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Press Briefing, Jan. 15, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq

Sunday, 14 January 2007

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad
General George Casey, Commander, Multi-National Force - Iraq


AMB. KHALILZAD: Good afternoon. George Casey and I called this press conference today to talk about the plan for Baghdad. The plan is based on a key assumption: increased security for Baghdad is key to allowing political progress and securing the rest of the country.

The plan is designed, structured and led by the Iraqis. The prime minister put it forward, and President Bush decided it is worthy of U.S. support. It's based on a reciprocal understanding between the Iraqis and the United States. The prime minister and the Iraqi government's commitments are: all who break the law will be targeted; there will be no sanctuary for criminals or murderers. Any killer, no matter who he is, will be pursued. No militia will be a replacement for the state or control local security. The military commanders will be freedom of action, and an ability to do what is needed without political interference or micromanagement. They won't be told, "Don't do this," "Don't go into this or that neighborhood." Therefore it will be fair.

Operations will continue until the job is done. The plan is comprehensive. The Iraqis are planning political, economic services and public affairs programs in support of the security plan. The prime minister has put senior people in charge of each of these areas with goals and time lines to be developed ASAP. We will support them, but the Iraqis will be in the lead.

A key part of this is for Iraq to improve its ability to meet the needs of its people. We will work jointly with the government of Iraq in this area. As President Bush announced, we will be doubling the number of provincial reconstruction teams here in Iraq. These teams support the provincial and local governments, by helping communities work on reconciliation and accelerating the transition to increased self-reliance in Iraq.

The government of Iraq will spend $10 billion on infrastructure and reconstruction projects that will create jobs for the Iraqi people. The Iraqi government has also committed to meet their own targets to make progress on the political front, including holding provincial elections, reforming de-Ba'athification laws, passing hydrocarbon legislation, to share oil revenues among all Iraqis, and amending the constitution. This plan also reinforces regional efforts to stabilize Iraq. It seeks to change the behavior of Iran and Syria, going after their networks in Iraq that are attacking coalition forces and undermining Iraqi security. We have already taken steps by moving against Iranian EFP networks associated with the Iranian Quds forces. The plan is integrated in a broader regional strategy, and also focuses on getting more Arab states to play a positive role. We will support Iraqi efforts to engage their neighbors. Again, this is an Iraqi-led plan, with the U.S. in support. We are muscling up in the short term to set the stage for the Iraqis to deal with the situation themselves over the long term.

With more resources brought to bear for Baghdad, I believe there is a good balance between ends and means in this plan. This is a defining moment. We are in a new phase. While some question the Iraqis' resolve to rise to the occasion, and take the hard, necessary steps to break the cycle of sectarian violence that's tearing Baghdad apart, I am encouraged by what I have seen in recent weeks, and I am confident that the Iraqi leaders understand the gravity of the moment. They know that they will be judged by their own countrymen and by the world for their efforts in the coming weeks.


GEN. CASEY: Thank you, Zal.

Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like just to say a few words on the security aspects of this, and then Zal and I will take your questions.

I'd just like to make five points here.

First of all, securing Baghdad is a key element of our overall plan, and we are committed to helping the Iraqis succeed in Baghdad. Now, I will remind everyone that I have consistently said that I will ask for the troops I to accomplish the mission, and that I will do what it takes to help the Iraqis succeed. And that is what we're doing with this plan.

The current plan to enhance security in the capital has several -- second point -- has several advantages. Most importantly, there is a strong political commitment from the government of Iraq to the plan, including the will to act, and including the will not to impose constraints on coalition and Iraqi security forces. The five points that Zal mentioned from the prime minister's Army Day speech are a good articulation of the government's commitment to this plan.

Second, the plan has more Iraqi buy-in. It is Iraqi conceived, and will be Iraqi led, not only on the security side, but on the political, economic and media/public affairs side. We finished one of the several iterations of the briefings that we had in the plan development, and at the end of the chairman of the group said -- announced -- he said, "This is the first Iraqi plan since the war." And the room broke into applause. So there's a lot more Iraqi buy-in, and that's very important.

Third, together we and the Iraqis have committed sufficient reliable security forces here to ensure that we succeed.

And, finally, as with any plan, there are no guarantees of success, and it's not going to happen overnight. But with sustained political support and the concentrated efforts on all sides, I believe that this plan can work.

Third point. The plan also allows us to sustain our commitment to the Amman agreement between Prime Minister Maliki and President Bush, to accelerate the transition of security responsibilities to the Iraqis, and to accelerate the development of the Iraqi security forces. Today, the fifth of 10 Iraqi divisions passed to Iraqi governmental control. We're halfway there. The rest expect to complete that transition by the spring. And, as you know, we expect all of the provinces -- the government of Iraq and us expect all the provinces to be under Iraqi control by November.

So we should not lose sight of the fact that it is ultimately Iraqi security forces that will secure Iraq. And, as the president said, training of Iraqi security forces remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq. So, in support of that mission, we will also be enhancing our military transition teams. We started out at about 10 persons to a team. We're now going to probably double or triple the size of those to ensure that we help the Iraqis as they move forward from being in a position to lead with our support to an independent capability.

Fourth point. The timetable for the introduction of these additional forces allows us to sustain momentum, reinforce success, and evaluate progress as we go. And I believe this plan gives us great flexibility; and it's a strong statement to the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people of our commitment not only to ensuring success in Baghdad, but to the overall success of this entire mission.

Last point. I'd like to remind the American people about the magnificent job that the men and women of their armed forces are doing over here in a very tough environment. You can be proud of what they're doing to bring peace and stability to Iraq, and in doing so bringing peace and security to the United States of America. Thanks very much.

AMB. KHALILZAD: I second the last point -- all of them of course, but especially the last.

Here first.

Q (Through interpreter.) Your excellency, in light around -- (inaudible) -- and the success of the new American, the new strategy in Iraq, especially after what the Congress has said about this strategy -- (inaudible) -- ?

AMB. KHALILZAD: Thank you very much. I believe that this plan, as I said before, has a good prospect for success. And the reasons are what I said and what George said just now, and that there is a good balance between the objectives of the plan and the resources that are being committed to it, including the five brigades that the United States additionally is committing to Baghdad.

Also, it's very important to underscore what George said, which is this is an integrated plan that's quite comprehensive, that deals with the various elements that make up for the insecurity and the problems that exist now in Baghdad. So I've seen the energy of the leaders, of the prime minister and other leaders, in the meetings that we've had with them, the appointment of senior people such as Adel Abdul Mahdi, to lead the effort on the political track, Barham Salih to lead the effort in support of the plan on the economic front, Deputy Prime Minister Zaubai to lead the services part, and also other people -- Minister -- (inaudible) -- and others in the -- (inaudible) -- press outreach -- it shows a degree of commitment and energy that we have not seen before. But we will have to wait and see. I think the signs are good. And so therefore that makes me optimistic.

Q (Through interpreter.) Thank you. My question is to the -- (inaudible) -- my first question. Everybody agrees that Iraq is going through a political and economic problem and a security problem. How do you read the problem in Iraq?

Second question. When will the Iraqis gain the fruits of security fight? When will the Iraqis witness the fruits of the new security plan? Are there any in this plan, a real confrontation to defeat the terrorists and the resistance? It's not been in an area other than those that are witnessing an accumulation of the insurgents. Those who are in Iraq are not in Baghdad. (Off mike.)

AMB. KHALILZAD: On the first issue, I will add additional sorts of security problems for Iraq besides their security -- internal, political -- and you also mentioned the economic and services issue. And that has an international regional dimension to it, which is that you have some of the neighbors not acting as good neighbors, but rather adding to the difficulties of Iraq in order to take advantage of that. And, at the same time of course there is the international terrorist, al Qaeda focus.

I believe that all of these things need to be addressed, but there is a sequence in this plan, and that sequence is the assumption that I talked about first, which is we need to focus on Baghdad first, to secure Baghdad. And that's important for facilitating or creating circumstances for dealing with the political problems and dealing with the other security issues, but also to focus on the hostile regional interference that needs to be focused on. I think those are some of the sequencing. And the resource issues are the important dimensions beside Iraqi commitment and leadership.

GEN. CASEY: I had trouble with the translation, but I think I picked up the second question as when will the Iraqis start seeing the benefits of the plan. And I think, as I said, it's not going to happen overnight. I think you'll see a gradual evolution over the next two to three months, and then you'll see things continue to get better out through the spring -- out through the summer and fall. But it will take some time.

Q The militias?

GEN. CASEY: The prime minister is quite clear, and as the ambassador mentioned in his opening statement, that militia will not be allowed to be an alternative to the state or to provide and take on local security around the country. They won't do that. And he also was very clear to both the Iraqi security forces and the coalition forces that we should target anyone who breaks the law, regardless of their political or sectarian affiliations.

Q A question to both of you. I just don't see what's changed. You were standing here just 10 weeks ago -- General Casey, you were talking about improved security forces. Ambassador Khalilzad, you were talking about the government being more committed. What has really changed when ordinary Iraqis, they simply do not believe that things are going to be any better? And particularly, General Casey, on the security forces, they're talking about the same doubtful Iraqi army troops, real concerns over the national police force. Why are things going to be different this time?

AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, I can understand and empathize with the Iraqi people. They certainly have suffered a lot, and they've heard positive predictions before, and all of that is true. But I wanted them to know that those predictions made before, the efforts that were made before, were made with the best of intentions, with good plans developed based on understanding of the circumstances of the time.

But they also have to understand that the enemy is also a player and adapts and changes to thwart to success, or to respond to success. As the president said, we were making good progress -- President Bush -- on the political track, and we had certain assumptions based -- associated with that. But then Samarra happened, which had a negative effect. I believe that this plan is quite robust and has, therefore, in my view, better prospects of producing results. And therefore I have greater confidence in the success. But I do appreciate what you said about the attitude of the Iraqi people, and it's perfectly understandable.

GEN. CASEY: And I would agree with what Zal has said. We have been here before. But, as I said in my opening comments, what's different is a stronger level of political commitment from the government, a better organization on the Iraqi side to help their own plan succeed. And I will tell you, yes, there are still difficulties with the Iraqi security forces, and that has been a challenge. And with the increased deployment of coalition forces, it will enable us to increase the level of support we are providing to those forces, to strengthen them a little bit a we go forward with this plan. And, as I said, there's no guarantees here, but I do believe that with continued political reenforcement and political support this plan can go forward. And it's an opportunity for the Iraqi people to get on board and support their security forces, to move this whole country forward.

Q Richard Engel from NBC for General Casey, if you don't mind. There are already indications that the militias are just moving outside of Baghdad. This is a Baghdad security plan. But the militias are dominant in places like Diyala and in southern Iraq. What is going to stop them outside of the capital? How long do you anticipate needing extra American forces? And what happens when the surge goes away? Don't the militias and insurgents just return? Thank you.

GEN. CASEY: Okay. On the militia, Baghdad -- the Baghdad plan itself is integrated to a holistic countrywide plan that the multinational corps is developing. And security for Baghdad won't just come from securing the inside of Baghdad. It comes from the support zones around the outside, as far away as you suggest -- Baqubah and Ramadi and Fallujah. It goes all the way out to the borders to stop the flow of foreign fighters and support coming in. So there -- this is nested in a holistic countrywide plan to bring security to the entire country.

How long will we need the additional forces? Until we succeed. Until the job is done here with the Iraqis.

Now, the other thing that's happening, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, is the Amman agreement. And the Iraqi security forces over 2007 will get to a point where they will increasingly take responsibility for their own security. And as they do that we will move more and more to a supporting role, and they will take more and more of the lead. So that process is happening at the same time as we're working hard here to bring security to Baghdad.

Q Claudia Parsons of Reuters. You talked about the Iraqi government commitment and sort of unity. But already in the past week we've seen some differences of opinion on this arrest of these Iranians in Irbil. Why are there these differences in opinion? The Iraqis have asked you to release these people. Are you going to release them?

AMB. KHALILZAD: I think the Iraqis are going through an adjustment process -- and by Iraqis I mean different political forces. There is no problem in terms of understanding between us and the prime minister. In the past, before Saddam Hussein was overthrown, a number of groups opposed to the regime operated from outside Iraq, and they developed relations with some of the institutions and organizations of the neighboring states that supported them, and those are almost invariably security institutions. But now Iraq is in a different place. There is a state. Some of those people who were opposed are now in the government. And there cannot be and there should not be relations with security institutions of neighboring states that work against the interests of this new Iraq -- attack coalition forces, Iraqis; undermine the stability of Iraq. And that the relationships have to be done authoritatively through normal channels. And what I've just said is the policy of the prime minister of the Iraqi government. So these gentlemen were not diplomats that we're holding, and they are, by discussions that I've had with people -- (inaudible) -- Revolutionary Guard representatives in the Kurdish area of Iraq, and with ties to and some of them from the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard. And that is in the organization that has a role, direct role, in the transfer of weapons and working with extremists that target coalition forces, who are here at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and under U.N. resolution, and is working for this new Iraq. And therefore we are upset and we have, as I said, an understanding with the prime minister that we will target these networks in the hope of and expectation of changing the behavior of the states to get them to be more positive towards this country that's in transition that is going through a difficult period.

GEN. CASEY: If I could -- and check me on this, Zal -- but I don't think there's any disagreement on the fact that these folks that we have captured are foreign intelligence agents in this country working with Iraqis to destabilize Iraq and target coalition forces that are here at Iraq's request. I don't think there's any disagreement on that.

Q (Through interpreter.) My question has two parts. First, for Ambassador Khalilzad, there is call by Condoleezza Rice that coincided with the American strategy, calling the Arab world to integrate Iraq into -- especially in light of the latest escalations. How do you respond to this call?

The second question, to General Casey: When would you deliver all the prisons to the Iraqi forces? And what is the time and the date of the delivery?

GEN. CASEY: Delivery of weapons?

Q No, prisons.

GEN. CASEY: Prisons.

AMB. KHALILZAD: But let me answer your question, the first part, which is the secretary of State is in the region in part to engage the Arab states to explain the new plan to them and the reciprocal nature of the plan, and at the same time ask the Arab states to engage positively with Iraq. And that -- and there is concern, as we know, in some of the Arab countries with regard to Iranian influence and so on. And the best way that they can help in that regard is to engage -- to embrace this new Iraq. And isolating Iraq, disengaging or not working with the leaders of Iraq only plays into the hands of those who would like to have a greater influence here.

So she will be working hard. I don't have anything to report on that. She's just gotten to Egypt, and she will be going to the rest of the Arab countries. So we will have something to say on that at some point down the road. But at this point I don't have anything to report on her success in this domain.

GEN. CASEY: On prisons, the prisons in Iraq are already under the control of the Ministry of Justice. We operate two detention facilities, and we are in the process of training Iraqi guards for those facilities with the full intentions of transitioning those facilities to the Iraqi government, probably over the course of this year, but we are still in discussions with them on the exact time.

Q Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times. You mentioned that over the past few weeks you picked up some positive signals in talking to the political leaders here. Could you detail what those signals are? Because everything we're picking up is the opposite. When we talk to Sunnis, when we talk to Shi'a, there's a lot of skepticism. And you said that this plan was formulated by the Maliki government. That's a big surprise to us at least, because we always were under the impression that it was formulated in Washington. Could you give us some details about how the plan was formulated and how the -- what signs you see of Iraqi buy-in? AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, absolutely. Well, George will talk, I am sure, about the plan in detail. And I have participated in some of them and George --

GEN. CASEY: Mixing the Baghdad plan with the president's plan.

AMB. KHALILZAD: No, I'm talking about the Baghdad security plan we're talking about, the conception of how many districts the city will be divided in, what kind of command structure there will be, how many Iraqi forces will be in each of these districts. All Iraqis and the fact that it will have a political component, economic services and public affairs, and the chain of command -- all of them Iraqi. And we have supported it. So that's why I think in that sense it's different. But there is also the commitment to work with other political leaders to have their buy-in.

Now, when I have talked with political leaders, whether from the Shi'a side or from the Sunni side, like Vice President Tariq Hashemi, when the plan has been explained to them they are supportive of it. They just, some of them, they have issues -- whether they will be implemented as described. But with regard to the conception of it, that anyone and everyone that will break the law will be pursued -- there will be no sanctuary; that political micromanagement will not take place. All the points that we are making they said they are in support of that. But of course everybody wants to see whether they will be implemented, and that's understandable.

GEN. CASEY: I can't add to that.

Q (Off mike)?

GEN. CASEY: The prime minister was involved in the discussions on that, and the troops that are on their way here have been approved by the prime minister for moving into Baghdad. And all future decisions on troops movements in and out of Iraq will be in consultation with the government of Iraq.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, yes, sir? And then we'll come back.

Q (Name inaudible) -- from Italy. A question to the ambassador. Sir, Secretary of State Rice said on record that Prime Minister Maliki is living on borrowed time. How can a borrowed prime minister, or a minister on borrowed time, lead such a complex plan and be part of this?

And a question to the general: Will you plan to send troops also inside Sadr City with the same presence that the other part of the town of Baghdad? Thank you.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Iraq is a sovereign country. The prime minister is an elected prime minister. The Iraqi people decide what happens to their leaders. The statement that had been made about the urgency for action has been -- reflects this doubt or concern that exists in many places whether the Iraqi leadership will decide to do what is necessary. And I have discussed these issues with the prime minister, and he has said that they need to move not because of what we're saying or what is being said in Washington, but he has said we have to move to secure the capital city because of Iraqi interests. And, as I said, I personally, based on what I've seen in the last few weeks, I'm encouraged. And therefore there is no American imposed deadline on the government of the prime minister that you must perform or else, or you must do X or else. No. We respect the fact that this is a sovereign country and there is an elected prime minister.

GEN. CASEY: The question on Sadr City. The plan calls to treat all districts equally. And, again, the prime minister has said in his speech there will be no area of Iraq that will be allowed to become a safe haven. So all districts will be treated equally.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Yes, ma'am?

Q Hi, Kim Gamel with the Associated Press. First of all a follow-up on the question about the detained Iranians. And you said there wasn't any doubt that they were -- I don't remember your exact wording -- but the Iraqi --

AMB. KHALILZAD: Intelligence -

Q That's right, thank you. But the Iraqi foreign minister yesterday said they were working in the legitimate liaison office, and he called for their release. So I wonder if you could address will they be released or are there talks about this?

GEN. CASEY: We're continuing our investigation, and when we conclude the investigation we'll make a judgment on their release.

We have statements made by people in detention, and we have records that give us great confidence that these are in fact intelligence operatives.

AMB. KHALILZAD: And you have to -- one other thing that the spokesman said yesterday that they were diplomats. What's clearer is that they are not, and that they do not have diplomatic status here. And no Iraqi government person has asserted or established or stated that they were diplomats.

Q And then -- I'm sorry, that was a follow-up -- just one question for the general.

AMB. KHALILZAD: (Laughs.) I shouldn't have done that.

Q And, General, if you can talk about the command structure of the Baghdad operation, how much agreement is there on the command structure? And can you elaborate a little bit on how it's going to work between the Iraqi and U.S. forces? GEN. CASEY: Yes. The Iraqi chain of command, I think you know, there is a Baghdad operational commander -- has been appointed. He will report to a crisis establishment that includes the security ministers and myself, and we report to the prime minister. Beneath him there are two divisional level commands, one for the Kharkh side and one for the Rusafa side. The districts -- there are four districts on the Kharkh side and five on the Rusafa side. They will have brigade commanders in charge of them.

We will have our forces working in coordination with those brigades, battalions and divisions. Instructions will come from the prime minister through the crisis establishment to the Baghdad operational commander, and they will go jointly down the U.S. chain, and we will work that, as I said, in coordination at every level.


Q A question to General Casey. When do you think the first batch of new troops, U.S. enforcements, reinforcements, will arrive in Baghdad? And is there any fixed date or anything, a week when the plan will actually take off, the new plan?

GEN. CASEY: I don't want to talk too much about troop movements, but the initial elements of the first group are already here. And then, again, I'm not going to presage what may be coming on the start of the operations.


Q (Through interpreter.) My question has a relationship to the previous question. What is the accuracy of the news that there are 4,000 American troops that have reached Baghdad?

This is for the, secondly, for the ambassador. The day that it was announced, the American strategy was announced, there was a difference -- there were differences on the streets about the increase of the American forces. The citizens are looking for security -- are rejecting an increase of the troops. Have those who made the strategy looked into what the citizens want?

GEN. CASEY: I wouldn't want to comment on exactly how many troops are here. Four thousand is a little high, but I wouldn't want to comment beyond that.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, I can understand that Iraqis would like to see Iraqis looking after their security, and that's the goal that we have as well. But it is the judgment of the Iraqis, as well as our leader, military leaders here, that for the short term in order to secure Baghdad there is a need for the brigades that I talked about to assist. But that is, as I said in my comments, it's a short-term effort to muscle up, to stabilize the situation in order to be able to then, as the Iraqi capabilities also further increase, and the situation stabilizes, to allow for a reduction in U.S. forces, and Iraqis take on increased responsibility. But the desire, the goal, the comfort that many Iraqis, like people everywhere would like to have their own security forces and wish to have confidence in their forces, and credible with them taking care of their security situation, is perfectly understandable.

GEN. CASEY: I think -- but I'd just add to that, as I said in my opening comments, it's important for Iraqis to understand that this is intended to help our execution of the Amman agreement, and to help accelerate the transition of security responsibility to the Iraqis. And we believe this will, as I said, move the security situation in the right direction, so the transfer can safely take place.

AMB. KHALILZAD: John? Sorry.

Q I have a question for General Casey. I'm John Burns, New York Times. General, we have consistently heard from American military officers, in this war and others, about the importance of a clear chain of command. We know there is the American tradition at war to maintain at all times the command of American forces, and not to cede that to foreign powers. You have a command structure for this new plan which sounds as though serious compromises have had to be made in that, or at least at West Point in the years to come there may be some vigorous debate about this as a new model -- template, matrix -- and it could be a very vulnerable part of the entire plan, as far as we understand from -- (inaudible) -- different parts of the discussions.

GEN. CASEY: Coalition warfare and command structures are always a little bit different than the doctrinal norm. That said, we won't violate our basic principles of command as we go forward in this process. And in the discussions with the Iraqis we are working out written understandings at every level to ensure that there are no misunderstandings in this.

Transitions are always hard. They're always harder than just one side doing something and somebody else doing something. But transitions generate friction, and we are in a period of transition. But the command structures that we will put in place and the understandings that we will formally put in place will ensure, one, we can execute the mission; and, two, that the Iraqi and coalition forces can operate effectively.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Yes, sir. And after you will be the last one.

Q (Through interpreter.) My question is to Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad. Then to General Casey. My first question is that the American strategy, the new American strategy, was heavy with regard to some of the political forces and political leaderships, and others welcomed it, other blocs welcomed it. How was the cooperation done in order to have -- to serve the public interests with regard to this strategy? My question to General Casey is that the army militias had penetrated into the Iraqi security forces and the police or the army. The removal of such militias can create a direct confrontation with the American forces. What will you do if this happens? Thank you.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Two quick points. Point one, that there is a political outreach that the government is conducting through, as I said, Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, to generate political support for the plan from various forces.

The government has decided -- and those forces are represented in them -- but there is a need for broader outreach, and engagement and explanation of what the plan is, because in a situation that is polarized here, there is -- some people are assuming it's targeting -- this plan is aimed at targeting them because they are from one sect or one political orientation. And others are speculating or fearing it's targeting the other. But, as I said before, and a very basic premise of this plan is that it is targeting all those who break the law.

And the second point is there's been a lot of attention paid to the military side of the plan, to the issue of the surge. But the plan, as General Casey said, and I said, it is really a comprehensive plan that has also the political and economic issues that have not gotten as much attention as they do deserve. And it's very important that for ultimate success in Iraq these things are interactive, and one needs to pay attention to all of them.

GEN. CASEY: Your question on militia infiltration of the security forces. One, it's Iraqis that will purge the Iraqis from the security forces who are not loyal to the government. The minister of interior has a strong reform program going. I believe the number is up to almost 6,000 -- the people that he has removed from the embassy for not being loyal to the state of Iraq.

We also have in place for the national police a transformation program, where they are taken off line for a month, taken down to a training center and retrained and given police training skills. At the same time, Iraqis vet the ranks of those units, and weed out the bad leaders and the bad police.

A similar program is starting by the police station for the local police. But it's Iraqis that are going there and weeding out the bad elements. So over time -- it's not going to happen overnight either -- but over time I think you're going to see a strengthening of the Iraqi security forces because of this reform process that they're going through, both in the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Nancy, last question.

Q Thank you. Nancy Youssef with McClatchy Newspapers. You both have mentioned that you are confident that the Iraqi government has sort of a renewed faith in going after both Sunni and Shi'a extremists. But if it appears that the Iraqi government is in fact not committed to that, and they're going after one set more than the others, what will the U.S. do to resolve this such that they're not being used as pawns in this, what some call an increased ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods or civil war?

AMB. KHALILZAD: Well, that's not premises -- or the premise of the plan. That's not the reciprocal understanding based on which this plan is being supported. As I said, I'm encouraged by what I have seen in the last few weeks, and we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and let's see what happens, and not before even the plan has gotten fully implemented to start raising questions. I think that will be a conversation down the road. I hope it will be unnecessary.

But at this point what we're focused on is to help implement the plan based on the premises that we've agreed to. And so far I don't have a -- based on the last two, three weeks of interaction that we've had on this plan -- I'm not concerned. We will have to wait and see.

GEN. CASEY: Normally I wouldn't want to add to Zal's hypothetical answer, but I would tell you that there is an awareness at the highest levels of the government that they have to keep an eye on this. So there is an understanding that if they see it, I believe they're going to take quick action.

AMB. KHALILZAD: And I think what General Casey probably meant, if I could add, is the Iraqi government --

GEN. CASEY: I did. (Laughter.)

AMB. KHALILZAD: Sure, yeah. Right.

Well, thank you all. George, do you want to take another one?

GEN. CASEY: After you, Zal.

Q (Off mike) -- the American people are very concerned -- Richard Engel again. I think the American people are going to be very concerned that their sons and daughters are now part of an Iraqi-led plan. You describe yourself as effectively an advisor. Is this plan putting more American soldiers at risk, and part of a Iraqi plan?

GEN. CASEY: This is a plan that is Iraqi conceived. But, as Zal mentioned in his opening statement, we have been involved with this plan every step of the way, and we are working very, very closely with their leaders. And American forces will remain under American command, period -- no issues. And our forces, frankly, will not be at greater risk. Although the more forces you bring here, the greater the risk of casualties to our forces. But they won't be put at risk because of the command relationships.

AMB. KHALILZAD: Thank you very much. END.

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