of February, the system is fully operational. As we all know, the petroleum industry will propel Iraq into long-term self-reliance and sustainability. After investing 1.7 billion (dollars) in materials, equipment and -- on projects, Iraq is now producing 2 1/2 million barrels of oil per day.
And by the end of 2006 when all of our projects are complete, Iraq will be on target to produce 3 million barrels a day in oil plus 3,000 tons a day of liquid petroleum gas, their cooking -- their cooking fluid. And these goals are clearly within our grasp, and we believe we'll either meet or exceed them at this point.
Let me give you just a couple of examples.
Gas-oil separators are spread throughout the north and the south oil fields, and their purpose is to take the oil and separate the impurities and the gas from the oil and then send the oil to an oil refinery and send the gas to either a natural gas plant or to a liquid petroleum gas plant. There's a total of 18 of these GOSPs in the north, and 34 of them in the south. And we are in the process of refurbishing 20 of those plants. The eight in the north are completed, and they've added a total of 300,000 barrels per day of crude treatment capacity in the north. So they have the capacity now to treat up to 300,000 barrels of oil. And in the south we're continuing to rehabilitate 12 of the GOSPs, and we'll be complete with that program in October.
At that point in time, we will have provide the ability to the Iraqis to treat over 900,000 barrels of oil through these gas-oil separators. And what that will do is it will start to turn out some of the flairs that are around Iraq and provide that fluid, that fuel that they're burning away today to a petroleum plant or to a gas plant, where they can refine it and use it. And as I think all of you know, they're wasting hundreds of millions of gas a day just burning it off into the environment.
As you know, Iraq has one of the richest petroleum reservoirs in the world. It's either the second or the first. We don't really know. But in the north, the oil comes from Kirkuk and goes to Baiji for refineries or it goes to the north for export. One of the projcts we had was a project to install the pipeline underneath the Tigris River at Al Fatah. And that project is complete after actually two years of work, but more importantly, the last several months of work from June of '05 to February of '06 is when the vast majority of the wrapping up was done, where the manifolds were built and the pipes were pulled across the Tigris. And as you see in this picture, the way they did this is they -- (inaudible) -- the pipes on the eastern bank of the Tigris and then literally dragged them across in a trench that had been excavated across the river, set them in the trench, encased it in concrete, and then connected them to manifolds on both shores. This was done with cooperation of the security forces, with the North Oil Company, and with the contractor working together to ensure that this project could take hold.
That part of that project is done, and today the Iraqi North Oil Company is shipping oil across the Tigris River to the refinery and also to the north.
We are continuing to work on pipelines between Kirkuk and Baiji -- Kirkuk and the Tigris River, to improve the infrastructure there and to improve its security as well.
The water, as I've said earlier, is a significant part of our infrastructure program here. And as you think about the water that was potable here after the war, it was available to almost 6 million people, which is nobody. We have embarked on a series of programs to build major capital projects, such as the one on this chart, to enable the people of Iraq to have clean, potable, sanitary water.
This plant that you see in front of you is in the north. It started construction in March of '05. You see on there that June of '04 was when the design began, but in March of '05, the construction began, and they are shipping water to Erbil today. It will provide water for 330,000 residents in Erbil, and it included not only the plant that you see there -- and it's also on a picture over here on the side wall -- but it included the pipeline from the plant to the city of Erbil, a storage tank in Erbil, and then a distribution system inside the city of Erbil so that it could get right to the tap. And that plant is moving forward today. The final commissioning will take place in the July time frame, and we think we'll have a ceremony in August.
Of course I left electricity for last. It's been especially challenging, but we are beginning to see progress in that area as well. Our goal is to restore the electrical grid in Iraq to provide 12 hours of reliable power nationwide. Before the war, the majority of Iraq had four to six hours of power a day, while Baghdad enjoyed 18 to 24 hours. Today the national average is 12 to 14 hours of power a day. Baghdad, on the other hand, is at six to eight hours of power. With the plan the Iraq minister of Electricity has, we believe we can get Baghdad to about 11 hours of reliable power a day by the end of the summer, and we are working with the ministry to ensure the remaining projects we have in this sector contribute to his goals of providing additional generation and sufficient redundancy on the grid to provide all of the power Iraq needs. To date, our major completed electrical projects have resulted in an increased power generation to 1.5 million homes and improved electricity distribution to about 280,000 homes. We have 150 projects under way today in electricity alone, and we are working closely with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity to implement their summer action plan to provide 12 hours of power throughout Iraq, including Baghdad. That plan includes working towards completing power plant rehabilitation projects; finishing spring operations and maintenance projects at the power plants, which means going in and doing inspections and then refurbishing several of the turbines that still need increased maintenance; increasing gas and diesel supply to power plants; reducing the interdictions along the lines; and improving the Ministry of Electricity's response time to those interdictions requiring large users to defer operations during peak hours and implementing a public information program about the importance of electricity.
Our electricity reconstruction program includes several major transmission and distribution projects in the Baghdad area, which are scheduled later this month -- for completion later this month; all of which will improve the reliability of the electrical grid in the Baghdad area. These projects include refurbishment of the Baghdad West, East and South substations, the Aggagrov (ph) and Washaz (ph) substations inside the town, and completion, inspection of five gas turbines and the installation of two new gas turbines at Qudas, and then the completion of over a hundred local distribution projects inside Baghdad alone.
Well, finally, in the electrical field, you have to have a control system that works, and currently, Baghdad has no control system -- automated control system. So we're installing a national monitoring and control system throughout the country that should be -- fully operational by March of `07 and partially operational by this fall. This will help the operators to control the power transmission network and better manage the generation and to defer power when it's disrupted in some places.
Ladies and gentlemen, 32 years ago today I came into the Army. At that time, I never imagined that I'd have the opportunity to do something like help a country rebuild itself. With the State Department leading the reconstruction effort, I've had the privilege of working with great Americans, both military and civilian, our coalition partners, and the Iraqi people. All of these have volunteered to work here because they believe in the hope for real change in Iraq and see a future where their children can grow up in peace and live in a prosperous life, free of oppression and terrorism. There is positive change happening in Iraq, and the people of the Gulf Region Division are extremely proud to be a part of that change.
What are your questions?
Q (Through interpreter.) Afir Adel (ph) from Radio Sawa. Do you find there is big contradiction between the situation you talked about, about the Muthanna Province, and what Iraq witness of the sectarian congestion right now, militias are now fighting in the streets on the (ID ?). The Shi'ite mosque and the Sunni mosque are now attacked. There is a big contradiction between the improvement of the security and what's really on the ground in Iraq. What do you comment?
GEN. CALDWELL: If you're -- if I understand the question correctly, it's what about the security in Muthanna as compared to what we see perhaps in the other portions of the country right now?
There's no question that 82 percent of every act that we see each day of some kind of assault or other types of incidents that occur in this country occur within four provinces within this country. And Muthanna is not one of those four.
So as the assessment was done down in Muthanna, they looked at those four different areas -- and one of them was security, one of them was the threat -- what kind of threat do they see to the people, to the ability of their local police to conduct their missions, to provide for law enforcement? What does it see to the threat to the infrastructure there? Can the infrastructure be maintained and provide the basic services to the people? And the decision was made, through consultation with the ministerial staff and the Multinational Force elements -- and the prime minister made it -- that we're going to transition -- he is going to transition Muthanna here very shortly, in the next couple of days, to full provincial Iraqi control.
That would not be the case in the other areas.
(To staff.) If you could throw back up my first slide, please. (Pause.)
As you can see, when we discussed here "ready for transition," right now there's only one province that the council made the recommendation to the prime minister is ready for transition. And that's right down here in Muthanna.
They are closely looking at the ones in yellow, because those are partially ready. But there's either one, two or three of these factors here that are not yet green, which would allow it to go to a green status. When it does go to a green status, then they'll make the recommendation to the prime minister that that go to a full provincial Iraqi control.
However, if you look at Al Anbar province, Baghdad, Diyala and Salahuddin, that's where 82 percent of your incidents occur every single day -- over 80 percent.
And then within the other 14 provinces, that's where we find the other 18 percent of incidents. So there is the ability to move more provinces to full Iraqi control in the near future, once the prime minister makes that decision.
Q (Through interpreter.) Fayhad (ph) Channel. You said, General McCoy, about the power, that Iraq suffers now; we will notice improvement in the electricity. What is the coordination between the MNF-I and the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity?
GEN. MCCOY: You're asking a question about what is the coordination between the MNF-I and the minister of Electricity or in the electrical sector.
Minister Karim is very, very aggressive in trying to find the future of electricity in Iraq, and he's already embarked on a master plan for electricity. He's just completed a draft of that master plan. He's only been in office for a little over a month. He just completed a master plan that he has shared within MNF-I, because right now, I billed a lot of his projects. We've checked his priorities against the priorities we had, and we've adjusted our priorities to accommodate his so that he's focused right now on generation in the Baghdad area and redundancy of power for the Baghdad area.
He coordinates right now with his own security forces that he's got, his facility protection services. He works those forces along the power line and the generation stations, and he has seen that they need to be improved, so he's started a professional development program for those forces himself. And then he works with us -- my organization and the multinational corps and the multinational force -- to ensure that we understand where his infrastructure may be vulnerable, and we have patrols out there to assist in the security.
Not necessarily solely his responsibility, but since he's been here, we've seen a vast improvement in the interaction with the Ministry of Electricity, and we've also seen an improvement in generation in Baghdad. And as I told you earlier, nationwide, we have 12 to 14 hours of power a day in virtually every other province but Baghdad. And in Baghdad's province, about three months ago it was two to four hours; and here in the last month, it's been four to eight hours, and he has been a part of that. We want to get better.
Q James Hider from the London Times. This is really a question for General Caldwell. Regarding the attacks yesterday in Al Jihad, a lot of the witnesses there, mostly Sunnis, said that the people doing the killing, the rounding up in the streets, were Mahdi Army Death Squad members. And given the scale of this, it was obviously a fairly well-planned attack, Shi'a death squads going into a Sunni area.
What is your assessment of the situation? Do you agree that it was the Mahdi Army? Do you have evidence it was the Mahdi Army doing this? And do you have any evidence of the level of command and control by Muqtada al-Sadr?
GEN. CALDWELL: Obviously, we're just as concerned as everybody else is because whenever you have even one loss of life, it's significant. And within the Baghdad area, you know, the prime minister's number one priority is the Baghdad security plan.
We had heard the same reporting that was going on yesterday. Coalition forces did, along with Iraqi security forces, respond to that area. We were able to find 14 Iraqi citizens that had been killed, were not able to find the 30 or 40 or more that was in the reporting that we heard going on.
We are always concerned about illegal armed groups. That is something that we're not going to tolerate. The prime minister has been very clear on that point. He has said that anybody who is operating outside of the law is subject to be dealt with severely by Iraqi security forces and coalition forces. And we've, in fact, started operations targeting those who are operating outside the law. If in fact we find an element that was operating outside the law, some kind of illegal armed group, then we'll in fact take that group on. Right now we're looking at it very closely to see exactly what that was yesterday, if there was some organized activity. But we didn't find the volume that had been initially reported.
Q But in general, are you seeing the Mahdi Army as one of the main groups involved in these kind of attacks?
GEN. CALDWELL: We're not targeting any individual organization. What we're looking at, what we're truly trying to ascertain is, are there people out there operating outside the law? And if there is, then we're going to go get them. Q But you have to identify who they are, presumably, to go and get them.
GEN. CALDWELL: That's right. And we don't care what organization they belong to or who they say they're affiliated with. If they're operating outside of the law, then they're subject to being prosecuted by Iraqi security forces and coalition forces.
Q But isn't the Mahdi Army one of the main offenders in this?
GEN. CALDWELL: We're not identifying any particular organization at this point. By the operations that we conduct, if we find you're operating outside of the law, we're coming after you.
Q But within the Mahdi Army, are you seeing a direct command and control structure which would answer to Muqtada al-Sadr, or do you think they're maybe rogue elements that are outside of his control?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, I don't think there's any question there's probably rogue elements operating out of a lot of different organizations, and I think Sadr himself has said there are some rogue elements out there that perhaps he doesn't control, but I don't know if that's the organization that was associated with this event that occurred yesterday. But we are looking at that one very closely. We are very concerned about it, because obviously, the goal of this whole Baghdad security plan is to bring greater security to the Baghdad area. That's the prime minister's number-one goal. And the Iraqi security forces in the lead, with us supporting them, are taking that on as their number-one mission.
Q Two questions. Paul Shen (ph) from AFP. First question to follow up on this. There's a Baghdad security plan ongoing with 50,000 troops on the ground. In your assessment of the situation, how is it possible for at least 14 people to get killed in broad daylight in a neighborhood from masked gunmen that appear to be from outside the neighborhood? Do you think there was a failure in the performance of Iraqi security forces that this was allowed to happen?
And the second question would be, I understand that the neighborhood of Dora in the south has just gone under curfew until tomorrow morning or something. I was wondering if you could shed any light about what's going on down there.
GEN. CALDWELL: I have not heard about a possible curfew down in Dora before I walked in here, although I can check that out and get back to you, Paul, and let you know what that situation is. We'll take that down for you.
As far as the other one goes, it's a population of 7.2 million people in the Baghdad area. And you're right, there's about 51,000 security forces, mostly Iraqi security forces, operating within this area. And it is possible for there to be incidents that occur even with that many security forces.
A lot of this is just going to take time. We're constantly reevaluating where we're operating, where our forces are located, where we've put the hours of operation on, what type of activities we're doing, from patrolling, to checkpoints, to fixed static security locations, and we're doing a continual reassessment of this plan. We're about at the 30-day mark. This Friday will mark 30 days into the Baghdad security plan. And obviously, we continue to look at this each and every day. How we accomplish the objectives that perhaps some felt we might be able to within 30 days, we're not there, but we're moving along in a positive direction in many, many areas.
It's going to take time. The prime minister never said this is a one-week, two-week or even a one- or two-month program. He said this is a several-month program that he was putting into place. And he's continually dialoguing, the prime minister is, with both his own leadership of his MOI and MOD -- the Interior and Defense Departments -- along with the Multinational Force. I mean, they had a meeting as late as late yesterday afternoon with the prime minister, again discussing the entire Baghdad security plan and where it is, where we need to make evaluations, what elements need to be modified and changed, and we'll continue doing that until we can reach an increased security posture within the Baghdad area.
Q Any modifications due to the events of yesterday?
GEN. CALDWELL: They're looking at that real closely. I can tell you they've already, within that specific area, have gone ahead and reallocated force levels and checkpoints and some additional aerial assets specifically there.
Q Ned Parker, also with the Times of London. A couple of questions. One, I was curious when yesterday U.S. forces first responded to the events in Jihad.
It sounded like it was -- it sounded, at least from accounts there, that it was perhaps conservatively -- and I could be wrong on this -- three hours or maybe it was less.
And I'm just wondering why there would have been such -- if there was such a lengthy response time, why -- second question -- General Abid Aziz (sp), I think Muhammed Jassim of the Defense Ministry, who's in charge of operations, he told us two days ago that militias were stopping the security plan from being effective and that elements of the Mahdi Army were in fact going on the streets and kidnapping and killing people, and this was one of the reasons why the security plan was failing. I was wondering your thoughts on that.
And then, thirdly, accounts from people on the streets in areas like Ghazalia, for instance, and well, the deputy prime minister yesterday, Mr. Zebari, talk -- well, Mr. Zebari talked about how he felt on Al-Jazeera yesterday that security forces turned a blind eye to these forces going into Jihad; likewise, in places like Ghazalia, we have residents there describing Iraqi national guard or army turning a blind eye when the Mahdi Army goes into that district.
And I was just wondering, are you concerned about the security forces, and are they in fact at times allowing Shi'a militias to enter neighborhoods and --
GEN. CALDWELL: Okay, Ned. I think you gave me three questions there. All right. On the first one, in terms of the response time that you asked me about, right now coalition forces have about 8,000 troops operating within the entire Baghdad area, 7.2 million people, and we are not across the entire Baghdad city. We are at key locations worked out in agreement with the Iraqi security forces, and at the time that this occurred, we were not in that exact location. And we responded when asked to by our counterparts. When the request came in for additional forces to move there, we had some and we moved them there in concert with when we were asked to move.
Q And what time --
GEN. CALDWELL: I can get you the exact times. We can pull that -- I did not look at that yet, but we can get you the times of movement from when it occurred to -- as far as the illegal armed groups go, yeah, we are concerned about illegal armed groups. I know the spokesman for the -- or the C-3 for the Iraqi forces has talked about different kinds of groups. We are concerned about illegal armed groups. The prime minister has said they're not authorized. He doesn't want them operating inside the Baghdad area.
Q (Off mike) -- specifically that elements -- not the whole Mahdi Army, but elements of the Mahdi Army were going out kidnapping and killing, and this was affecting the situation -- (off mike). What do you think specifically -- (off mike)? Does that sound accurate to you from your information -- (off mike)?
GEN. CALDWELL: What we're saying is we think -- we just call these illegal armed groups that are out there operating outside of any organizations. If they're in fact killing Iraqi civilians and which are -- right now, as you know, that being 60 -- 86 percent of the casualties that occurred in Iraq last were by -- just civilian casualties, far exceeding anything between Iraqi security force and coalition force casualties.
I mean, the civilians clearly are taking a heavy hit at the activities of these illegal armed groups through murder, intimidation, kidnappings, and everything else. And those are the groups that we're going after. If we find them engaging in illegal activities, we're going to target them and we're going to go after them. We've made a very conscious decision here in the last few weeks to deal with them just as severely as we can. And so whether they're rogue elements or whatever it is, if they're acting illegally, then we're going to go after them.
And then I think your last question was were Iraqi security forces -- how were they performing. Right now within the city you've got 42,000 Iraqi security forces operating within there. Some are going to operate at much different levels of performance than others. And as we find elements that are not performing to the standard that the prime minister wants them to, those units are being looked at real closely, reassessed. There's plans being developed that may in fact pull certain units back to another location, do some retraining, reassess the organization, look at the leadership. And those kind of discussions went on again last night with the prime minister himself in terms of what he wants to do with his Iraqi security forces and how can we --
Q (Off mike) -- the question.
GEN. CALDWELL: -- and how can we support them.
Q Shala Mohammed (ph) from BBC Arabic. Now it's four weeks since the security plan started in Baghdad, how do you assess it, how do you assess the security plan, and do you think it's -- the situation in Baghdad is getting worse or better with this plan?
GEN. CALDWELL: We're doing, obviously, a weekly assessment, I mean almost a daily assessment, a weekly assessment sort of roll-up. We'll do a 30-day assessment here at the end of this week. That will be one month into this operation.
I think everybody had thought that perhaps it might be improving more than it is at this point. Any time you take 50,000 soldiers and put them into a place to operate together as a coordinated effort, that's a huge undertaking just in itself; I mean, that's not something we've done yet. We have just finished building, training, equipping, and organizing and providing leadership for all these Iraqi security forces. We have now put them into the area of Baghdad as one coherent force and told them to operate together as an effective unit, cross- coordinating with each other so they don't get mixed up, they don't have friendly fire incidents or anything else. And they're actually doing a remarkable job, given the level of training and experience that they have in doing that.
However, we have to improve the security, still, and that's where we're putting the focus on. We're making tremendous progress in terms of the organization, the functioning of the security forces within the Baghdad area, with the Iraqi security forces in the lead and coalition in support. But we have to bring the level of violence down, there's no question -- I don't think anybody would argue that it's not at all where we want it to be yet.
We still got tremendous inroads we've got to make in that are. And we're going to continue revaluating and reassessing to figure out what we can do and what the Iraqi security forces want us to do to help them get at this problem.
Q (Through interpreter.) Do you have any procedure to stop the sectarian congestion which has slipped Iraq into sectarian war? And what is your measure if this is sectarian war or not?
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, obviously, from a military perspective, we're continually reassessing where military forces, Iraqi security forces and coalition forces can assist with that effort. But it's just as much in what we see taking place -- like in the area of Jihad, they're starting to bring local imams together, they're starting to get the people together, they're talking to the local governance groups. That's where the real difference is going to be made out there.
The security forces can set the conditions to allow for peace to occur, but they can't make peace. Military force will not make peace. They can set the conditions. And it's going to take the local governance, it's going to take the imams, it's going to take people to start having dialogue with each other and working together as one coherent effort to achieve the security and the peace that all the people of Iraq want to see. They -- the people are going to make the difference here. And the security forces are trying to set the conditions out there to allow them to work that piece of it that they've not necessarily been able to in the past.
I mean, we can put more security forces inside the city, but force alone is not going to be the answer to the solution (sic). It's an Iraqi unity effort. It's like the prime minister talks about, you know, when he talks about his national reconciliation and dialogue plan, and that's exactly what it is. It's about Iraqis reconciling things and entering into dialogue with each other, finding the solutions to these differences that exist currently.
Q Thank you. Larry Kaplow with Cox Newspapers. Some -- yesterday you had the vice president of Iraq and one of the deputy prime ministers pointing the fingers at the government security forces for at least tacitly allowing what happened to happen. Some would say that's the chink in your whole plan, is that despite all the training, all the placement, if the government itself is complicit in these kinds of acts, it's never going to work. I'm wondering how concerned you are that that's where this could all fall down.
And I would just cite as an example -- he said you were called -- you responded when requested to respond to hayel (ph) Jihad, but if the government people were allowing it to go on, maybe they wouldn't have called you in for a long time.
GEN. CALDWELL: Larry, as we look out there and look at statistically what's happening in the country each day, amongst the Iraqi security forces, there is over a hundred of them every day that are -- each week that are killed and wounded.
There are clearly Iraqis out there who are operating within the security forces that are dedicated, committed and want to make a difference in Iraq. They're laying down their lives every day. They're committing, you know, their entire families' future to make a difference in this country. So we've got some great men and women out there in the Iraqi security forces that want to see the change.
With any new institution, you're going to have some challenges. You don't stand up an organization of 167,000 forces overnight and expect it to have all the same values, the same organization, the same commitment as you might in other organizations that's been in existence for 10 or 15 years. There are going to be challenges, and we have to identify where the weaknesses are out there in that chain, and then take and address those each time we find them.
I mean, the good thing is people are willing to look at it that way. I don't see anybody trying to say that there's no challenges. I have not heard anybody say we still don't have some weak elements within the Iraqi security forces. We do, and they admit it themselves. And part of the discussions that occurred yesterday again were -- was of certain elements within the security forces, how will we go about some retraining, does their need to be some leadership changes? I mean, the prime minister is having that dialogue with his very senior leaders of his government and his ministers as they figure out how to address this. I don't think anybody expected that there not to be some challenges. I mean, they're only a month and a half into their new government right now. They're only three years into this new formation of their armed forces. So they do have some ways to still go.
Q I'd just like to ask on the Mahmudiyah incident. We've seen several e-mails from the U.S. forces -- on the investigation itself, I mean, how many soldiers are accused of raping and killing the young woman, Abeer? And do you know the exact sequence of events or what the investigation so far shows? Because we're having conflicting reports of how it actually all happened. And how many, precisely, are charged with rape and murder, and how many are charged with other things?
GEN. CALDWELL: There's currently five American soldiers that are involved that have been read charges associated with that incident.
Sergeant Yribe was the one that was not initially identified, perhaps, because he's charged with dereliction of duty and false official statement. Those are his two offenses. He was not there that day, but afterward had some tacit knowledge of it, as alleged, and therefore those are the charges that are have been read against him.
Again, this investigation is ongoing. These are alleged charges. And at this point, again, everybody's presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the charges have been read against them at this point. So he's number five.
There's four others that are associated with the incident in the vicinity of the house that day. PFC Spielman. And again, he, as along with the other three, have been charged with multiple offenses from conspiracy to commit rape and premeditated murder, conspiracy to obstruct justice, violation of a lawful general order, premeditated murder, rape, arson, housebreaking, indecent acts and obstruction of justice, all of which carry a maximum of penalty of death if found -- if -- found guilty in a court of law of all those offenses.
PFC Howard, conspiracy to commit rape and premeditated murder, conspiracy to obstruct justice, premeditated murder, and rape. Sergeant Cortez, same offenses, along with arson and housebreaking. Specialist Barker, same offenses as Sergeant Cortez.
Does that clarify that?
Q Yes, it does.
Just on the investigation, the sequence of events on that specific day, I mean, we're hearing different reports of how it actually happened. Can you just kind of, if you have the information of what the investigation has shown so far, of how they think this all -- that it all occurred?
GEN. CALDWELL: At this point, because it's an ongoing criminal investigation and charges have been read, it would be inappropriate for me to comment about the specifics, but that's exactly what the case in fact will deal with. But they obviously had enough information in the initial investigation to go ahead and charge those four soldiers all with alleged rape, rape, obstruction of justice, housebreaking, arson and the other offenses we discussed. Again, these are alleged offenses. They're presumed innocent until proven guilty. But that's what the four of them are being charged with.
Okay. Yes, sir?
STAFF: Last question.
Q Could we bring up the colored map showing the -- (off mike)?
GEN. CALDWELL: Sure.
Q We saw something like this just a few months ago -- (off mike). Maybe State put something together like this. It was somewhat similar except for the three primarily Kurdish provinces of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulimaniyah were actually the green ones, and now they're yellow.
So I guess my question is, what don't they have that Muthanna does have that means they're not ready for transitioning that Muthanna is? Just because in general, those have been -- sort of stood out as the most stable, shining, nice provinces, and I'm curious what may have changed --
GEN. CALDWELL: Well, what this chart is portraying is what the prime minister has approved. The ones in yellow, in fact, many of them the committee may be very close to at this point to recommending to him that it go to provincial Iraqi control. And once the prime minister makes that decision and he says they will go to provincial Iraqi control, then they'll in fact -- we would rate them as green. But that's a prime minister's decision, not a Multinational Force decision. So if State Department was showing a chart with them in green, it was a little premature because only the prime minister can make that decision.
Q Okay. Do you know specifically what might be holding them back from becoming green?
GEN. CALDWELL: I do know in fact there are some other provinces they're in consultation with the prime minister about right now. There are several that they're discussing with him that perhaps the committee already feels may be at the point where that could occur, and the prime minister is asking his questions and is in a dialogue with the ministerial committee as they're discussing those provinces. He just hasn't made the final decision. When he does, then we, of course, color them as green.
But, yeah, I can see where you might find somebody who says there might be others green. But again, we reserve that right -- we say the prime minister -- that's his decision. We may have a recommendation that way, we and the council, but it's his decision.
Okay, thank you very much.
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