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Press Briefing, Feb. 9, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq

Friday, 09 February 2007

Gen. George Casey, commanding general, MNF-I


GEN. CASEY: Good afternoon. Asalam aleikum. Thank you for coming this afternoon.

Tomorrow I'll be leaving after two-and-a-half years as the commander of the multinational force, and I wanted to take a few minutes just to say thank you to the Iraqi people and to tell them that it has been my honor and my privilege to serve Iraq over the last two-and-a-half years.

Iraq has accomplished a lot in the last two-and-a-half years. If you think about it, two-and-a-half years ago, Iraq was almost entirely dependent on coalition forces for their security. But today, the Iraqi security forces are poised to assume security responsibility by the end of 2007. And there's no question in my mind that by that time the Iraqi security forces will be the dominant security forces in the country. And what's interesting is tomorrow at the change of command, General Petraeus will take -- will be my successor as the commander of the multinational force, but it will be Prime Minister Maliki and Iraqi generals who will be my successor in leading the Iraqi armed forces. There's an awful lot still to do in Iraq, as you know better than I, but after having watched the Iraqi people for a period of years, I've got great confidence that you will all get together and move the country forward.

People always ask me how can I be so optimistic. Four reasons. One, I believe in the inherent desire of people to live and prosper in freedom.

And I know the Iraqi people suffered terribly under 35 years of tyranny. And I know the Iraqi people don't want to go back to that.

Secondly, I travel all around the country. And while things in Baghdad aren't where we want them, all across Iraq, Iraqis are going forward in small steps every day.

Third, what I've seen is when Iraqis want big things to happen, they happen. The January 2005 elections, the constitution, the referendum on the constitution, the elections, and the peaceful transfer of two governments -- those were all huge historic events and they happened because the Iraqi people wanted something better. And I believe that the Iraqi people will come to grips with the sectarian violence that's griping the center of the country and move the country forward to a bright future.

And lastly, I believe in the absolute competence and professionalism of the coalition forces and of the Iraqi security forces. And I am very confident that the Iraqi security forces will emerge in the coming months as the dominant security forces in Iraq.

So, it has been my honor and privilege to serve the Iraqi people. And though I will leave tomorrow, I will leave a bit of my heart here in Iraq.

So thank you very much.

Q (In Arabic.)

GEN. CASEY: Yes! (Laughs.)

INTERPRETER: This is a two-part question, sir. The first one, the question asked -- you know, she asked -- the first question she asked -- you were against an increase in the number of U.S. troops, and you said it many times. What made you change your mind and you think now we need more troops?

And the second part of the question: Are you -- when you leave Iraq tomorrow, are you going to be satisfied with your performance here in Iraq?

GEN. CASEY: Good questions.

On the first, we and our Iraqi colleagues constantly evaluate the situation on the ground. And while my basic view is, Iraqi security forces should be responsible for security in Iraq and that we should minimize the number of coalition forces, at this point in time, the security situation in Baghdad is such that the Iraqi security forces need some additional help from us to bring security to Baghdad.

And so we recommended -- we and our Iraqi colleagues recommended to the prime minister that there were additional forces required, and he approved that.

The second question: Am I satisfied with my performance?

Q (In Arabic.)

INTERPRETER: Okay. Sir, you know, the other part of the question: Are you satisfied with your performance in Iraq, even though when you received your responsibility, the security situation was much better than what it is right now?

GEN. CASEY: Yeah. Right. It was better for different reasons.

But what I will tell you is, I'm not happy with where we are in Baghdad right now. And it has been the sectarian tensions and violence that were spawned by the bombing of the al-Askari mosque in February of last year that have made the security situation much more difficult.

And that situation, the sectarian situation, is something that we can help resolve, but it is something that ultimately Iraqis have to resolve themselves. I think you know better than I Iraq has an awful lot of work to do to improve its quality -- the quality of life for the Iraqi people, to improve its ministries, to improve its capability to govern and to improve its security forces.

So I am proud of what we have accomplished with the Iraqis here in the last two and a half years, but there's a lot more work to do. And what we say with our security colleagues -- Iraqi security colleagues is "Iltizam Mushtarak." And we have that united commitment to help Iraq succeed.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name and affiliation inaudible.) I would like to take advantage of your presence here in the last few hours that you have remaining in Iraq to ask about some incidents happened in the previous week.

The first question is concerning the detainment and arrest of the deputy Health minister by the American forces. Did the American forces have any evidence against this guy, you know, for his detainment?

And the second part of the question, was he detained, you know, because of the planned course for the arrest and then the detainment of anyone who violates the law, no matter what -- you know, what sect or religious party he belongs to?

And the other question is about the kidnapping of the Iranian in Karrada. A lot of accusation has been pointed out towards the American forces. What do you comment about this incident?

GEN. CASEY: The second one first, because that's the easiest. It wasn't us. We had nothing to do with the Iranian diplomat's kidnapping.

On the deputy Health minister, two things. One, he was detained by Iraqi security forces, not coalition forces. And he was detained at the direction of the Iraqi government for exactly the reason that you stated, that the Iraqi government is committed to imposing the rule of law on all those who break the law, regardless of their position or sectarian or religious group. And I firmly believe that that's the way it's has to be, and that's the way that Iraq will go forward.

Q (Through interpreter.) I have two questions.

The first one: What's the degree of accuracy about the news we heard about the killing or capture of Abu Ayyub al-Masri in Mahmudiyah? And the second question: A while ago you detained Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al- Darraji. What's the reason behind keeping him detained? And did he give any statements or any confession?

GEN. CASEY: On the first one, that would be good news, but I have heard nothing about Abu Ayyub al-Masri being killed in Mahmudiyah.

Second, on Sheikh Darraji, he was wanted for a series of potential crimes against both coalition forces and against Iraqis. And he's being detained so that those allegations can be fully investigated.

One more question? You already had one. And they were hard questions, too.

Q (Through interpreter.) This is a two-part question, sir. The first question: We notice recently there has been an increase in the number of downed U.S. helicopters. The question is, is it part of the weakness of the performance of the American Army or is it these -- you know, the al Qaeda are getting more advanced weapons and attacking more frequently?

And the second question is about Baghdad security plan. What kind of preparation you already have for Baghdad security plan, and when this plan is going to start?

GEN. CASEY: On the first one, we do not see this recent rash of helicopter shoot-downs as an increase in weapons or technology by the anti-Iraqi forces. Two of the incidents have been well-executed anti- aircraft ambushes; the others have been incidental to support of ground operations. So it is not -- we are not seeing a trend in increased weaponry or proficiency on the part of al Qaeda or the Ba'athists.

And on the Baghdad security plan, the Baghdad security plan never stopped. It's been going on steadily for months. And what you're seeing and will be seeing over the coming weeks is an increased number of Iraqi security forces moving into Baghdad and occupying nine districts around the city.

And I was in Rusafa two days ago, and I sat in on a meeting with an Iraqi army brigade commander, the district chiefs of police and the district advisory and local advisory councils. And there was great interaction among the army, the police and the people about the appropriate way to provide security for that district, and I think what you're going to see is a gradually accelerating pressure on the -- against the terrorists and death squads until Baghdad is ultimately secure.

Thank you very much. My pleasure.


GEN. CASEY: Okay. I'm going to do him first, and then I'll move for you. All right, ready?

Q (Through interpreter.) There's two questions, General Casey. I have two questions.

The first question, what is your position about the reduction of the British forces in Basra? Is it an indication -- is this what the Americans want so they can increase their presence and their influence in the area?

And the second question is about, what do you think about the stand of the Iraqi government towards the interference by the neighboring countries, especially Iran, which you are saying that they are the one -- the most participant ones in increasing the violence in Iraq?

GEN. CASEY: Well, first of all, let me say that after two and a half years here, it has been the greatest honor and privilege of my career to serve the Iraqi people. And I recognize that things in Iraq are difficult, but all across Iraq, Iraqis are moving forward every day, and I have great confidence that in the near term, Iraqis will come together and put this country on the path to the right future that they so well deserve.

Basra -- the coalition forces in Basra have had a series of operations there to improve the quality of life and security in Basra. As Iraqi security forces become more and more capable and take more and more responsibility for their security, the coalition forces adjust to our presence. We've done that in three provinces already, and we'll continue to do that across Iraq. And I think the British reductions that you spoke of are a response to actually improving capabilities in the Iraqi security forces in Basra.

With respect to the government's position on the Iranian interference in Iraq, I think they are taking a very appropriate and strong position. No country needs intelligence operatives from another country actively working to destabilize a neighbor, and Iraq shouldn't expect that from Iran, and I think the government has been very strong in saying that they're not going to tolerate that.

Thank you.

Who am I looking at? (Cross talk.)

Anything for you?

STAFF: We got one more after this, so --

Q It's okay. (Inaudible.)

Q (Through interpreter.) General Casey, while you leave the seat of command to another commander here in Iraq, how do you see the chances of the succeeding of the Baghdad Security Plan?

GEN. CASEY: Well, first of all, let me just say to your audience that the two and a half years I've spent here in Iraq serving the Iraqi people have been the greatest honor and privilege of my career.

Now, how do I see the chances for the Baghdad Security Plan? I think there's a very good chance of success here for several reasons.

One, it's an Iraqi plan that was conceived by Iraqis.

Second, it's a plan that will be led by Iraqis and supported by the coalition.

And third -- and I was just in a meeting in Rusafa the other day -- what we're seeing there is the interaction of the army, the police and the population to bring security to these neighborhoods, and that's very powerful, and that's why the Baghdad Security Plan is going to succeed.

Thank you.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CASEY: Who is this?

(Cross talk.)

GEN. CASEY: You cameramen are so temperamental.

(Cross talk.)

Q (In Arabic.)

INTERPRETER: General Casey, you said that the coalition forces provided a lot to the Iraqi people, but at least they did not provide enough security. What would you say on that question?

And the second part of the question, you said that we did provide a lot of weapons to the Iraqi army and equipment to the Iraqi army, but the level of armament of the Iraqi army is not the required level. What do you say about that also?

GEN. CASEY: Okay, well first of all, let me just say that the two-and-half years I've spent here serving the Iraqi people have been the greatest honor and privilege of my career. And what the Iraqi people are achieving here is historic.

And with respect to the equipping of the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi security forces have been equipped with the sufficient weapons to dominate the enemy. And I think you're also going to see them continually modernizing their weapons. And the government has ordered 40 battalions forth of U.S. weapons. And so they're already moving to modernize the Iraqi security forces to ensure that they have much better weapons than the enemy.

Now, on your question about the coalition forces and security, we contribute to security here in Iraq. But the security problems now are primarily sectarian and it's Iraqis fighting and killing Iraqis. And that is something we can help solve, but it's fundamentally a problem that Iraqis are going to have to deal with themselves. "Iltizam Mushtarak."

Thanks. STAFF: Sir, we have a very short question for the last -- very short.

Q (In Arabic.)

GEN. CASEY: Which one are you?

Q From Al-Sumariyah TV. Okay.

(To cameraman) Ready?

GEN. CASEY: It's so temperamental.

Q (In Arabic.)

INTERPRETER: General Casey, what's the reason of the timing this time of the battle of Baghdad or what you call Baghdad security plan?

Where were you before this time?

And a second part of the question, who is being targeted in this security plan? And do you think and do you have a feeling that this plan is going to succeed?

GEN. CASEY: Second and third questions first. Yes, I believe it's going to succeed. It's going to succeed because it's Iraqi- conceived, Iraqi-led, and it involves Iraqi army, police and population in Iraq to provide the security in the neighborhoods.

And to the first part of your question, the bombing of the al- Askari mosque has set off a sectarian violence and tensions that have escalated over -- across 2006, and we have been working very hard with Iraqi security forces to dampen that violence. But ultimately, it's going to take security and political and economic actions to bring that to a halt until the people of Baghdad can feel safe in their neighborhoods.

Let me just say that it has been an absolute honor and privilege to have served the Iraqi people for the last two-and-a-half years, and I am confident in your ultimate success.

Thank you.


Q All right, sir. Well, as MNFI commander the last two-and- a-half years, you've seen a lot of things here. What do you think -- would you care to elaborate on some of the successes and challenges the coalition has faced?

GEN. CASEY: I just wanted to take a few moments to talk to the men and women of Multinational Force Iraq and to their predecessors, as I get ready to leave here tomorrow, after two-and-a-half years as your commander. First of all, I just want to say that you can be incredibly proud of what you have accomplished over time in this historic and challenging mission. The Iraqi people have moved forward considerably in the last two-and-a-half years, and it has been a direct result of your efforts.

I'd also like to thank the families, who are the real heroes of the war on terror. They shoulder a heavy burden, and we are blessed to have their unwavering support. And I would also like to thank the families of those who have lost loved ones here, the more than 3,000 coalition forces who have given their lives to build a better Iraq, to bring freedom and democracy to 27 million Iraqis, and to bring better security to the United States of America. They will never be forgotten, and we celebrate their contribution to freedom.

I'd close here with a little poem I found on a -- as I was going through some things the other day. It came off a British memorial in Burma, actually, and it goes like this: "When you go home, tell them of us/Tell them that we gave our today for their tomorrow."

And tomorrow I'll go home, but I'll tell them of you. And I'll tell the of you who give their today every day to build a better future for Iraq, the Middle East, and the United States of America.

God bless you all. Good luck. Thanks.


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