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PRESS CONFERENCE: Gen. Petraeus, Gen. Odierno, Jan. 1, 2010

United States Forces-Iraq

Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno take media questions following the establishment of United States Forces - Iraq in Baghdad, Jan. 1, 2010.

PRESS CONFERENCE:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commanding general, U. S. Central Command

Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general, United States Forces – Iraq

DATE: January 1, 2010

TRANSCRIBED BY: SOS INTERNATIONAL LTD.

PARTICIPANTS:

Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. Ray Odierno, and reporters 1-23.

REP1 = REPORTER 1

INT = INTERPRETER

[ph] = PHONETIC SPELLING

GEN PETRAEUS:

Well, good morning to you all. Is that on right there? OK.

I meant what I said in there today, that it is great to be back in the Land of the Two Rivers. I obviously have come back a number of times since I left in September of 2008, and I have noted progress each time. That is not to say that there have not been considerable challenges, that there have not been periodic horrific attacks, and that there have not been innumerable obstacles and moments of drama and emotion. But there has been sustained progress, and that progress has been maintained even after U.S. forces moved out of the cities.

That progress continued even as U.S. forces have drawn down now, as you heard me say, to about 110,000. And I am confident that progress will continue over the course of this new year as we reduce our forces further, as Iraqi forces continue to grow in capability and in number, as they secure the very important elections that will take place in Iraq in March, as we approach that moment late this summer during which our mission will change and our maneuver brigades will all become advise-and-assist brigades, and as the overall responsible drawdown effort will be maintained into the latter part of the year, and approaching that moment at the end of 2011 at which U.S. forces will have withdrawn pending whatever agreement is made between two sovereign governments at that time.

It was very good to see a number of the Iraqi Security Force leaders there today. I meant what I said about them and about the courage, the sheer determination and hard work that they have demonstrated from those dark days that, as General Odierno noted, were marked by an Iraq "cloaked in darkness and gripped by fear". I know that many of you in this room experienced that period of 2006 and 2007 and can attest to the future, but I know that you all also recognize, as I do, the considerable challenges that lie ahead for this country.

In spite of all those, though, I do think that there is a sense of hope, there is a sense of promise. And at the end of the day, the most important vote about that in addition to the one that will be made by the Iraqi people at the polls in March, is the vote by outside investors. Countries, businesses don't put their money in some place unless they think that there is real potential. And what you have seen in Iraq in recent months in particular—and not just in the oil sector, but in other sectors as well—has been considerable outside investment that will indeed help Iraqi enormously to begin that process of expanding various economic sectors and realizing the extraordinary potential of a country that has immense blessings in terms of the energy resources, Land of the Two Rivers – the agricultural potential, and above all, people who are industrious, are well educated, and who represent considerable human capital.

And with that I'll be happy to take your questions. Yes.

REP1:

Diana Maglia with CNN. I wanted to ask you about the security situation in Yemen.

GEN PETRAEUS:

Mm-hmm.

REP1:

How concerned are you about the threat of al-Qaida there and what is the U.S. military doing, how involved is it?

GEN PETRAEUS:

Well, let me put that in context if I could, because what has happened in recent years is that al-Qaida has sustained some significant reverses in some very key places, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which five years ago you'll remember, there were serious attacks: the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah was overrun, there were attacks against oil field workers, the Ministry of Interior headquarters was blown up, and so forth. Al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia largely defeated.

Yes, an occasional attack and the terrible attempted assassination of Mohammed Ben Nayef recently, but again, a very significant reversal for al-Qaida. The Gulf States largely, the al-Qaida presence reduced. Al Qaida in Iraq, significantly diminished. Yes, can still carry out horrific attacks as we have seen in Baghdad as recently as this past month and on several other occasions in the past six months.

But again, very significantly reduced. And a reduction of attacks of over 200, down to below 15, is very, very important, and it allows the rest of the activities in a community…a country that has very resilient people to make progress. Even in Western Pakistan, the senior leadership of al-Qaida, the top 20 leaders and so forth, it's quite well known, well over a dozen of a constantly updated top 20 list killed there and under pressure as well.

So al-Qaida is always on the lookout for places where they might be able to put down roots. Some years ago actually, this is when I was still in Iraq, we could see the development of cells of al-Qaida in Yemen. This past year, of course, that was recognized by al-Qaida's senior leadership by being designated al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP. But during that time as well, in fact dating back to last year—in fact late 2008, there has been an effort to partner with President Saleh and with the security forces of Yemen.

That effort did gain traction during the course of this past year. And indeed the…in many special operations forces, several different types of them in the defense and interior ministries, have taken some very significant actions along with other elements of the Armed Forces of Yemen. We've obviously watched that, we have in certain respects enabled in the way that we have security assistance arrangements, very robust.

And throughout the Central Command region we had, it's well known, about $70 million in security assistance last year. That will more than double this coming year.

And indeed there has been sharing of intelligence, of information and so forth, a two-way street because the intelligence sources of Yemen are very, very good as well. And the operations that were carried out in December were very significant, in one case forestalling an attack of four suicide bombers who were moving into Sanaa to training camps targeted, and some senior leaders believed to have been killed or seriously injured as well. Certainly there were activities ongoing there, one of which of course resulted in the failed attack on the airliner.

But this is, most important of all, a threat that the Yemeni president and the Yemeni leaders, their parliament, and their military and security force leaders take very seriously. And that is of enormous significance. It's a country that has a lot of challenges: the Hutis in the north; some southern secessionists in the south; a reduction in oil production, although gas is going up, thankfully. But a youth bulge. Many of the challenges of countries that are in the process of development.

Rugged terrain, tribal areas, and so forth. And so very important indeed that Yemen has taken the actions that it has. And indeed that not just the United States, but countries in the region – it's neighbors and so forth – have provided…they in particular have provided significant assistance over the course of this past year in particular, and all want to join to help Yemen as it deals with this emerging al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula challenge in particular.

Yeah, right here. Sir.

REP2:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

GEN PETRAEUS:

I think you probably better let him—and if you can keep the question short.

INT:

He's talking about right now, there is a lot of [UNINTELLIGIBLE] from the Iraqi politicians. They are not really happy about how we are dealing with the SOFA agreement. There was a lot of Iraqi politicians saying that we'd only taken part of the SOFA agreement that fit us. And they are not really happy about the Iran and the recent move of the Iranian al-Fakkah Oil Field and not for us taking a measurable action. And he continues, saying the measurable action is only going to come if it's going to be an order from President Obama.

GEN PETRAEUS:

Well, let me just state…. First of all, did you say you are an Anbari?

INT:

[Speaks in Arabic.]

GEN PETRAEUS:

Yeah, I should…

REP2:

[Answers in Arabic.]

INT:

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]. I'm sorry, sir, [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

GEN PETRAEUS:

Oh, OK. I was going to say that I visited the governor of Anbar yesterday, and he is in a U.S. military hospital not far from here. Obviously he was injured very severely, but thankfully, it appears that he is certainly going to survive. He has sustained some very difficult wounds. And I was with the Minister of Defense, Abdul Qader Wasir [ph] Dafa [ph], and noted that we have pledged to do whatever is necessary including, if the Government of Iraq wants it and the medical condition warrants it, to take him to the United States for further treatment and rehabilitation.

He's an admirable leader, a courageous leader. The reason he was actually vulnerable to the attack is because he in fact went out to the site of the first…of this car bomb to make his presence known, and it was then that this individual with a suicide vest attacked him. It's…it is extraordinarily fortunate that an individual like this survived. I remember writing a letter to him last year, after he won a business…an international business award for the efforts he had undertaken to attract international investment to Anbar.

With respect to the implementation of the security agreement, I think candidly that today's ceremony and a number of the different actions that took place during this past year, a year that we have labeled a year of transition, ref-…demonstrate that the United States is indeed very much living up to the provisions of the security agreement—as is Iraq. We are working very closely together. In fact the release of Qais Khazali to the Iraqi government was something that was done in the…in carrying out provisions of that agreement that specify that when certain legal action is taken and judicial forums and so forth are provided that detainees are…or custody of detainees is turned over to the Government of Iraq, and that was the case in this particular incident.

In fact, I assume you know that the United States has reduced the number of detainees that it holds by over 9,000 this year. Again, another very significant transfer that has taken place. And it, again, has been enabled by the growing capability of the Iraqi corrections system and rule of law system certainly, which I think its members recognize needs further growth and development, but an area in which we have sought to help and to assist.

So I think that it is accurate to characterize the implementation of the security agreement as very much on the mark and reflective of a partnership between two sovereign countries and between the representatives of those sovereign countries, so….

Yeah. Good to see you again.

REP3:

Oh, thank you. Good to see you, too, sir. Ned Parker…

GEN PETRAEUS:

Yep.

REP3:

…Los Angeles Times. I wanted to ask you a bit more about the Qais Khazali…

GEN PETRAEUS:

Mm-hmm.

REP3:

…case. I mean the U.S. military has said he and his brother, who was transferred to the Iraqis in June and then released, that they were responsible for the killing of five U.S. soldiers. I mean what…what are your feelings on that, and what do you say to the families of those soldiers? I imagine they….

GEN PETRAEUS:

Yeah. Well, frankly what is operative here is that we made an agreement, the United States made an agreement with the sovereign Iraqi government that when certain legal requirements are met that the United States transfers custody of individuals— there is an arrest warrant presented to us, and we then transfer custody of such individuals to the Iraqi government. And then of course, obviously, it is up to the sovereign Iraqi government to determine the further disposition of each case. There have been a number of these during the course of the year.

I think you also have to remember back to 2007 when, with the support of President Bush, I made a decision that we were going to promote…support reconciliation in Iraq. I mean this is a big deal. This is not a…. People look back now I think and say, gosh, you know, of course they should have supported reconciliation. You know, of course they should support the Sahwa and the Abna al-Iraq. That was a very difficult call because some of these individuals had our blood on their hands. But the way you end these kinds of conflicts, the way you end these kinds of wars, as you're…. You are UK originally, are you not?

REP3:

[Responds off microphone.]

GEN PETRAEUS:

You're not? OK. Sorry. Well, those from the UK will recall, you know, how, again, Northern Ireland and other situations like that have ended is by individuals ultimately reconciling. And that process is one that we supported and that the Iraqi government has supported as well. So…right here.

REP4:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

She's from Samariya Newspaper, and she's saying that the Iraqi people overall did not draw who's behind a lot of bombing or the one recently. And as you know, we are close now to the elections. What's your feeling regarding this?

GEN PETRAEUS:

I'm not sure I completely got the…my…. What's my feel for…?

INT:

She's saying a lot of people must know who's behind the attacks and the recent bombings which took place in many places in Iraq.

GEN PETRAEUS:

Yeah.

INT:

And she follow up, what's your feeling regarding the election?

GEN PETRAEUS:

Well, first of all with respect to the election, it is obviously of enormous importance to the future of this country. It will determine the contours of the political landscape of Iraq for years to come. It is hugely important that the election that takes place in early March be one that is judged, once again—as were the provincial elections in January of this past year is judged to have been free and fair as, again, the UN judged the provincial elections to have been. It's very important that everyone has the opportunity to vote, is not intimidated, that security is provided; that those outside the country, in accordance with the agreements that the Iraqi High Electoral Commission is making, have their opportunity to vote as well.
And then, of course, it's very important that the subsequent process—because in a sense, you really have two elections here: you have the election for the members of parliament, the over 300 members of parliament, and then you have the…what may be the more important election, which is the election of the prime minister, president, Council of Representatives, and the determination of the…who will hold key ministry positions and so forth in government.

Again—and as you know, I mean when you do the math and if you look very closely as we actually have, together with our Embassy partners, it is very clear that you cannot get the number needed, again, to elect a prime minister, president, Council of Representatives, speakers, and the other package without a coalition that represents parties from across the ethno-sectarian spectrum of Iraq. You cannot get the number required without having Kurds as well as Arabs and having Sunni as well as Shi’a, and even probably getting representatives of some of the smaller groups into the greater coalition just, again, to get to that required number that is needed to elect the key leaders.

Certainly the bombings of…that we have seen, particularly the horrific ones in Baghdad which seemed to be directed at governmental institutions of Iraq, have been…have sought to undermine the sense of confidence of the people in the Government of Iraq.

And I think that the response of the Shabal Iraqi has actually been quite impressive. It has been one of resilience. The Iraqi people have always been a resilient people, but there are moments where even their resilience can be tested. And I would argue, I would contend that December of 2006, for example, when there were over 53 dead bodies every single day, on average, on the streets of Baghdad, just from sectarian violence, that that was the point at which the people could not continue.

That was…of course that's why we had the surge, that's why we had the change in strategy. That is why we focused on the security of the people rather than transition, why we moved into the neighborhoods to stop that sectarian bloodletting that was going on, the cycle of sectarian violence, and so forth. That has not returned. These attacks have, again, sought to undermine the government, in some cases to spur…to reignite sectarian violence And the Iraqi people have refused to go along with that. And so again, that has been a hugely important response.

I am certain that Al-Qaida in Iraq, other Sunni extremist groups, and some Shi'a extremist elements will continue to carry out violence that is designed either to, again, to try to reignite sectarian conflict, to undermine the confidence in the Iraqi government, or perhaps for some political purposes as well. And Iraq, you know, will continue to be tested throughout the course of this year, without question. But I am confident, as General Odierno expressed as well today, that the Jaish al-Iraqi, the sherta, and the other elements of the security forces will be able to maintain the level of security that's necessary to carry out the elections, to enable the seating of a new government, and to again allow the continued development in the economic, social, political and other realms of this country.

Yep.

REP5:

Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Could you respond directly to the question about al-Fakkah Oil Field, what's the U.S. position on Iranian incursions into Iraqi territory? What are our obligations under the SOFA?

GEN PETRAEUS:

Well, let me just say that obviously what we supported and the result…what the result was was a dialog between the two countries. I think Prime Minister Maliki's statement was very clear, you know not one inch of Iraqi soil. And obviously we support our Iraqi partners. But thankfully that was resolved without any bloodshed. Certainly there was tension, there was a good bit of drama and emotion that is not…that is often to be found in this region. And…but again, thankfully there was a separation and they are talking now, and that is obviously what we very much supported the resolution through dialog rather than through some other means, so….

Yeah, right here. It's a very orderly audience I must say, and I thank you for that.

REP6:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

OK, he's asking, sir, he's from [UNINTELLIGIBLE] Newspaper, and his question basically saying is the border will be closed during the election for the protection of the elections, like what we had previously done?

GEN PETRAEUS:

First of all, it would be…it wouldn't be right for me to answer that question, candidly. That is one that has been answered in all the recent elections, dating back to my time here as well, by the Iraqi Security Forces.

There is a committee that has been established; it is the same individual, the same general in the Ministry of Interior who is leading the election security, who led it for the January elections, and led it all the way back, again, to elections when I was here as a three star, and we're quite confident in that partnership. There has already been a lot of coordination ongoing. And again, we think that that apparatus is established. And as they…once again, as Iraq approaches the date of the elections, I'm sure they'll announce a variety of different security measures that will be in place as they have always in the past, as you know, to ensure that the Shabal Iraqi can go to the polls and cast their vote freely and fairly.

Right here.

REP7:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

His question—he's from Rose, Baghdad. Why the terrorists who have already been com-…been approved as a terrorist, why they not been executed? And why they not been executed publicly [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

GEN PETRAEUS:

Yeah, again, that's a question for the Government of Iraq. As I think you know, there has been discussion between the Presidency Council members in particular that, again, does date back to when I was the Multi-National Force – Iraq commander here. There were executions for a period of time. Those stopped for a period, there has been resumption in them periodically. But that is…that has been a topic of discussion between the Council of Ministers, the Presidency Council, and also Judge…Chief Justice Medhat and others, so….

Right here.

REP8:

Rebecca Santana from the Associated Press. What role do you think Iran and specifically the Revolutionary Guards played, if any, in Peter Moore's hostage-taking and the taking of the other four people who were with him? And do you think that he spent any time at all in Iran during his captivity or the other four who were with him?

GEN PETRAEUS:

It is difficult to say what role the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and in particular, frankly, the Quds Force element played in that. I am on the record as having said that our intelligence assessment is that he certainly spent part of the time, at the very least, in Iran, part of the time that he was a hostage. But that's just based on an intelligence assessment, and obviously I've not had a chance to hear…certainly not to talk to him, but…or…nor to hear anything that he has said in what I assume is some debriefing that has taken place at some point in time. I've not yet seen the outcome of that, so….

Right here, and then I'll come back over here.

REP9:

Persha Rau, AFP. General Petraeus, with the delay of the election until March, how does that impact the American pullout in August? Because it seems…I mean General Odierno has always said that troops will not withdraw until about 60 to 90 days…

GEN PETRAEUS:

Yeah.

REP9:

…after the elections.

GEN PETRAEUS:

Yeah.

REP9:

So how will…how does it…?

GEN PETRAEUS:

Actually we think that that will not have any impact at all. In fact, actually what we are going to do is we are going to accelerate the transition in one area, in Anbar Province. Originally we were going to delay the departure of a certain headquarters and some other personnel to get through the elections had they been held in January.

Now that they're going to be 45 or so days later, that impact is not that significant to our drawdown plans. We're comfortable with the plans as they are. And in fact, as I said, we are actually going to accelerate to get to the set, if you will, to the battlefield geometry of our forces ahead of that…those elections rather than what we were going to do, which was to delay that later. So we'll go to that earlier rather than later, so I think we'll be OK.

Yes. [UNINTELLIGIBLE] How are you?

REP10:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

He said, sir, he's from Al Anbar…

GEN PETRAEUS:

Mm-hmm.

INT:

…Media. And he would like to know, especially after the ceremony right now—I'll take the paper from him—after the ceremony right now, how we can improve and develop the Iraqi media, and he has some suggestion, a letter, he just passed it to me.

GEN PETRAEUS:

Good.

INT:

I would like to pass it to you. And he want to see what we can do to improve the Iraqi media.

GEN PETRAEUS:

Well, no, I won't…I don't want to say that. If…you know people actually ask me fairly often about the state of the media in Iraq, and I'll talk about that in answering your question about how could Iraq continue to improve its media.
And first of all, I have always said that the media in Iraq has demonstrated extraordinary courage. Not just in the sense of, you know, in the face of IED attacks and indirect fire and car bombs and all the rest that has been part of the landscape here—touch wood, much less, certainly, in the past year or so. But so there is that courage piece. But there is also a moral courage; there was physical courage and then there was moral courage. Because there have been certainly…beyond attempts at intimidation. There have been media members kidnapped, killed because of what they said, because of what they wrote or said on television or on the radio. So first I would just applaud that and offer that it's hugely important of course that that continue.

Second, I have always observed—and all my questions I'll refer to General Odierno, who will now take them all for me here. The second point is that I've offered that, you know, for example in the street that was just restored downtown, your "Street of Intellectuals" and so forth, now about a year ago I guess, you can find all different viewpoints there. You may not find them in the same newspaper, you may not find them on the same television station. We all recognize that various TV stations, radio networks, newspapers are controlled by one view or another, in some cases political parties. But if you look at the spectrum, you can indeed get the viewpoints from across the political and social spectrum, from all the different ethno-sectarian groupings in Iraq. I think it's hugely important that that continue, that you fight to maintain at least that degree of freedom of the press, even recognizing that to some degree certain, again, newspapers, certain media outlets represent certain viewpoints or other...

Beyond that if I could offer, you also of course are seeing the explosion of Internet sites, social network sites, and so forth, and while that has posed huge challenges for the newspaper business in particular in the United States and other countries, and even for some of the mainstream TV, it also presents opportunities. And I think the more that you can get into that world, a world that your young Iraqis in particular are exploiting, again, the better you'll be. I think it is instructive to see what has happened in Iran.

There's been a huge effort in Iran to try to quell debate, to stop open discussion of situation. And what has happened is the social media, the social networking and the Internet has continued. And that has gotten the story out, and some very courageous individuals have ensured that the rest of the world has seen reality on the streets and been able to convey it.

I think just one last question if I could, right here, and then we'll hand off to General Odierno. Shukran jaziilan.

REP11:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

His question basically is saying when we had all the control over all and we would help establish of the government. His complaint is about this is…everybody knows it is a corrupt government, there's a lot of corruptions [sic] that is going on in the Iraqi government. Are we willing to take the reputation, dealing with the corruption…with the Iraq corruption? And this is…will reflect negatively on us. What do you think about that?

GEN PETRAEUS:

Well, if I could just highlight the fact that democracy, even "Iraqracy", if you will, the Iraqi form of democracy, first of all is still quite unique in the region, but has some very positive benefits. And the most important is that, of course, the leaders of the country have to face the electorate. And in part because of that, they have…they know that they will be held accountable at the polls by the people. And certainly they already want to do the very best they can for their country, but this provides an individual incentive for them. And of course it's one reason that democracies, once solidified, have tended to have a degree of stability that some non-democratic countries have not enjoyed.

And with respect to corruption, again it's been instructive to see the large conference that was held recently here in Baghdad, Prime Minister Maliki spoke at it, that was devoted to corruption. It was very commendable to see the judicial system here try and find guilty several senior members of the Ministry of Trade and some others.

That's quite heartening; that is hugely important. It is of great significance to this country. And certainly a region in which—I mean, look, there's corruption all around the world and I…I've got a region in which that features in some of the countries and it is something that is corrosive in its effect on a society and on an economy. And so again, very important to see the steps that the Iraqi government has taken, to see the parliament inviting leaders to come address it. I think all of that is appropriate, it's right. It is still, in a sense, evolving. But this is, as General Odierno noted, a country that is still, again, in the evolution or in the development, in that process.

And so…and you all contribute enormously to it by, as I mentioned, your courage and your integrity and your honesty.

If I could just end then and say thanks to all of you. The…you know the best is yet to come as they say. And I just want to salute General Odierno before I leave the stage. As I mentioned in my remarks—now, I'm sorry. I'm going to hand off in a second. As I mentioned in my remarks today—I'll let…you can ask General Odierno.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

[Comments off microphone.]

GEN PETRAEUS:

If I could. As I mentioned in my remarks today, General Odierno has given a great deal of his professional life to this country, nearly four years now. He served here for well over a year as a division commander, I think 14 months; 16 months as the Corps commander, during which he was the operational architect as we termed it for the surge and for the strategy that helped bring Iraq out of that cloak of darkness and the grip of fear that he described this country as being in in 2006 and into 2007. His son lost his arm in this country, serving with American forces. So the family has sacrificed in addition to the general.

He very selflessly came back here to replace me after there was a Central Command position that came open. And he has continued to serve enormously selflessly for your country and for the Shabal Iraqi. It's been a privilege to soldier with him in each of those different positions that he's held. And it's a privilege to hand this off to him here this morning. Thank you all very much.

GEN ODIERNO:

First, good afternoon. I'm just going to make about a 30 second statement here, then I'll open it up for questions. As I said earlier today, this is an important day as we transition to U.S. Forces – Iraq. It's another mark on the wall of our transition of responsibility to Iraqi Security Forces and to the Government of Iraq, responsibility for their own security. But we will continue to be here to support them, enable them, and advise them as we continue to move forward.

I'd like to make one note. December was the first month since the war started that the U.S. had zero battle casualties in the month. We had three non-battle deaths, but we had zero deaths due to combat operations inside of Iraq. And that's a fairly significant milestone for us as we continue to move forward. I think it also speaks to the level of violence and how it's decreased over time.

So with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.

REP5:

Good afternoon. Quil Lawrence, National Public Radio. I wanted to ask if you could comment on the result in the trial of the Blackwater guards in the United States and how Iraqis should take this release of these men after killing so many Iraqi civilians.

GEN ODIERNO:

Yeah, well, I have to…I have not had an opportunity yet to look into the details of what exactly happened. I just was able to read a headline that said they were…that the charges were dismissed by a judge. So I have to find out what happened and why they were dismissed before I make any statements on that. So I'm going to hold off on that.

REP5:

[Asks question off microphone.]

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, again, I've got to find out, you know, why. And I've got to find out legally what happened. I haven't had a chance to look at it. So until I look at it, I'm not going to comment.

Sir.

REP12:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

So he's saying there was some talks [UNINTELLIGIBLE] going on and that the Iraqi government request from the Americans to help them and sustain the security before the election. But it's being told that our side…the American side told them that we will do that if they give us the economy file. Is that true? And why we chose economically [sic] file to control the economy?

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, first, that's not true.

INT:

[Speaks briefly in Arabic.]

GEN ODIERNO:

There is no…there is no agreements like that. We continue to provide the same support. We are here every day to provide security, support, and advice to the Iraqi Security Forces when they ask us to do so. We partner with them every single day, nothing has changed. And the same with how we provide economic and diplomatic support, that is the same, that we have not asked for any privileges on economic versus diplomatic. We provide support as we always have across the wide spectrum of Government of Iraq entities.

REP1:

Diana Maglia from CNN. The Iraqi Security Forces are exercising full sovereignty in terms of internal security. But in the light, for example, of the recent dispute with Iran over the al-Fakkah Oil Field, how capable do you think they are of dealing with external threats?

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, I think where we're out now is they have…we have focused on internal, as you mentioned, threats. Externally they are still building to develop their capacity to defend themselves to external threats, both on the ground and in the air. And we think that will take a couple more years yet where to the foundational ability to protect themselves externally. And so, you know, we're working on that now. We continue to modernize both their Air Force, their naval forces, as well as their ground forces in order to protect themselves from external threats.

REP1:

Is that factored into your drawdown [UNINTELLIGIBLE]?

GEN ODIERNO:

It is. It absolutely is. And in fact, much of the modernization, that will continue. Much of the equipment that we leave behind will be focused on the external piece. We conti-…we have trainers for their Air Force, we have trainers for their Navy. And we'll continue to have trainers for their Army in order to prepare them for that over time.

REP13:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

The recent bombing here in Baghdad—he's from Baghdadiya Newspaper. And he's talking about the recent bombing from…in Baghdad, there was like a secret conference that include all the commanders, the Iraqi commanders and from ISF and different kind of commanders. And he said there was a part of the participated in this meeting was the U.S. Embassy. And he's saying if that true, why it's been a secret and what was the outcome of that conference.

GEN ODIERNO:

First, I'm not aware of any secret conference that occurred.

INT:

[Speaks briefly in Arabic.]

GEN ODIERNO:

The Iraqi government holds regular meetings with their security forces two or three times a week, where they bring the commanders together to discuss security issues, both in Baghdad and in all of Iraq. That's quite regular. We don't attend those.

REP13:

[Speaks in Arabic.]

INT:

He's saying there was like a secret conference and that…. [Speaks briefly in Arabic].

REP13:

[Replies in Arabic.]

INT:

OK. Sir, he just confirmed, again, there was like a secret meeting in the Iraqi parliament and there was attending from our side, from the U.S. Embassy, in this conference.

GEN ODIERNO:

As far as I know, there was no.

INT:

[Speaks briefly in Arabic.]

GEN ODIERNO:

What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

[Speaks briefly off microphone.]

GEN ODIERNO:

Yes.

REP14:

Hi, General. Thank you. Mike Eliason from the Washington Post. Would you be able to talk briefly about the recent violence in Anbar, and does that concern you? Specifically the targeting of political, tribal, and religious figures.

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, in terms of the overall security in Iraq it doesn't concern me. But it does concern me whenever there's violence and people are killed. Obviously this was an attack on the provincial government, going after the governor and some of his supporters in the provincial government as well. These are attacks that we think people will continue to try to attempt between now and the elections because they want to delegitimize the government. They want…they do not want these elections to go forward, they do not want them to be successful.

So obviously we'll work with the Iraqi Security Forces to do an assessment of why this happened. It's not a sign of crumbling security in Anbar, but it is…what it says is we still have groups that are capable of conducting these attacks. And so that means we still have work to do in order to go after these groups, working with the Iraqi Security Forces to eliminate this threat.

REP15:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

[Replies in Arabic.]

REP15:

[Speaks in Arabic.]

INT:

I just confirmed, sir, his question. Basically he's saying why we did not help because Bremer, he stopped any kind of production, military production inside Iraq. Why this has been stopped?

Why not helping to bring this back, the military production and manufacturing to start Iraqi produced their own weapons and participate in this kind of field because it's been stopped by us to allow any Iraqis to have any manufacture of military inside Iraq.

GEN ODIERNO:

First off, we would be happy for Iraqis to manufacture their own weapons and systems. We support the development of that. The problem was in 2000, immediately following the fall of the regime, many of these sites were ransacked, they were destroyed, and the capability just is no longer there to do that. But we certainly encourage Iraq's ability to develop its own weapons systems, its own defense industry. We welcome that very much, and we would support that.

Sir.

REP16:

John Leland from the New York Times. Much of the progress of recent years has involved the Sahwa Councils and they've been taking attacks lately pretty regularly. How effective a force do you think they are, and what has maybe eroded their effectiveness?

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, the Sahwa Movement, from the beginning, obviously has been very valuable to providing local security to some of the areas.

It also was a sign of Iraq rejecting…Iraqis rejecting extremist ideologies, specifically al-Qaida. In all of the propaganda that you read of al-Qaida on their Web sites as well as statements made by their leaders, they always attack the Sahwa Movement, because it is a threat to their ability to move forward here in Iraq. Al-Qaida today has an extremely difficult time recruiting inside of Iraq. They blame a lot of that on the Sahwa Movement and the Iraqi people understanding the fact that they want to reject al-Qaida and its ideals. So they continue to target the Sahwa Movement.

So it's our responsibility to ensure that, you know, they're well integrated into the security architecture and protected. And it's important that we continue to transition the Sahwa Movement both, to partially into the security ministries themselves, and into the non-security ministries. And we're in the process…the Iraqi government is in the process of doing that now. They have made some good progress over the last several months. They have been able to transition about 20,000 into non-security ministries. But we still have many out there yet that are yet to transition, and we will do that over the next several months as we work with the Government of Iraq.

But the Sahwa Movement remains very important to Iraq.

It remains very important that we continue to monitor them, assist them, and that they continue to be part of the security architecture until we transition them over to other jobs.

REP17:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

There was a lot of leaks that the United States is continuing or will have a conference in February for Ba’athists and we are working and arranging that and making it take place. And the Iraqi government, as you know, reject that continuously. And if they saying if this is took place, they will send a letter to our government saying that they're against this. Do you see this happening, and what's your feedback regarding this?

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, first, we are not involved with any conference that will be held with any Ba'athists elements. Unless the Government of Iraq asks us to do that, we will not be involved in that internal here to Iraq.

Again, what we do is we support the Government of Iraq's reconciliation program with many different elements throughout Iraq. We don't reconcile with elements, only the Government of Iraq can reconcile with these elements. And they have to choose based on the threat to the government who they choose to reconcile with. We will support them if they ask us, but that's the only time that we will do that.

REP9:

Persha Rau, AFP. The Iraqi government has been saying that the recent massive bombings in Baghdad have been the part of al-Qaida allied with Ba’athist elements. Is that the same intelligence that you're seeing? And if so, are those Ba'athists coming in from Syria or…I mean are they based in Iraq?

GEN ODIERNO:

You know this is…it's a very complex environment and it's very difficult to define names…specific names. But what I would tell you is we know that we have Al-Qaida in Iraq leadership that continues to plan and execute these operations. I believe as they do that, they obviously sometimes locally will pay and be involved with individuals that were probably once associated with the Ba'athist element who want to see the Government of Iraq and this current government overthrown. So I think based on that, they have mutual goals and so they work together in order to conduct these attacks.

It's also a statement on the state of these organizations. The state and size of al-Qaida has been reduced significantly and they can no longer conduct attacks independently, they can only do it with the help of others. And with the Sunni…or Sunni Ba'athist insurgent elements, they are no longer capable of operating independently as well. So because of some of this I would argue the successes we've had has caused them almost to work together in some cases in order to conduct these operations. So we look at it very carefully of both of these elements being involved.

Again, I would say…I put it in several categories. You know some are what I call opportunists, which means they'll work for anybody as long as you pay them money to conduct an attack. And so one of the things we're trying to do is eliminate the funding that al-Qaida gets through extortion and several other means throughout Iraq. We've had some success with limiting that extortion, but not complete success. And then you have al-Qaida, who is…really wants to see the State of Iraq fail as it moves forward, and so they'll do whatever they can to see the state fail. And that's why they're so focused on these elections because they know that if the elections move forward, we have a peaceful transition of government, it's going to become almost impossible for them to overthrow the state that's been established here in Iraq.

REP18:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] Anbar Media and he's talking about the ballot boxes.

GEN ODIERNO:

Mm-hmm.

INT:

How it's going to be protected before the election, and during the election, and after the election. Because he's saying there is a lot of ballot boxes problem, it will be a fake, it will be fraudul [sic], it would be ready to be passed during the election to change the result, and there is a lot of parties, political parties playing this kind of….

GEN ODIERNO:

I'm very confident in the systems that have been put in place by the Iraqi High Electoral Commission supported by the United Nations in protecting the legitimacy and credibility of the elections. We work very closely with them. We work very closely with Lieutenant General Aiden, who's been appointed as the individual responsible for security for the elections. We are…we attend every meeting with him, and we will support with whatever assets they want in order to protect this…the election. We also have taken the lessons learned from the provincial elections conducted last January to provide even better security, both from the security at the sites of the…where people vote as well as the ballot boxes and protection of the ballot boxes.

So I feel extremely comfortable that we have a very good plan. We're going to go through a significant amount of planning over the next 40 days coming up to the elections…or 60 days coming up to the elections. And we'll continue to work very closely with the Government of Iraq to ensure that there's credible, legitimate elections in March.

Yes, ma'am.

REP19:

Hello. I'm Liz Sly with the Los Angeles Times. I'd like to ask you a question about Syria.

GEN ODIERNO:

Yeah.

REP19:

And what if anything more has been learned since you last talked to us about Syria's role in these bombings. At the last news conference you held you mentioned that you believed that the individuals and perhaps the explosives had also come from Syria. And therefore, I'd like to…how much involved…Syrian involvement do you think there is and what role are they playing?

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, again, I would argue that the Syrian government specifically is not involved in the attacks. But what does occur is that we still see foreign fighters and others being able to move through Syria, and so we would like to see Syria do more to stop these fighters and suicide bombers from coming into Iraq.

We'd also like to see better agreement between the Government of Iraq and the Government of Syria on border protection to ensure that there are not explosives coming across the borders between Syria and Iraq. Enforcement of this would be very helpful to Iraq, and it would discourage people from attempting to bring in explosive elements as well as suicide bombers from Syria. So I hope the Government of Iraq and the Government of Syria will be able to get together and discuss these issues and be able to come up with measures that will help to better secure Iraq.

REP20:

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] also with the Los Angeles Times. Anyway I wanted to…I know you don't want to address your reaction to the ruling about Blackwater, but what do you think the reaction will be of the Iraqi people to this? Because the finer points of a legal decision isn't going to matter to them so much, it's the symbolism of the event.

GEN ODIERNO:

Yeah. Well, again, there's several lessons to be learned here. One is, of course, you know, we're upset when we believe that people might have caused a crime and they're not held accountable. That's…that happens in many different ways. If a U.S. soldier is killed and an Iraqi is not held accountable and gets off because there's not enough evidence, that's an issue. If an Iraqi soldier is killed and that we know…we think we know the individual who did it but he gets off because there's not enough evidence in a court of law, we're not happy about that either. Well, I think this is the same application.

I mean the bottom line is they threw some of the evidence out, that was the best I can tell, and so they threw the case out. So of course people are not going to like it because they believe that these individuals conducted some violence and should be punished for it. But the bottom line is using the rule of law, the evidence obviously is not there or was collected illegally or whatever the reason is and so it can't be used. That's always a problem. But that's, you know, it’s a lesson in the rule of law. You know we're a country of rule of law; Iraq's a country that's abiding by the rule of law. And that's what protects its citizens in the long run is having a system where you use the rule of law in order to make your determinations, and I think this is the case.

I mean I worry about it because, you know, clearly there were innocent people killed during this attack. And that's concerning to everyone that innocent people were killed. And so its heart wrenching when these people are killed. And so, you know, we'll have to…again, I have not had a chance to look at it in detail, so….

REP20:

[Asks question off microphone.]

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, I hope they realize that, once again, it wasn't…we all know it was not U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines who did this; it was a private security company. What I'm worried about is will there be backlash against private security companies that continue to operate here. And I wouldn't like to see that either, so we'll have to watch that.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

We only have time for one more question, so [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

REP21:

With regard to the situation at the al-Fakkah Oil Fields, I mean they've had these smaller-scale events before. Why do you think Iran stepped it up a notch this time, and are you concerned at all for the long-term future of that area considering that Iraq would like to develop a lot of those oil fields in the future?

GEN ODIERNO:

I think this has to do with border issues, that that's what this is about. It's about a disagreement on where the border is between Iran and Iraq, and it's been an issue since 1975. And so what I would like…what I think we need to see is the Government of Iraq and the Government of Iran to decide and get together and make a determination on where the border is. And then once we determine and everybody agrees on where the border is, then we can resolve this issue…then they can resolve this issue.

And I think…I would just say is I think the Government of Iraq and the Iraqi Security Forces have handled this very well. I think they've done it very measuredly [sic]. They are there, they are watching it very carefully. And I think they've handled themselves extremely well in dealing with this problem. And you know if…and we provide them assistance as they request it.

I'll come back. Yes.

REP22:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

Mr. General, we spoke about the terrorists, the foreign terrorists. They come from outside Iraq to inside Iraq. But what about [UNINTELLIGIBLE] the terrorist organization which already exists in Iraq? And you give an example of PKK and then you give about MEK. What our role regarding this?

GEN ODIERNO:

Yeah. In the PKK…for the PKK, we work with the Government of Iraq to provide intelligence on the PKK as well as the Government of Turkey, since they continue to conduct attacks against the people of Turkey, in order to help them to attempt to resolve this problem. You know we…we're also…so we work with the Government of Iraq, we work with the Kurdistan Regional Government, we work with the Government of Turkey to come up with solutions. And it's just not a military solution, it's a whole government solution that has to be according to these PKK terrorists, and we work with them on trying to solve this problem through those means. But with the MEK, obviously that is an issue between the Government of Iraq and the Government of Iran. It's a very difficult issue.

I've been…you know it's important to deal with this problem in a measured way, because one thing that Iraq is starting to develop itself is it’s a government that's guided by the rule of law, it's guided by the rights of Iraqi citizens. And I think it's important that they handle these very difficult problems in measured ways, try to solve them through diplomatic and political means instead of having to use military force right away. And I think…that's a lesson that I think is important and they're learning and they're trying to do. And so I give them credit for trying to work it that way. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am. One last question.

REP23:

[Asks question in Arabic.]

INT:

[Replies briefly in Arabic.] Sir, she's talking about the congestion in the streets and the traffic in the street. As you know, it's building up more and more and he's [sic] saying this will give the opportunities for the people who want to harm the innocent. And I ask her is…do you mean by that who is the bad people? And she said like the terrorists and [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. And she continued by saying the blame then goes on ISF because they do not do what they supposed to do.

GEN ODIERNO:

Well, this is a very difficult situation because the Iraqi Security Forces, both the police and Army, want to have the people have the…give them the ability to use their automobiles, travel around Baghdad. And with increased security you've seen a significant increase in the number of vehicles and number of traffic jams and vehicles moving all around Baghdad. And so you have to balance that with the level of security that you have to apply, and that's what they're trying to do.

You know if they put up a huge amount of checkpoints it would be almost impossible for traffic inside of Ir-…inside of Baghdad. It would be bottled up, you wouldn't be able to move. And there'd be another problem. So you have to balance these two issues when you deal with this, and it's a very difficult one.

So what we…so what they have to do, they have to come up…we're trying to help them come up with more technical means and also allow them to come up with ways to, through intelligence, to identify the individuals as well as the bombers who are trying to conduct these attacks so we can try to interdict them as well as allowing the people to have the freedom to use their vehicles and have freedom of movement inside of Baghdad. So we're working very closely with them and we will continue to work with them. It's a very, very difficult problem.

I believe the Iraqi Security Forces are working very hard to solve this problem and to gain this balance that they have to have. Obviously our first concern is always the protection of the Iraqi people, and the first concern of the Iraqi Security Forces is the protection of the Iraqi people. When you have suicide bombers, it's a very difficult thing. And so we have to work very hard to try to interdict them from killing innocent civilians.

And we'll continue to work as hard as we possibly can to understand the networks, to understand how they're getting their explosives, and then to interdict them so they stop killing innocent Iraqis. So…and I know they're working as hard as they can to do that.

I want to thank everyone. I want to wish everyone a happy new year. And I wish nothing but the best as Iraq continues to move forward. Thank you very much.



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