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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: U.S. Commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus April 25, 2007

Media Stakeout with Gen. Petraeus After a Closed Briefing with U.S. Senators from The Crypt, The Capitol, Washington, D.C.

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, good evening to you all. We've had two good sessions with the House and the Senate -- good exchanges. We provided an update on the situation in Iraq, the operational environment, the challenges, the progress to date, the setbacks to date, and then had a number of good exchanges -- questions and answers and so forth.

Q General, did you give the members any specific number in terms of violence, and what numbers did you give them?

GEN. PETRAEUS: What I did highlight was one of the areas in which there has been progress, and that is in the reduction in sectarian murders in Baghdad, which is about one-third now of what it was in January. That's an important development because the sectarian murders can be a cancer in a neighborhood. It is something on which our commanders and the Iraqi commanders have focused quite a bit, and it is an area in which, as I say, there has been progress. Having said that, the ability of al Qaeda to conduct horrific sensational attacks obviously has represented a setback and is an area in which we are focusing considerable attention, as you might imagine.

Q Any other numbers you can share?

GEN. PETRAEUS: No, that really -- that -- really trends was what I was talking about.

Q General, a number of the members came away saying that you delivered a sobering report. Do you have an idea -- I mean, is the progress not what you expected? Why would they come away with that?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I -- what I tried to do is to give an accurate depiction of the situation in Iraq -- a forthright assessment. It's an assessment that therefore includes areas in which there's been progress. As I mentioned, for example, the reduction of sectarian murders in Baghdad -- a very important development. And again, remember we're in very early days on this. We're only about two months into the surge. We won't have all the forces on the ground until mid-June and I pointed that out to them, and noted that Ambassador Crocker and I would be doing an assessment in early September and provide that to our respective bosses at that time. That's something we agreed when Secretary Gates was out there.

I also pointed out the progress in Anbar Province, which has been very substantial, as you know. Literally over the last two months, Anbar has gone -- or certainly over the last six months -- from being assessed as being lost, to a situation that now is quite heartening because of the decision by a number of Sunni Arab tribes to join the fight against al Qaeda, saying no more -- they've had it -- and linking arms with the coalition to take on al Qaeda and one city after another really cleaning them out all the way down the Euphrates River Valley from al Qaim and Husaybah through Haditha, Hit, Ramadi and so forth, although as I pointed out to each of the respective bodies -- the House and the Senate -- there still is considerable work to be done in Anbar Province although all the trends are in the right direction. And in fact the two additional Marine battalions that are part of the surge are now operating just for the first couple of weeks in Anbar Province, and they'll be joined by some additional forces later on as with the two additional Army brigades as they move in to their respective areas in and around Baghdad.

Q General Petraeus, you once famously asked how did this end. How does this end and does the debate in Congress over timelines for withdrawal help define that endgame or is it hindering your efforts?

GEN. PETRAEUS: What I would like to see Iraq end as, of course, is a government -- a country that is one Iraq with a government that is representative of and responsive to the people -- all the people of Iraq, that can defend itself, at peace with itself, and ideally an ally in the global war on terror. I'm not going to get into the minefield of discussions about various legislative proposals. I don't think that's something that military commanders should get into. I did mention at one point during each of the different briefings that it is I think always helpful to remember the various audiences out there as this wonderful democratic process goes forward, and those are our partners, our allies, our coalition partners, the enemy, and also, frankly, our men and women in uniform who are giving their all for this effort, and their families who are sacrificing a great deal as well.

Q Does that mean they could be demoralized by some of the statements?

Q General, are you being pressured by the president to continue to say that the U.S. involvement should continue in Iraq?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I'm not being pressured by the president to say anything. I am a soldier and I'm going to give a forthright assessment, and that's all that I will provide, and I'm not going to be pressured by political leaders of either party.

Q And you think U.S. involvement should continue even though you have said in the past --

GEN. PETRAEUS: Right here. I'm sorry, right --

Q General, beyond -- beyond perhaps specific timelines or deadlines, would you agree with Democrats that the talk about benchmarks and requirements on the government is helpful to getting people -- the parties on the ground in Iraq to get towards the political solution you've talked about?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Again, I'm not going to get into specifics about legislative proposals. What I will say is that what we did discuss in there is the fact that this Prime Minister Maliki -- this is not -- he's not Prime Minister Blair with a parliamentary system that is all of his party. He was elected by one vote in a very close and lengthy process. The parties are all represented in this government. It is not truly one that you can call a government of national unity, and there are varying ethnosectarian interests represented by those different political parties and leaders. If you accept that -- if you acknowledge that, then you realize that you have to encourage, reassure, pressure a number of different key individuals in this process.

And it's much more than just Prime Minister Maliki, who I do believe is doing his best to be a leader for all Iraqis and is trying to move forward the legislation that would reflect that desire. But you have to get to the leaders of the different coalitions of parties if you will, the Shi'a lists, the Tawafik (ph), the Sunni Arab parties, the Kurdish parties and then some of the other subordinate elements, sub elements of each of those different blocs. And again, you can't just focus on him and make this happen. We have to encourage all of them, and we have to do all of that simultaneously. One last question, please.

Q Would you say that you are where you want to be in this operation by now? I mean, you took command.

You must have had an idea how this was going to work. Are you where you wanted to be, or are things not going so well?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sure, we are actually ahead of where I wanted to be in some areas and probably behind where we might have hoped to be in some other areas. We are ahead, I think, with respect, as I mentioned, to the reduction of sectarian murders in Baghdad. Progress in Anbar is almost something that's breathtaking. We have made huge inroads. I think that you just saw an announcement -- the killing of the security emir of al Qaeda Iraq in eastern Anbar province, the detention of the Qazali network. This is the secret cells of the Shi'a extremist network. I'm not sure whether we've announced it, but we picked up the Shavani (ph) network head in Iraq. That's the explosively formed projectile element inside Iraq that gets from the other in Iran the explosively formed projectiles. We have learned a great deal more about Iranian involvement, very nefarious involvement involving funding, training on Iranian soil, advice and the provision of, again, lots of arms and ammunition, including these explosively formed projectiles that have been so lethal against some of our armored vehicles.

In some other areas, we obviously have work to do, and that is, obviously, in the area of the car bomb networks. Although we did police-up the Resafah car bomb network in eastern Baghdad, one that was responsible for killing 650 Iraqis in a two and a half month period prior to their detention, and have picked up a number of others and a number of network leaders and other important participants in al Qaeda Iraq. Clearly, we have additional work to be done to make inroads into those who are carrying out these horrific suicide bombing attacks against all Iraqis.

In fact, the other day, Secretary of Defense Gates said that his sense was that al Qaeda Iraq has declared war on all Iraqis. They have attacked Sunni Arabs, they have attacked Shi'a, they have attacked Iraqi Kurds. No one has been outside their crosshairs. And they have targeted indiscriminately civilians, crowds outside mosques and all the rest of that.

There has been progress in terms of hardening markets, in terms of hardening neighborhoods. And although there is a big discussion about this one neighborhood, Adhamiya, which is sensitive because it's the site of a very, very important Sunni Arab shrine, by and large, these have gone on uneventfully. Most of the neighbors want to be secured against the bad guys who are coming in. This is not about walling off Sunni from Shi'a. This is about walling off neighborhoods. Sometimes they are predominantly one sect or the other. Sometimes, they are mixed. And again, the idea is you cannot hold the neighborhood if you cannot control access to it. And that means that you have to have a method of controlling vehicle flow in and out of it. And that's why in fact Iraqis as well as coalition forces have carried forward this kind of effort. We have done the same thing in Ramadi, by the way, and it has been crucial, as we've literally reclaimed that city with Iraqi partners right by our side -- in some cases in advance -- literally pushing cement forward. And people talk about the concrete caterpillar that grows 500 meters every night in certain parts of Baghdad or the Arizona creeper. All of this is part of efforts to control population and to provide security for people in Baghdad and in other locations.

Thanks very much for waiting. Thank you, all.

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