Press Briefing, August 26, 2007
BRIEFING BY REAR ADMIRAL MARK FOX, COMMUNICATIONS DIVISION CHIEF, STRATEGIC EFFECTS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ; AND PHILIP REEKER, COUNSELOR FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS TO THE U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ.
TOPIC: UPDATES ON MILITARY OPERATIONS, ECONOMIC PROGRESS AND PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAM ACTIVITIES.
LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ.
DATE: SUNDAY, AUGUST 26, 2007
ADM. FOX: First I'd like to briefly share some recent highlights from this week. Operations continue in Diyala Province as part of Operation Phantom Strike, focused on pressuring al Qaeda, keeping the enemy off-balance and reducing his ability to conduct attacks against the people of the province.
As a result of our tactical momentum, economic developments and reconstruction are now possible. For example, last week in Baqubah, the public flour mill began processing wheat into flour for the first time in nearly a year. Five hundred and sixty tons of imported wheat arrived in a 21-truck convoy on August 16th from Baghdad. The milled wheat will be distributed to the local population as part of the public distribution system. The mill is capable of producing 200 tons of finished flour per day and will employ about a hundred mill workers, several truck drivers, all of which will aid the local economy.
The reopening of the mill was the result of a collaborative partnership between the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and the Diyala provincial leadership. Local production of flour in a previously dormant mill is a small but meaningful step in Baqubah that demonstrates as al Qaeda in Iraq is driven out, economic growth emerges.
Also in Baqubah last week, the Iraqi army delivered a shipment of more than 400 -- I'm sorry, of 49 billion Iraqi dinar to the Diyala provincial government to pay salaries and pensions to nearly 70 percent of the local residents. The money, the equivalent of about 38 million U.S. dollars, was escorted by the Iraqi army from the Iraqi central bank in Baghdad and will be distributed to roughly 1.3 million residents of the province. The funds will aid in stabilization efforts in the region and energize a generally cash-dependent economy. Again, as al Qaeda is driven out, normal activities, like banking and commerce, flourish.
While our operations have diminished al Qaeda of Iraq's areas of influence, Iraqi and coalition forces continue to chip away at the extremist militia groups, known as special groups, that are affiliated with Iran's Qods Force. On Wednesday, Iraqi and coalition forces captured two suspected special group members in Diwaniyah. These two conducted IED attacks and Katyusha rocket attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces. Additionally, these two also attacked Iraqi citizens who opposed the activities of the special groups.
On Thursday, coalition forces in northwest Baghdad, near Kadhimiya, were attacked by militia. The extremists were repulsed and suffered 18 killed. And on Friday, the Iraqi army detained a special groups leader from Baghdad who conducted a network organized to conduct IED attacks. This network was also involved in sectarian murders of innocent Iraqis. And on the same day, a different Iraqi army unit captured a special groups member in Taji who had had a history of emplacing IEDs against Iraqi and coalition forces.
Although we have made progress, we know that we face a tough fight against an enemy willing to indiscriminately kill innocent men, women and children. We will continue to work closely with the government of Iraq and the Iraqi security force to pursue the enemy and build on our tactical momentum.
One final note. Joint operations between the coalition and Iraqi security forces are now double compared to that of this time last year, while the total number of attacks -- that is, the number of attacks against civilians and security forces -- are at their lowest level since August of 2006.
At this time, I'd like to turn the mike over to Phil Reeker, from the embassy.
MR. REEKER: Thanks, Admiral. It is a distinct pleasure to be back here again.
I think last time I came over here and spoke with you all, we talked about the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are a major part of our efforts here in Iraq. As you know, along with the military surge, the surge both in forces and in operations, we've been surging Provincial Reconstruction Teams to promote political and economic process -- progress at the local level. Since January, as we discussed before, we've doubled the number of teams. There are now 29 of them. They bring together the military, the civilian and diplomatic personnel to help Iraqi communities rebuild infrastructure, to create jobs and encourage reconciliation from the ground up at the local level.
These teams are now deployed throughout the country, and they're helping the Iraqis make political gains, as I noted, especially at the local level.
In that regard, a great example of some of the progress we're making is the northern governors' conference that we're going to hold tomorrow in Baghdad. It's a conference that's being organized in cooperation with the military partners at the PRT and the office of Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. And the four northern provinces are going to send delegations here to Baghdad. That would be Nineveh province, Tamin or Kirkuk province, Salahuddin province and Diyala province.
The deputy prime minister is bringing together a number of ministries. People from the embassy will also participate and share with the group and its leaders an opportunity for the delegations from the provinces to share their various issues, discussing critical economic and developmental issues that affect those four northern provinces, and discuss resolutions to the top of the issues, as they're presented by each delegation.
We put out a media announcement for all of you, encouraging you to attend tomorrow, noting that lunch will even be provided, free of charge. So I will just encourage you to come, hear what the discussion is about and see how that process works.
I think there are some fine examples out there of some of the issues that the provinces face and how they are attempting to resolve them. In Diyala, for instance, they're working to get a permanent fix for the public distribution system there. They're also cranking up the small loans program that we have helped to develop through the PRT. In Tamin province, they're working through concerns related to the Article 140 issues and asking certain groups to refrain from boycotting the provincial council, because that provincial council can be such a useful process in actually dealing with the problems on the ground.
And in Salahuddin, sustaining the reopening of the Tikrit flour mill and standing up microfinance operations in the province, and pushing legislation that will allow low-level Ba'athists to be reemployed is a process that shows some promise. And a lot of the people, as you know, in that region around Tikrit, were many core civil servants and educators, and an important part in this Sunni- majority province.
So once again we want to highlight the role of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, their mission being to help these provincial governments with developing a transparent and sustained capability not only to govern but to increase security, rule of law; promote political and economic development; and provide the provincial administration necessary to meet the basic needs of the population.
Once again, I'd encourage you to attend tomorrow. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to talk with you after the briefing today. And I think we can turn it over to your questions now.
ADM. FOX: Okay. we'd be happy to take some of your questions now. (Pause.)
MR. REEKER: If you have any. Ah.
Q Thank you. A question for Rear Admiral Fox. There were some reports by officials up north in the Kurdish area that Iranian troops had actually crossed the border up in the northeastern border region and attacked some villages. Have you -- and this was as of a couple days ago, I believe.
Have you received any information about that?
And a quick second question is, could I get some clarification on -- you mentioned the Qods Force. I was wondering if the people that you mentioned that were detained -- or I can't remember if you said detained or killed, if they were -- if you were talking -- if you were saying they were linked to the Qods force or if that was a non-related issue.
ADM. FOX: I don't have any additional information for the question that you have in regards to the operations up on the north there. I don't have anything to share additionally with you. We'll certainly pull the string and make sure that we get any -- more information back to you.
In general, the way that I'm characterizing the special groups is that they are sponsored by and affiliated with the Iranian Qods Force. And so in many cases, we're seeing this affiliation of these special groups or secret cells as being sponsored by and trained and affiliated with the training from the Iranian Qods Force.
Q (Off mike.)
ADM. FOX: Correct.
Q Carol Williams with the Los Angeles Times.
Also for Admiral Fox -- you said that the attacks are at their lowest level since August 2006. How do you quantify that? Is it by the number of people killed or attacks on coalition forces or the number of blasts that you register?
ADM. FOX: No, the fact -- the information I gave you is in sum total of the number of incidents of attacks and sum total of civilian and military against all -- it's a sum total of all attacks against --
Q Not the number of fatalities but the number of --
ADM. FOX: Correct, it's not a fatality-based fact. It's just the number in total, absolute numbers of attacks.
Q (Off mike)
ADM. FOX: Everything that we've -- that we monitor -- I don't know -- I wouldn't necessarily go into the knife fight category there, but of attacks against civilians and coalition.
Q (Through interpreter.) Question from -- (affiliation inaudible) -- yesterday, the occupation forces bombed Al-Shu'la neighborhood and Safaniya neighborhood, and there were many civilian casualties. So what do you comment about this?
The second question, to Mr. Philip -- Mr Reeker, what does President Bush mean by removing support for Maliki's government?
ADM. FOX: The coalition is extremely careful about how they conduct their operations. And in fact, you'll notice when we conduct our operations in urban areas, typically it'll be in the wee hours of the morning. And if you look carefully, especially in light of the fact that there are curfews around here, most of the time, there are not women and children out on the street. In fact, they are not out.
And so we are very careful about how we conduct our operations. And if and when we have an incident in which innocent people are involved or injured, we will always be the first to come out with that. But in the same breath, I know that there's a tendency on -- in some areas to, as soon as there's any kind of coalition operations, we immediately see reports of the fact that there are all kinds of collateral damages and all kinds of -- that when we check it out, that's not the case.
So we're as careful as we can possibly be in terms of how we conduct our operations. War is a difficult and a terrible thing for -- especially when the nature of the enemy is such that they hide behind innocent people and in fact target the coalition to try and attempt to draw fire into innocent neighborhoods and into innocent areas. So the nature of the enemy of the -- that we are fighting right now is such that they try to induce and incite casualties in the local population.
MR. REEKER: On your second question, I think the president as well as Ambassador Crocker, his personal representative here in Iraq, have made very clear that the United States does support Prime Minister Maliki and his government. We have supported the prime minister's government since its inception. We continue to support it as it makes serious efforts with the president's council to achieve national reconciliation, to deliver effective governance to the people of Iraq.
I think it's very important to know that there are enormous challenges, and the president has addressed those and recognized those. The prime minister faces huge challenges here in Iraq, but they're challenges that need to be taken on. And we've seen applied efforts by leadership here in Baghdad over the last couple of weeks to meet at a variety of levels, to use the mechanism of the Presidency Council, along with the president of the Kurdish regional government, Mr. Barzani, and the prime minister, five of them coming together to address some of these fundamental issues, to determine how they can come to accommodations, to move forward on those issues and to develop processes to continue moving Iraq forward.
So as the president and Ambassador Crocker both made very clear, they support Prime Minister Maliki and his government and those that are making these efforts. We do expect to see results. I think, most importantly, the Iraqi people expect to see results. And we're going to keep working with the Iraqis on this and keep encouraging them to make those efforts.
Q Hello. Miguel Marquez with ABC News. I understand there was a U.S. operation at the Interior Ministry last night. I wonder if you might tell us a little bit about that, who was detained and what the point of the operation was.
ADM. FOX: I don't have any information to share with you on that. As soon as we have it available, I'll certainly make it out. But I don't have that.
Q Was there a U.S. operation -- (off mike)?
ADM. FOX: I don't have any report of that, quite frankly, right now. I've not seen any reports that there was --
Q (Off mike.)
ADM. FOX: No. I don't have anything to share with you. I haven't seen any reports that say that.
Q Hi. John with Fox News. You're talking about these special groups. I'm still trying to get an idea of who these special group people are, who they answer to. Do you have any estimate of how many there are included in these special groups? Are these JAM people? Are they Iraqis? Are they a mix of the Iraqis and others?
ADM. FOX: I think they're definitely -- they're Iraqis, and they may be affiliated with JAM, but they're criminal elements that are responsible for murders and kidnappings and extortions and attacks against innocent people. And quite frankly, I don't know who they answer to. They are elements that have certainly not been constructive in any way in this society, in terms of attacking both the coalition and the Iraqi security force.
And so these secret cells are people that we have seen clear evidence -- that have been sponsored by, trained by and affiliated with the Iranian sponsorship before. And we've had a very careful and systemic approach to taking down and attacking these networks of the arms suppliers and the smugglers and the people who have been responsible for the smuggling of explosively formed penetrators and arms and munitions from Iran.
Q Admiral, just on the same general subject matter. In the wake of your -- after the arrest of Qais Khazali and Ali Mussa Daqduq, have you had any further reports of the presence or assistance of Lebanese Hezbollah in relation to the special groups and the Qods?
ADM. FOX: Not specifically, no, not since -- not since we've gone out with the information that we shared with you last month.
Q What about -- we're well aware of the reports regarding EFP devices. What about the recent flood of 240-millimeter rockets that are being used against coalition targets? How do you assess the nature of that? Is this General Suleimani's surge of his own? What's your take on that?
ADM. FOX: We have definitely seen munitions that have come from Iran being used against the coalition and against the Iraqi security force, and that's a source of concern for us.
Q the 240-millimeter rockets?
ADM. FOX: A variety of different ordnance.
Q You'd have to regard that's an escalation on Suleimani's --
ADM. FOX: Yeah, it's a larger -- a larger munition.
Q What's he telling you, do you think? What's the message?
ADM. FOX: We'll have to see.
Q What do you think they're after?
ADM. FOX: Okay.
Q So, what do you think Suleimani is after? What is your assessment of his strategy? By sponsoring the special groups, as you say, by sponsoring innumerable Shi'a militia factions in the south and within the center of the country, what do you think they -- what they're achieving?
ADM. FOX: Well, what we're focused on -- what we're focused on right now is our force protection posture for our own forces, as you well understand. And also we are concerned, quite frankly, about the divergence between what we hear publicly from the Iranians and from what we see actually going on here in Iraq.
Q (Through interpreter.) We have a question from the Associated Press. There are always accusations of Iran of backing -- Shi'ite accusations. (Pause.)
INTERPRETER: I'm sorry -- yes.
ADM. FOX: Can I get the translator to repeat the question?
Q (Through interpreter.) There are always accusations against Iran, and that is also discrepant with the meetings that are going on, that Iran is going to support. So there are discrepant accounts; that Iran will support, but then you go and accuse them again.
ADM. FOX: Well, I think the way that we view this is from a force protection perspective, and that is, any time there is anyone who tries to undermine the government of Iraq or attacks members of the coalition or innocent Iraqi people and we discover that there are Iranian munitions that were used for that, that's a source of concern and we're going to take the appropriate action from a force protection point of view. We're not heavy into the world of policy here where we execute our mission. What we are focused on on a day-to-day basis is the protection of our troops and of the Iraqi security force.
And most importantly of all, the reason that we're doing what we're doing is to protect the Iraqi people. And so when you see that there are munitions that are being smuggled into Iraq from Iran and then they are being used indiscriminately against innocent Iraqi people, that's a great source of concern and we're going to take appropriate steps to eliminate those threats.
Q (Through interpreter.) In a statement by President Bush that forming a national unity government is an Iraqi issue, how do you present help with disputed parts?
And how do you read the discrepant account of President Bush's statement, after 24 hours of ending support by Maliki -- then he went back and saying that he is backing Maliki's government, in addition to the invitation by the Congress to change Maliki?
MR. REEKER: Look, President Bush has been very clear all along that the United States supports Prime Minister Maliki and his government and their efforts to move forward on this. This game of trying to parse every day's sentence or two and using elements of one statement, responding to one question and other don't really get us anywhere.
The president has been clear, the ambassador has been clear that we are supporting very much Prime Minister Maliki and his government and the efforts of the Presidency Council and the other political leaders in Iraq to come together, to deal with these difficult issues and to make progress so that Iraq can move forward to a better place. I think that's what we need to focus on. Meetings have continued, as we discussed earlier here in Baghdad, even today. But that's the process that needs to take place.
The Iraqi people expect to see progress from their leaders, from their political system. I think that's the important thing to focus on, and the United States has been supportive of that from the beginning. Our diplomats here continue to support those efforts by offering their good offices, meeting with all of the different political leaders, all of the governmental leaders on the Iraq side to offer advice and to help them to move forward. But very clearly, this is an Iraqi process. These have to be Iraqi decisions, and that's what we are encouraging, that's the kind of progress we expect to see, and I think the president and the ambassador and others have been very clear on that.
When it comes to Congress, one of the wonderful things about our system of government is that it has three branches. Our foreign policy is developed by the administration. It is funded by Congress. Congressmen individually or as groups are free to speak their minds, to make their observations, to make their opinions known, and all of that goes into an equation and a debate.
But for the administration, speaking on behalf of the United States and its policies, the president has made again quite clear that we support Prime Minister Maliki, this government and their efforts to move forward with others in the political sphere, to make progress for Iraq and for Iraqis.
Q (Through interpreter.) Mr. Reeker, you've mentioned that there is a conference that will be held tomorrow to discuss the economic situation in Iraq. When will you exactly discuss the services provided to the people, particularly in Baghdad? And Baghdad nowadays -- and the services provided in Baghdad is getting worse day by day, so when will there be another conference to talk about the services in Baghdad?
MR. REEKER: Let me just be very clear, in case there was any misunderstanding in the translation, that the conference that I referenced taking place tomorrow is a conference of the northern governors, governors from the four northern provinces that I mentioned, who, with their PRT -- Provincial Reconstruction Team colleagues, will come down at the invitation and the convening by the deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, to discuss these issues. This is an example of the PRTs working with their local governments in the regions but also the central government reaching out to the provincial level, to bring them into Baghdad to discuss solutions to some of these problems and how to move forward on things like provision of services.
The same type of thing could certainly take place in Baghdad. I agree with you, it's vitally important that governments move ahead and meet the needs of their people through services; that's what governance is very much about. Provision of security is key in that. As you know, the surge, with the coalition forces and the Iraqi forces working together, have been able to provide security, a better security situation in Baghdad and other parts of the country, and now is the opportunity for political leaders to seize that situation and move forward by coming to political accommodations so that they can then focus on governance and providing services.
But tomorrow's conference, which I encourage you to attend, is focused on the four northern provinces and their efforts to resolve issues in those provinces and to work
Q Thank you.
For Mr. Reeker, about the -- I'm curious about the status of the four political benchmarks: de-Ba'athification, constitution, elections and oil law. If you could run down kind of where those are in a legal sense, are they before the cabinet; are they before the parliament? And then sort of as a side question to this, or is it fair to assume, at this point, they're all basically in these president-level talks going on kind of in the big mixing bowl of that? I mean, where do these things stand now?
MR. REEKER: I think I'd have to let Iraqi spokespeople, and it's a pity that -- (inaudible) -- couldn't be here to speak for their government as to where those stand. I do believe, as Ambassador Crocker indicated to some of you just a couple of days ago, that there are a number of these legislative benchmarks that the Iraqi government is working on, that Iraqi leaders are discussing some of these pieces of legislation, like those you mentioned, which are important, fundamental, to a degree existential issues like de-Ba'athification, the hydrocarbons law, revenue-sharing, local government. These are things that will continue to be discussed even today, and we will see as time progresses what may come out of that.
I think it's also important to remember, as Ambassador Crocker has stressed, that the story of legislative benchmarks is not the complete story of Iraq and that achieving all of these benchmarks, which would be important, important for Iraq, important for our own goals in Iraq, would be a positive step obviously but would not signify necessarily the great success of the state. There would still be a lot more work to do.
Conversely not achieving any of them does not signal the complete failure of the state, either. So it's important to look at a wide range of areas, the benchmarks being one set of issues that needs to be looked at. They do require some hard work, some commitment, some dedication. That's certainly what we have focused on in our efforts diplomatically but that's also what we want to see government leaders here in Baghdad now focus on to make progress in those things.
ADM. FOX: Anybody not had a chance?
Yes, back in the back. Everybody gets one before anybody gets two, you know?
Q (Through interpreter.) Question to Admiral Fox -- concerning the projects of -- machines of detecting car bombs, where's the status of these machines? And what about -- and where's the status of this project? Because there was an idea of distributing these machines in places where there are a lot of explosions and car bombs. So where is the status of this project currently?
ADM. FOX: (Off mike) -- experts to give you some specifics. I do know that there have been technological initiatives that we have taken and in fact provided to the government of Iraq for these types of equipments to both sense and to discover where car bombs are and that sort of thing. And I know that that's a subject of debate, but I don't have the expertise right now or the information that I can share with you that would be useful for you on that.
We'll get that information back to you, Bill.
Q Thank you. Back to the Iranian weapons smuggling. Major General Rick Lynch has called it "a new wave of lethality," the 48 attacks in his area of operations; 13 U.S. troops have been killed since April, and that included 66 attacks using rockets. And I would actually address this to Mr. Reeker. We have seen three meetings on the diplomatic front with the Iranians and a meeting between the prime minister in Tehran, but how much of a threat does this continue to be? Obviously it has gotten even larger after the Karbala incident. Rick Lynch also said that of the 50 Iranians in his area of operations, he thinks that they were involved in the killing of those five U.S. soldiers in Karbala. How much diplomacy is really going on? It seems like there's a lot more weapons threats and Iranian influence than ever.
MR. REEKER: I guess I'd defer to Admiral Fox to make the assessments on that. But as you rightly pointed out, Ambassador Crocker has participated in a series of trilateral talks, very much supported and hosted by the government of Iraq, because Iraq is what those talks are about, and security in Iraq and these actions by Iran to destabilize Iraq.
I think in each case the ambassador has made clear that our discussions were full and frank. And we made very clear to the Iranians our concerns about their activities, including training, including weapons which are supplied, which affect coalition forces and affect the Iraqi people and ultimately their ability to move forward to their goals of having a stable, peaceful, prosperous Iraq.
We have laid out what is clear to us the evidence of Iranian support for the militia activities. As you've heard, we've seen individuals in custody who have spoken of Iranian involvement. We have the evidence of the weapons and ammunition captured on the ground. So there's no doubt in our minds of what is going on, and we've made very clear that Iran should follow its stated policy of trying to support Iraq and support Iraq's efforts to move forward for peace and stability. It's in Iran's interests as well to have a stable Iraq on its western border. And so we'll continue to make those views quite clear. It's Iran's responsibility to act responsibly and stop the support for these kind of destabilizing acts.
Q I've got a follow-up. On the Iranian issue, I believe the 240-millimeter rockets, he's talking about the Katyusha rockets -- is that what we're talking about?
Q Is it different rockets? Does the U.S. military consider that an escalation? Have there been any other weapons systems -- MANPADS, SHORADS -- any sort of guided, armor-piercing weapons found in any battlespace? And perhaps you can characterize -- if we -- if you won't go into sort of what any one Iranian's goals are, it seems what is happening in the south, in Basra, for instance, is different than what's happening in the central part of the country with regard to what Iran is doing. Can you give us any sense of the different players, of the different policy goals, perhaps that Iran may be pursuing here?
ADM. FOX: I think you'd probably have to ask the Iranians that question.
Q (Off mike.)
ADM. FOX: Yeah. Sir.
Q Have you found any other weapons, though?
ADM. FOX: I'm going to defer on that in terms of giving any specific feedback on the types and numbers of weapons that we've found.
Q (Through interpreter.) Admiral Fox, if you accuse the Iranians that they're destabilizing Iraq, then how do you ask Iran to -- make talks with Iran? So how do you ask Iran to stabilize Iraq while you keep accusing Iran of destabilizing it?
ADM. FOX: Well, I think that, as has been previously pointed out, the public statements made by the government of IranIraq that's at peace with its neighbors. And yet, what's publicly stated and what is actually happening on the ground, especially when you see the evidence of the activities that have been going on inside of Iraq, are two different things. have been encouraged in terms of the desire to have a stable and a self- governing and an
And so there's a divergence between what is publicly stated and what's actually going on, on the ground. And we are asking and expecting, in fact, that -- you know, that the Iranians carry out what they say that they're desiring to do. And that is to contribute to the stability and to the growth of a peaceful Iraq.
Q But is it an escalation -- (off mike)?
Q Have the Iraqis -- (off mike)?
ADM. FOX: I wouldn't characterize it -- what we have seen is certainly an increase in the volume and number of different activities.
Q (Off mike.)
ADM. FOX: So I wouldn't necessarily try to characterize it in -- I mean, we've been talking about weapons that are extremely lethal, that will go through -- you know, so that's a -- the explosively formed penetrators are an extremely lethal weapon. So any time American or coalition troops are killed or injured by these types of things, that's something that we take seriously. So I'm not characterizing it in an escalatory way.
Q So -- but specifically, in terms of the type of weaponry, we're very familiar, unfortunately, with EFPs now. We've seen the rockets on the eastern side of Baghdad, out in the eastern belt. That is precision rockets. We know Katyushas have been around. Are you seeing any other type of rockets that would be considered an escalation, the type that could -- heat-seeking, the type that could take out a helicopter? It's just a specific question in terms of that.
ADM. FOX: To this point, not yes to that specific question.
Q (Off mike.)
ADM. FOX: Okay. All right. Michael, back in the back.
Q Thank you. It's actually a question for Mr. Reeker, so you can breathe easy, Admiral.
The ambassador -- I'm just trying to explain to the American people, with -- you know, you got to feel for Prime Minister Maliki, under such intense scrutiny; it must be crushing. But the ambassador said the other day that Prime Minister Maliki has to perform here, "we do expect results, as do the Iraqi people, and our support is not a blank check." So he's basically saying that Mr. Maliki has to step up and produce.
And then this -- appears to be this implied sanction of the withdrawal of U.S. support. So given that the focus in September is going to be on Prime Minister Maliki, what am I to tell the American people? That -- if Prime Minister Maliki does not deliver as the ambassador specifically requires him to do, what are you going to do about it?
MR. REEKER: I think I'd be very cautious about implying too much, Michael, into anything. I think the ambassador's statements were straightforward. There's a responsibility on the part of Prime Minister Maliki, other members of his government, other political leaders in Iraq to do the work that they've been elected and assigned to do. That's on behalf of the Iraqi people. And obviously the American people, who have given their blood, their treasure toward this effort to make Iraq a better place, have expectations as well.
Now I think they're doing that. They are hard at work even today, as I understand it and as we discussed before, meeting in various configurations, trying to come to accommodations, working on ways to find the right mechanisms so that they can move forward on a number of these issues, from benchmarks to how to provide services.
They've made progress in areas like budget execution and working from the center out to the provinces.
In September, next month, the ambassador will go back to Washington with Commanding General Petraeus to provide to the American administration, the American Congress and the American people a frank assessment of where Iraq is; for the ambassador's part, where we are on the political, the economic and the diplomatic levels. And he has pledged to give his most accurate, most honest assessment and call it like he sees it. And that will take place next month.
Q But Mr. Reeker, to answer the question specifically, as someone who speaks for the ambassador -- sorry. But to actually answer the question, Mr. Reeker, as someone who speaks for the ambassador, what does the phrase "our support is not a blank check" mean?
MR. REEKER: Exactly what it is. We've supported this government; we continue to support it; it's not a blank check. We need to see results. And that's what the government and the officials working even today in Baghdad are trying to accomplish. The ambassador will give his assessment of where we stand on those things next month. That is still several weeks away. And at that point in time, he and General Petraeus will deliver their assessments of where things stand, as well as their views of potential next steps and the possible consequences of any particular new action.
Q That's what I mean, the consequences. What is the not support? When the check runs out, what are we talking about? It's not the withdrawal of U.S. troops. I mean, what is it? What's he referring to?
MR. REEKER: Those, Michael, are policy decisions that are not made by the ambassador. The ambassador is here to work on political, economic and diplomatic lines of operation, if you will, and will give an assessment to the president and the administration, which makes our foreign policy; to the Congress, which makes decisions on funding; and to the American people, who have a keen interest in this. And that's what we will do in September.
ADM. FOX: Yes, sir?
Q (Through interpreter.) Yesterday the commander of operations in Diyala said that al Qaeda are controlling the road, the external road there. So how would you comment about this?
ADM. FOX: As we talked about in the opening statement, we've had operations that have been ongoing up there. And what we are doing is we are pushing and pressuring al Qaeda and they're on their back foot, they're off balance. They've been unable to establish operations and then continue to target the coalition the way that they did before. So the operations that are ongoing in Diyala are intended to eliminate the al Qaeda threat to the people of Diyala and as I described to you earlier about the economic activity and the good things that are going on once al Qaeda, in its desire to have a Taliban-like state, are eliminated.
And so we still fully acknowledge the threat and the seriousness of the threat that's associated with al Qaeda in Iraq in particular and these extremists in general. We've seen where the effectiveness of our security operations have taken effect and reduced overall levels of attacks perhaps in an area. Then we'll see the spectacular headline-grabbing attack against innocent people, the Yazidis up north or the Turkomen over in Amirli, where -- and that's a failure, quite frankly, on the part of our security effort, because we are here to protect the people of Iraq who are at large.
That said, it's also an indication that the security operations that we are conducting are taking effect in that we are pushing al Qaeda away and we're pressuring them and eliminating the safe havens and eliminating the sanctuaries, and so that they don't have an opportunity now to reconstitute and then replan. So we feel that we've been effective. But we are making progress, but this is still a tough fight, and we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us.
Q (Through interpreter.) Admiral Fox, could you give us some details about the operation that went yesterday in Arab Jabour when an Egyptian was detained? Was there any of al Qaeda there? Could you give us some details?
ADM. FOX: (Off mike) -- preliminary reports on that, but I have not seen the assessment and the final analysis of what we're able to share with you right now. I've seen those preliminary reports but I don't have anything to share with -- for you on that.
For Phil, the number of Iranian weapons coming into Iraqi killing more U.S. soldiers now -- do you sense, in your dealings with the prime minister, Maliki and his government, that this is -- first of all, they accept the U.S. intelligence on this issue? And secondly is this to your mind high on their agenda? The prime minister met recently with the president in Iran. Do you -- are you satisfied that he is doing everything he can to make this issue known to the Iranian leadership, asking them to stop it?
MR. REEKER: I think, first of all, you'd have to direct your questions to the Iraqis. I'm not going to speak on behalf of Prime Minister Maliki or his government.
As you know, the Iraqi government has been very much a part of the trilateral process, speaking with the United StatesIran on the issue of security of Iraq and particularly on the destabilizing effects of Iranian activity. We have made very clear, in those tripartite meetings, our views that we discussed earlier. and the government of
We'll continue to make that clear, and I think the government of Iraq recognizes as well the importance of ending the violence, of ending the support for these types of special groups and what we discussed earlier that do cause so much destruction, do cause the death of so many innocent people and do prevent Iraq from moving forward at the pace it could in terms of stability and prosperity.
Q (Through interpreter.) My question is, concerning the last visit made by Prime Minister Maliki to Syria, this made -- the Congress was upset by this visit. It stressed that Maliki should be removed. So is there a fear between, a new relationship between Iraq and Syria?
MR. REEKER: I think I'd have to disagree with your characterization of the reaction in Congress. As I said before, the legislative branch speaks individually, and each individual member of Congress speaks for him or herself in terms of their views.
Iraq is in a neighborhood. That neighborhood is the Middle East. It has many neighbors, and that includes Syria. So it's obviously important that the government of Iraq pursue, with the government of Syria, a number of issues on the agenda, which would include, of course, the border and the ability of foreign fighters to cross from Syria into Iraq, leading to also destabilization and suicide bombers and some of the other things that we've seen and discussed before.
So obviously those things would be part of any agenda one would expect in that discussion. Prime Minister Maliki needs to pursue foreign relations just like any leader does, particularly with one's neighbors. As you know, there's a neighbors grouping that has been formed that came out of the Sharm el-Sheikh meetings. And they have subcommittees on borders, on energy and on security. And that's the type of thing that certainly we encourage.
As you know, in those neighbors meetings, the United States has been an observer in that, along with others in the international community. So I think you just need to again remind yourself that the government of the United States, the president, has made quite clear that we support Prime Minister Maliki and his government in their efforts to move forward in using the mechanisms they have and the structures that they have developed, particularly in the last couple of weeks, to try to make progress on these very key, fundamental issues, the resolution of which can lead to reconciliation and lead to the goals that we all hold for a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.
ADM. FOX: Okay, thank you very much. I appreciate you all spending the afternoon with us, and we'll look forward to the next opportunity. We'll get -- (name inaudible) -- out here in due course.
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