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Media Availability with Senior Defense Official in Iraq

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
October 23, 2003

Senior Defense Official:  Let me say a little bit about the purpose of the Iraq trip and then kind of run through the highlights of the schedule which, do they have the schedule yet?


Special Advisor:  They do.


Senior Defense Official:  At least tell you some of the thinking behind it.  There is one very important purpose and that is to visit troops, both ours and coalition partners and thank them for the magnificent job they do.  It’s impossible to thank these young men and women enough for the hardships they put up with and the risks that they take.  My experience has always been though that they lift your morale when you think you are out there to lift theirs. Last time around was amazing.  When you visit them in hospitals and other places, they’re an amazing group.  Beyond that, my hope is to get back periodically, I was there three months ago.  I learned an enormous amount when I was there in Iraq and I feel like we are able to move some issues forward usefully in Washington based on the kinds of things we learned when I was there.  Three months in this game is quite a long time actually and it’s time to get a refresher.  They’re really three different groups I want to hear from.  One is to hear from our troops, about what their needs are, where there may gaps we can fill.  We can move things more quickly.  There’s this disconnect- not disconnect- but, the people who know what the needs are out in Iraq and the people who often can fill them are back in Washington and the faster you can close those connections the better it can be.  An example from last time was and not just my trip, I learned it, but Gen Pace also came back with all the commanders reporting the most valuable thing they had were this thing called commander’s emergency reserve program.  Small amounts of money that they could use for civil affairs projects, but where they could fire off multi-thousand dollar tank rounds without having to account for them to anybody.  This stuff which is more valuable than ammunition was rationed and scarce and could never be sure when it was coming.  I think we made a lot of progress thanks to identifying the problem and opening up the authorities so that kind of money will be there.  That’s an example; another example is that I heard as various congressional delegations have heard about the shortage of things like Kevlar vests.  I think we put together an emergency task force that identified some 300 million plus of things that could be accelerated.  The vests and upper armor are the best known but I guess Tom Shanker’s paper (New York Times) reporting this morning more exotic things that would help us in jamming remotely detonated devices for example.  The second and in some ways most important subject I want to hear about I suppose principally but not exclusively from Iraqis is how can we accelerate Iraqi assumption of responsibility for their own affairs, for their security, for their economy, for their governance because that is really the key to success and there has been a lot of progress made already.  I think it very significant more than 80 thousand, the numbers I read say 86 thousand, but I’ll just say more than 80 thousand Iraqis in the field fighting for their country.  Either as police which is the largest chunk, the facilities protection service, the border guards, or the relatively new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps which I think may be one of the most important of them.  It makes the Iraqi security forces the second largest member of the coalition.  Measured not only by the numbers in the field, but also by the numbers who are fighting and dying.  Their casualties since June 1st are, I guess I should get you an exact number, I think I have it here.  Let me pull it out, so I don’t guess at it.  They have lost 82 killed in action just since June 1st.


Reporter:  I’m sorry, since when?


Senior Defense Official:  Since June 1st.  That is police and Civil Defense Corps…the whole works.  They are also doing very, very important work.  It was facility service protection people as I understand it that stopped that bomber that was heading to the Baghdad hotel before he could get really in close and do serious damage.  It was Civil Defense Corps people who made the arrests two nights ago, I think it was two nights ago, in Karbala, the armed radicals who had taken over that masque in Karbala.  Civil defense Corp plus police, but Civil Defense Corps provided the sort of the heavy back up.  I think it was Civil Defense Corps -I will check, it may have been police- who discovered just yesterday a bomb planted in a tunnel in Baghdad.  So these people are out there really doing very important work and dangerous and risky work and it is appropriate; it is their country.  That is the basic principle, is that Iraqi’s should be responsible for their country, but not doing it all by themselves.  In fact I guess I’d say in the area of electricity, it’s one where our goal is to get electricity and some other essential services, but electricity particularly, up and running and as quickly as possibly can be done.  In that case I guess it is an exception to the rule, we’ve discovered the fastest way to do it is not Iraqis, not American civilians, but the Army Corp of Engineers; although, most the people the Army Corp of Engineers employs are actually Iraqis.  So it’s a mixture.  But since the Corps took it over in early September, I think there has been a noticeable speed up and earlier this month we passed the pre-war level of 4400 mega-watts.  It fluctuates a little because its cooler weather, they’re taking some plants off for repair.  But, the real question I am here to hear about is what things can be done to speed up the training of security forces and how are we doing on things like courts.  Law enforcement people have taught me, it’s a truism when you think about it; no number of police will do the law enforcement job for you if you don’t have courts and jails.  It’s a three-legged stool.  You have to have all three legs there.  And then finally to get a better appreciation of the international effort and how it is going and what are coalition partner’s needs are and how we can encourage more participation by other coalition partners.  We’re going to be -I will run through the itinerary - but we are going to be visiting in Hilla with the commander of the multi-national division the Poles are leading and meeting with some of his commanders which is truly a rainbow division there. I am not sure of the boundaries.  I think the Italians are with the British, but I think the Spaniards are with the Poles.  There are Salvadorans, Hondurans, Bulgarians, it’s a mixture, but I hear lots of people suggesting somehow because it is such a strangely mixed crew that it is somehow lacking competence.   If you look at the evidence of how things are going in this key Shi’a heartland of Iraq - despite some ugly efforts by Moqtada Al Sadr and his followers to destabilize the place - the impression I have is it’s going pretty well.  I would like to find out if that is true and then what the relation is between coalition and local forces in achieving that.  So that’s, I mean to take it from the three things the President wants us to be doing.  Going on offense, our military is definitely doing that and taking the fight to the enemy but, secondly to be internationalizing this as much as possible.  But third and I think in the end the key to success is accelerating the assumption of responsibility by Iraqis for their own security, their own governance, their own economy.

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