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PRESS BRIEFING: Adm. Michael Mullen, CJCS, Dec. 19, 2009

Multi-National Force-Iraq

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses the media at the Combined Press Information Center.

PARTICIPANTS:

Adm. Michael Mullen, and reporters 1-8.

REP1 = REPORTER 1

INT = INTERPRETER

[ph] = PHONETIC SPELLING

ADM MULLEN:

Good morning. Thank you all for coming, and I’ll just make a couple of brief comments and then be happy to take your questions.

It’s terrific to be back in Iraq. This is my first time since this summer, and even in just that short time, I’m greatly encouraged by the progress that I’ve seen. In Basra yesterday and Talil, with our troops as well as, and more importantly, Iraqi military leadership, Iraqi police leadership, and Iraqi civilian leadership. And this morning to walk into the marketplace at Abu Ghraib speaks volumes in and of itself of the improved security that has occurred. And of the teamwork that is very evident in all that we are doing, particularly since the responsibility shifted to the Iraqi Security Forces and the Iraqi government on the 30th of June earlier this year. I’m also mindful that that security has come at great cost and continues to come at great costs. And never far from my mind is the sacrifice paid by Coalition Forces, Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people to make this possible.

My thoughts and prayers as well as those of all Americans go out to all those in Iraq who suffered as a result of this violence. We grieve with you and for you. And while a grim reminder of the threat still lurking among us, these attacks cannot dissuade us, must not deter us from the course we steer. We will honor our commitment to maintain our force levels to assist in security preparations throughout the elections and we look forward to seeing free, fair, and safe turnouts.

That said, we will also honor our commitment to drawdown our forces, and to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. What we really seek is a long-term partnership, ally, and friend. And it is to that friendship, long enduring after our troops have gone home, to which we most look forward.

A big part of my trip to this part of the world has been to see our troops and to thank them for their service at this very special time of year, and to recognize that they aren’t home yet and their job isn’t done yet. We will not forget our investment here, we will not forget Iraq. Thank you.

REP1: [Speaks in Arabic.]

INT:

As-Salāmu `Alaykum. Ahmed Jassem from the Western Agency. I have two questions. The first question is the key dynamics. The first dynamic is the attacks that we have seen and that caused...recently that caused a lot of injured and wounded people and casualties from the Iraqi side. And that was because of the lack of intel information and security procedures. General Abud [UNINTELLIGIBLE] said that the American intel information that was received by the American...from the American side a few hours from the attacks, we received this. And also the American commanders also said that a few hours prior to the attacks, they informed the Iraqi Security Forces that there will be attacks against the Iraqi people. Which statement is more accurate: the American command or the Iraqi command? This is the first headed by Abud Gamba [ph]. This is the first dynamic.

The second dynamic is a few days ago Iranian forces entered Iraqi land and occupied a mine field...an oil field in al-Fakkah. And what’s the reflections of this or implications of this in actually touching the Iraqi sovereignty?

And my second question is in fact of so many millions of dollars being spent on anti- corrupt-...anti-terrorism and.... But ‘til now, we did not talk about the reasons for that terrorism. What’s the reason for that terrorism? Do you see...what others is behind these terrorist attacks? And do you see any solutions for those terrorist attacks, and how you see that?

ADM MULLEN: This is very similar to my own country, where I say have one question and get three or four. [LAUGHTER] And I’ll try to answer each one. First of all, with respect to the recent attacks—and they’ve been very tragic and catastrophic, and we recognize that. Actually in my visit this time in Basra, Talil this morning and Abu Ghraib, as I visited with leaders, the first thing that civilian leaders and military leaders and police leaders talk about is this sharing of intelligence, which has improved dramatically over the last six months to a year. We’re very focused on, in particular, al-Qaida, who we know is behind these strategic attacks. We think we understand what their strategy is with respect to this, and it is to in great part destabilize Iraq, and to do so at a time of change and transition, and to really test the Iraqi leadership and the Iraqi people. And it is...and I have been impressed with the response and the support and we’re very focused on making sure that the intelligence flows and does so in a timely way.

I really will leave it up to the Iraqi leadership to look at the lessons learned from this and to make adjustments. I met with the minister of defense this morning and I know there have already been steps taken, specifically to put together a group of people that essentially watches this and focuses on this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week here in Baghdad specifically. So I’m confident that the leadership has taken the steps to do this.

I also believe this threat will persist for some time, through the elections, and even as a new government potentially stands up after that. And it’s really up to...and the Americans, we will continue to support that in every way we can.

With the second question, which I think was about Iran.

REP1:

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

ADM MULLEN: Right. The...and the word in that question that was so important to me was the sovereignty issue. And again, I’ve talked with Iraqi leadership about that, they recognize that. And quite frankly, all of us are concerned about the influence of Iran. Iran’s a neighbor and there needs to be a relationship there, and I understand that, between Iraq and Iran. And I think the political leaders have to work that out. But I worry a great deal about Iran’s view of destabilizing this region as well, and then specifically – although I don’t know all the details – but specifically focusing on an oil field, which I understand by...in some historic way is in dispute or.... But my understanding, this is sovereign Iraqi territory and it’s something for the leaders in Iran—sorry, leaders in Iraq to resolve.

And then thirdly, the piece about terrorism, I think it is an extension of what has existed. That doesn’t mean that here in Iraq and the vast majority of it is al-Qaida focused. And while al-Qaida is greatly diminished in Iraq, they’re still very dangerous as they’ve proven recently, and will continue to be. And we must do all we can together to fight that terrorism to ensure the security of the Iraqi people, and then quite frankly, to ensure the security...better ensure the security of the region.

Yeah.

REP2:

Thank you, sir. Quil Lawrence, National Public Radio. Can you tell us if the drawdown schedule has changed in any way because of the delay of the elections by several months? And if not, how can it not have changed? Will three months be enough time to drawdown all the troops after the election? And General Odierno had previously said that we’d wait 60 days after the election and then assess.

ADM MULLEN:

Basically, the drawdown schedule has not changed. We’ve obviously followed this very closely. And there was—and I discussed this in some detail last night with General Odierno when I met with him, and there was flexibility that was built in up front to be able to handle this kind of delay. And my understanding is the elections are now scheduled for early March. And from our perspective it’s very important that they get executed, as I said earlier: free and fair, secure, and on time, and then transition to the new government. So we’re very aware of the requirements, the time it took the last time a government was elected here to stand up. But the mess...my message to Iraqi leadership is that we will support these elections in every possible way, but it won’t be very long after the elections that we start this very rapid drawdown from 112,000, which is what General Odierno said we have in theater or...I’m sorry, in the country as of last night to about 50,000 in August. And that’s still all very much on track.

Kim.

REP3: Three themes have kept coming up in your meetings with the Iraqis, brought up by you or by them: Al-Qaida, the influence of Iran, and sectarianism. What worries you the most? What could derail the positive glide path that Iran is on right now...Iraq is on right now.

ADM MULLEN:

Well, I...there is a tremendous amount of momentum in a positive direction. And without selecting one or the other, all of those are a concern...are of great concern. What I’m encouraged by in these very tragic, violence...acts of violence over the many months, starting I think in August, is that there has not been a sectarian outbreak as a result of that. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a desire to create that; in fact I think that’s probably the main motive of al-Qaida. So in that regard, they’re very much linked.

I continue to worry about the influence of Iran. You heard in some other discussions yesterday that while there are certainly expectations as a neighbor that there’s a relationship and there might be that there are some positive aspects of that, but most of them are pretty negative. And so everybody is paying attention to that. And the Iraqi leadership, military and civilian, tells me that as well, and certainly we do regionally and internationally. You know I still think it’s important that Iran have a constructive, positive influence in this region and globally. And there are just too many examples where that is not the case. And so each of them is a significant challenge, each of them will continue to be, and we are aware of that. And we will continue to focus on that so that the instability that could come out of any one of those three does not happen.

I’m encouraged by what I see in terms of where the Iraqi leadership is on this, where the secured Iraqi military and civilian leadership, and they recognize these challenges. And these are still...this is a time of transition, still a very difficult time, but it’s one that in that recogni-...in recognizing the challenges, we’re very focused on it so that in fact Iraq does not become unstable.

Yeah.

REP4: [Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

[UINTELLIGIBLE]. The focus of...the question focuses on the security forces without looking at the services and other aspects of life. We know that transportation and traffic jams did not give the Iraqi government to...or the American forces did not give the Iraqi government the moral help or support in that and that’s why we see between now and there having attacks, big attacks to the Iraqi...on the Iraqi government. So why would...why didn’t the American government and the United States of America and the Iraqi...American forces to look at the security situation by providing better transportation or better traffic flow? And for instance, providing buses that can be escorted by the Iraqi...by the American forces. Maybe the Iraqi forces then would be able to control...better control security on the streets. And I think this would help the Americans and lessen the burdens on the American side and the Iraqi side and the security side. This is my question.

ADM MULLEN: When I actually flew over here this morning I could see several of the traffic jams of which you speak. And General...specifically, General Jacobi and I spoke to this and of the urgent need to continue to work on this. So I know that is the case. As...it’s...there’s a balance between returning to normalcy, which clearly involves the flow of all kinds of traffic, and also the violence level, because the violence has come from vehicles. And so the kinds of schemes that you describe in terms of options, I’m certain that our leaders are looking at as many options as possible, a very strong desire to unclog that as rapidly as we can. But I don’t think—actually, I don’t think that will be done at the expense of security, it’s just cost too many lives. So it’s a priority. We understand that. And while many things are headed towards a...towards normalcy, that is one that we’re just being very cautious about as we look to continued positive movements with respect to the security environment.

Yeah.

REP5:

Diana Maglia from CNN. You say there’s flexibility built into the drawdown in terms...

ADM MULLEN:

Right.

REP5:

...of the delay for the elections. What happens if the levels of violence that we’ve been seeing since August escalate? Is there flexibility built in for that, and how much?

ADM MULLEN: Well, I try to stay away from hypotheticals. We certainly have looked from a planning perspective on what might happen if certain things happen. What is important I think has been the adjustments as a result of the levels of violence which have occurred and the focus on ensuring that it doesn’t destabilize to a point where we might have to do that.

So the specifics of what would happen, I think leadership, in particular Iraqi leadership, who are now responsible for security here, would have to, you know, really have to adjust. I mean I’m...I recognize where we are on our cycle, what the drawdown plan on...is and that we’re very much still on that plan and expect to execute that. Even given, you know, some possibilities. But we will have to see based on how it goes. Overall, I’m actually encouraged by the recognition of the challenge, the specific adjustments tied to the...these tragic bombings, and the realistic approach to doing everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Yeah.

REP6:

Can you...

ADM MULLEN:

Actually, it was behind you. I’ll come back. Sorry.

REP7: Mohammed Abbas from Reuters. You mentioned earlier about the Iranian incursion, that it was something for Iraq’s leadership to deal with. I understand that under the SOFA agreement Iraq may ask the U.S. military for help or assistance to deal with external threats. Has Iraq asked for...have you provided, actually, any assistance or advice to Iraq in dealing with this incursion? That’s...I’m just...if I could just follow up very quickly.

We’ve heard a lot about foreign interference in Iraq’s elections, but we haven’t heard many of the specifics. What intelligence or information does the U.S. military have about specific countries and specific acts of interference ahead of the elections? Thank you very much.

ADM MULLEN: Well, I would never talk about specific intelligence that we have. We’re certainly concerned about any interference in a sovereign country’s election process. So from a political, diplomatic, and as it is appropriate, even security standpoint, we’re...we certainly don’t want to see that have an impact and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t have an impact, and the best way to do that, obviously, is to make sure that it’s not out there. But I wouldn’t talk about any specifics, although in my own view of this over time, I have not seen that. I haven’t seen it be, you know, a dominant issue per se.

I talked very briefly with the minister of defense here this morning about the sovereignty issued tied to what Iran did. And then I sort of...I would extend that or back that up even to the last question, certainly concern for any influence that Iran is trying to apply to these elections specifically. But it really is an issue—both those issues are issues that are for the Iraqi leadership to work hard on. That doesn’t mean that the United States and other countries won’t focus on that. But certainly it gets back to this is a sovereign country and the expectation is that Iraqi leadership will lead in this and certainly that the Americans and other countries will follow.

Go ahead.

REP6: Hi. Lara Jakes from the Associated Press. Did you see any indication then, or did the Iraqis see any indication, that this oil well incursion was part of a plan by the Iranian Government to interfere with the elections?

ADM MULLEN:

I haven’t seen that.

REP6:

OK. I’d also like to ask you kind of an open-ended question, a little more thoughtful. You’ve been here numerous times over the last several years, you’ve seen this country change...

ADM MULLEN: Yeah.

REP6:

...in numerous ways. What do you think Iraq is going to look like five years from now?

ADM MULLEN: If I were to take, let’s say, well, I first came here in 2004—and look at what’s happened over the last five years and in obviously the most difficult of circumstances in the 2006-2007 timeframe, when many people had given up—and as I literally arrived in Basra yesterday and getting off the helicopter, I mean you can feel the change—even on the base, before you start engaging—you can feel the change for the good and it’s palpable.

And I think from a standpoint of, if I speak...if I look at the marketplace I walked through this morning in Abu Ghraib where the unemployment rate in that part of Iraq is very, very high and yet there is potentially an under-...an economic underpinning in this country through increased stability and security that would allow a robust economy to grow and for many, many Iraqis to be employed.

And so to take that out another five years, a stable Iraq with a solid, long term, positive relationship with the United States, and actually many other countries. A democracy which has been through numerous elections at that point, if you will, democratically elected. And a significantly improved economy, if you will, in terms...which is tied directly to the Iraqi people and their future.

Recently, there are...there have been discussions and contracts signed, particularly with...in the oil area. And one of the concerns raised yesterday by an individual who has been here, who is from another country, but been here for the last three and one-half years-plus is...it’s important that these contracts that get let actually put Iraqi people to work and that we don’t...you know we don’t feed a significant number of internationals here, because this is...these are Iraqi resources and they should be focused in that direction.

So I would look to a future that is in much better shape if I were going to take the last five years, going through conflict like we have, and then the next five years where that has not existed, I’m pretty optimistic.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: We have time for just one more.

REP8:

[Speaks in Arabic.]

INT:

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] from Iraqi...Free Iraqi Radio. If the Iraqi government asks the American government to stop or help stop the incursion, the Iranian incursion, according to the Iraqi security agreement, would the American...the United States of America would comply or to the American agreement or the Iraqi-American agreement and stop this incursion?

ADM MULLEN: We have to obviously look to a future of stability in this region where hopefully that would never occur. And then in situations where sovereign countries, like Iraq’s, security is threatened externally, there are relationships...global relationships which would look at support. The specifics of it we’d have to understand. The...it’s certainly from the American perspective, it would be a decision by the President of the United States, it wouldn’t be anything that I did. But we are looking to a future where that...the likelihood of that possibility is absolutely minimized, and to a strong relationship where in fact that relationship provides a deterrent effect and a preventative effect for anything...the likelihood that anything like that might happen.

Thank you very much.



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