(Note: General al-Jubouri's remarks appear through interpreter.)
COL. GARY KECK (director, Department of Defense Press Office): Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing room after the long weekend. My name's Colonel Gary Keck, for those of you who don't know me. I'm the director of the Press Office and I'll be moderating today.
And we have the privilege of having with us today Colonel Walter Piatt, commander of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Multinational Division-North. And with him is Major General Hamed Nameq Yaseen Al-Jubouri of the Salah ad Din provincial -- he's the director of police in the Salah ad Din province. So he is with Colonel Piatt today.
Colonel Piatt has been in Iraq since October. And this is his first briefing with us. And General Hamed, obviously, has not been here before. So he is also joining us for the first time. And they are from Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit.
Now, Colonel Piatt has some opening comments. And General Hamed does not speak English, so he does have a translator off camera. So if you have a question specifically, when we get to Q and A, for General Hamed, please give him a little time, give the translator time to translate and we'll get the answer.
So with that, let's turn it over to Colonel Piatt. Go ahead.
COL. PIATT: Good morning, all. Aloha. As-salaam aleikum. (Inaudible) -- Piatt.
I'm the commander of 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. I am privileged today to be here with Major General Hamad Al-Jubouri. As stated, he is the director of police for Salah ad Din province. Our forces are partnered throughout Salah ad Din province with Iraqi security forces and the provincial government.
Salah ad Din province -- (audio break) -- New Jersey, with a population of about 1.1 million. It is located between Baghdad and Mosul and is bisected by the Tigris River. The main north-south highway in Iraq runs through the middle of the province, and the major towns are Baiji, Tikrit, Samarra, Balad and Tuz. Salah ad Din is also the home of the al-Askari, or Golden Dome, mosque. The major industries are agriculture and oil.
The security situation here has improved dramatically in the past year, and much of that progress is directly attributable to the provincial Iraqi police, almost 17,000 strong, commanded by Major General Hamed. I tell him every time I see him that he's one of my bosses, and I sincerely mean that. I'm here to enable his police force to secure the province.
Some of the recent successes we have had here are the implementing of the security agreement and providing the security for the -- (audio break). Salah ad Din had the highest percentage of voter turnout in all of Iraq.
So, Hamed, sir, your comments?
GEN. AL-JUBOURI: Good morning. First of all, we'd like to welcome the Iraqi people and congratulate them, and also congratulate all of the people of Salah ad Din for the success of the elections and also choosing a provincial council.
And we're -- we would have been not able to achieve this process, the elections, without good security in the province of Salah ad Din. The police of Salah ad Din played a very big role and also put tremendous effort -- (audio break) -- succeeding the elections. And that's with the assistance and support of coalition forces and also the Iraqi army and the Sons of Iraq.
We also cannot forget the role of the citizens of Iraq, how they cooperated and assisted the Iraqi security forces in general.
And these elections were much better than the previous elections that we've had in the past. And I believe the future elections will be even better than the one we witnessed this year.
And thank you very much.
COL. KECK: Okay. Thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate that.
We'll go ahead and go into Q&A. And Courtney, go ahead. Start us off.
Q Okay. Courtney Kube from NBC News. You mentioned that you have about 17,000 Iraqi police in Salah ad Din. Could you give us some of the other statistics? How many U.S. service members continue to serve there?
And then if -- for either of you, if you could tell us how many Sons of Iraq are still in Salah ad Din and what are the plans for that, will they be eventually transitioned into police, army?
COL. PIATT: Yes. So in my brigade, I have over 3,600 soldiers in Salah ad Din province. And for the Sons of Iraq, we have over 9,000 Sons of Iraq in all of Salah ad Din.
The process that we're in right now with Sons of Iraq is, we're in the middle of transitioning. It's a two-phase -- first, we will transfer the Sons of Iraq oversight, contract and payment to the Iraqi army, and then we will transition Sons of Iraq to other employment, starting with Iraqi security forces, police and army. That process -- (audio break) -- just began here in Salah ad Din, first, where this month we kicked off a series of committee meetings to inform all Sons of Iraq contract holders and the Iraqi army of how we would execute this plan.
Next month, beginning 1st of March, we will register all the Sons of the Iraq, and that process will take anywhere between 15 to 20 days, but we'll register all of them. And then we will execute payment alongside of our brothers in the Iraqi army, of all of the Sons of Iraq. And then the Iraqi army on 1 April will help pay them with us, and then on 1 May they will have complete oversight and control for the execution of the contracts of the Sons of Iraq.
With that, some percentage, about 20 percent, will be transitioned relatively soon to Iraqi security forces, police and army. And then the others will remain in their positions where they -- (audio break) -- along checkpoints, along -- throughout Salah ad Din province, until they are transitioned to other -- either other jobs, schools, or to other Iraqi security forces.
Q What's the basic timeline for when you expect those 9,000 Sons of Iraq to be in some other capacity? And so is it and it's -- the expectation is that only the 20 percent that will be transitioned to ISF will remain in Iraqi security force capacity.
COL. PIATT: No. That's the start point. We're fortunate in Salah ad Din because we have seen other provinces execute this Sons of Iraq transition already. And this has gone very successful.
It's an order from Prime Minister Maliki himself, for how we will do it, execute it and maintain the payment and oversight of the Sons of Iraq who have -- (audio break) -- so much and are so important for the security in all the provinces. And I'd just say briefly, I tell them every time I see them that they're much more than Sons of Iraq. They're really fathers of freedom.
So what will happen is, they immediately -- some will transition over to police and army. Others will maintain their positions along checkpoints, along key routes in infrastructure, until they are transitioned either to other employment, through vocational schooling, or to the future hires for the police and the army.
So there's no set timetable. But the commitment up front is that they will remain Sons of Iraq, just under the oversight of the Iraqi army, until which time they are transitioned to other employment.
Q If I could just ask one more question, Colonel, if roughly -- if it's fair to assume that a third or so of these Sons of Iraq will end up in Iraqi security force capacity, that's almost the size of your brigade combat team.
I mean, is it fair to guess, to hypothesize that once these Sons of Iraq stand up, the U.S. brigade combat team that's there could potentially leave? They wouldn't be needed there anymore for security?
COL. PIATT: Well, the Sons of Iraq are providing security now. So the transition of them is not really tied to any type of reduction in U.S. forces. It's more of a focus of where we are.
We are partnered with Iraqi security forces to professionalize the army. The Iraqi army will maintain oversight of the Iraqi security forces. I mean, they're there now.
We would not have been able to have the security gains that we have, in Salah ad Din province, had it not been for the Sons of Iraq.
So these are -- we're not standing up new forces; we're just simply transferring oversight -- (audio break) -- and supervision and responsibility over to the Iraqi army.
Q Thank you.
COL. KECK: Joe?
Q Colonel, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. The U.S. commander in charge of developing the ISF, General Frank Helmick, told the Financial Times that the Iraqi security forces need at least three years to face or to fight against the insurgents. Would you give me your assessment on that?
COL. PIATT: Well, I can tell you here in Salah ad Din the Iraqi security forces, especially the provincial police, are ready now. What they will need is continued support in professionalization, equipping and training. But when it comes to fighting and combating terrorism in Salah ad Din, the police are the ones who take action first.
I give you an example. (Audio break) -- on Christmas Eve I got a call from my good friend here, General Hamed, who had information of an operation that he needed to conduct because we had some enemy cells in a remote area. We were able to link up together, formulate a plan in several hours, and I was able to offer him some forces to execute with him. But in the end, he executed the operation completely on his own, with just some planning that was provided by coalition forces.
I think I'd like to ask General Hamed if he'd have any statement to ask -- to add on that particular question, on are Iraqi security forces capable now providing for security.
GEN. AL-JUBOURI: (Audio break) -- security situation and have full control of the province. Our forces will cooperate and assist and support the Iraqi army and the SOIs, because my assessment is that the situation for the police is a much better situation this year, if you compare it to the -- to last year.
As far as supplies, training, and also confidence and also having confidence in themselves -- and now the police have that confidence and they could fight the enemy, no matter where the enemy is. Therefore, as far as the police in Salah ad Din, we are ready to take full control and full -- (audio break) -- over to the police of Salah ad Din. Thank you.
Q General Hamed, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra again. Just to follow up on what you said, if you could tell us what kind of equipment you need in the near future to handle your mission, your security mission in your area?
GEN. AL-JUBOURI: As far as supplies, we are very good with supplies. We are in a good situation at this time, but the only thing we lack at this time are up-armored vehicles, Humvees in particular. We are talking with -- (audio break) -- about getting a supply of up- armored vehicles, particularly Humvees. And we do have a good understanding that we will get Humvees in the very near future. The Ministry of Interior will supply the provinces of Iraq with up-armored vehicles.
But with regard to the supplies as far as light weapons, all types of weapons, I believe that we have enough at this time. Even vehicles, we do have enough. And I must say that the Ministry of Interior has provided us with whatever we've needed in the past, and they're a good support to us. They provide us several when we need it to endure the fight and continue providing security for the people of this province. Thank you.
Q Quick question, General Hamed, we've heard in the past about corruption cases among the ISF in your area. Could you update us on that?
GEN. AL-JUBOURI: I speak on behalf of the police of Salah ad Din.
And I must say that we have not had any indications of corruption within the police of Salah ad Din.
We also have a team that works closely with us and are -- that checks and also visits different IP police stations throughout the province. It visits police stations in the districts and subdistricts and villages of the province -- (audio break) -- and no indications. So be assured that there is no corruption amongst the police of Salah ad Din. And I don't believe that we've had corruption in the last six years.
However, there were some U.S. units that did have some -- that did think that there was some type of corruption in the police force of Iraq or in the police force of Salah ad Din. However, they searched that -- they investigated it. They did not find anything and there is no corruption.
And if you look at the budget that we get from the -- (audio break) -- up into sections and into departments. There's also guidelines and conditions that we must follow in spending the funds and the budget that we get from the Ministry of Interior. So I am very certain that there is no corruption in the police force of this province. And thank you.
COL. PIATT: I have a note to add, that I agree with General Hamed. And one of the things that we have done recently is we have combined our (nodes ?) with our Iraqi partners in Provincial Joint Coordination Centers throughout Salah ad Din province. So we work side by side with our Iraqi partners every single day.
So now we better understand the processes that they -- that they're -- are obligated to execute and how it works. (Audio break) -- operate. And I completely agree with him that in the police force we just are not seeing corruption. We're seeing uniformed officers on the street manning checkpoints. We're seeing professional leaders leading district police stations throughout Salah ad Din province. It's just amazing to see.
Q Colonel, Gordon Lubold from the Christian Science Monitor. If I could ask you about your use of contractors for -- to support your brigade, can you give us a sense of how many contractors are working to support you now, and how that may be changing, say, over the course of the deployment?
COL. PIATT: Well, I would say first of all that when we implemented the security agreement, this brigade, along with our partners in Salah ad Din province, we began on 1 December to -- (audio break) -- going to implement the security agreement, that Iraq is a sovereign nation and we are here at the invitation of our Iraqi brothers.
And we've planned ahead. And we developed, together with the governor, the police director, the army commander and all government ministries, to how we were going to implement this security agreement and how we were going to operate now within a -- within a sovereign nation.
Things were different, and they are different. But I'll -- I would say that we're not -- we don't operate -- this brigade does not operate with that many contractors. I use most of them for law- enforcement advisers, translators and interpreters and culture advisers. They have specific roles that are vital and absolutely necessary -- and necessary in how we take our partnership to the next level. But we can combine at the headquarters and we can put -- (audio break) -- individuals to areas where they can best advise our Iraqi counterparts.
Q Do you foresee a point at which you can reduce those -- even those critical roles that the limited number of contractors are playing now for you?
COL. PIATT: Well, I have a lot of officers that are learning Arabic and a lot of soldiers that are learning Arabic faster and faster. But, one, that I have the interpreters and translators is just absolutely extremely valuable.
They have done multiple rotations here within Iraq. Many of them are from Iraq and have returned because they believe in this country and what's happening here.
I think there may be, in the future, a time when we can reduce other contractors. But the ones we have now, at least in my brigade, the ones that we're using, are really for specializing to help -- (audio break) -- next step in professionalizing, either government or security.
So hard to speculate on when or how many we could reduce. But certainly every single day, our Iraqi counterparts are becoming better and better in whatever department that they were partnered with. So I would see, you know, certainly they're going to be able to do it on their own in many of these very soon.
Q Hi, Colonel. This is Michael Carden from American Forces Press.
Can you talk a little about the infrastructure situation in your province, mainly update us on the Baiji oil refinery and construction of the Golden Mosque?
COL. PIATT: Yes, I can.
One thing I will tell you is, our brigade was here in 2006-2007. And we were in Northern Iraq. And we were gone only 12 months. And when we -- (audio break) -- Salah ad Din, what we saw on the ground was really absolutely amazing, to see the security progress that this province has made.
(Audio break) -- had to exploit the success, that is was time now that the Iraqi security forces in this province were ready, to take ownership of security on the ground, while we could partner at the next level to enable professionalization of police and army. And also we had to take a leap to our line of effort and reprioritize to governance, which includes building and further development of the infrastructure.
With the Baiji oil refinery, one, I was glad to see, when I came back, My old friend -- (inaudible) -- is still at the Baiji oil refinery. We owe him much. He is a dedicated man that understands oil. But he also understands Iraq. And he was able to reach out and develop a security plan, to allow the refinery to operate the way -- (audio break) -- to.
It was also an area that was widely assumed that it was corrupt. There were much money that was being peeled or siphoned off to feed corruption or even, in fact, perhaps even the enemy itself. But what we see now is that through his leadership, his development of internal systems within the refinery that it's working.
The exports are way up. It's making money. It's producing products for the province but also for the rest of Iraq. Those are being distributed regularly. He reports regularly. He has added transparency to the refinery so anyone accusing anyone of corruption there can quickly see that, no, it is very -- it's operating at a high level. It needs more work. There are some systems there that are antiquated. But as far as the day-to-day -- (audio break) -- updated and keep up with modern refinery systems.
So the golden mosque, it was, again, a very, very good scene for us to come back here and see the progress made in Samarra, where so much was destroyed and so much hope was destroyed and the town was very, very violent last time we left here. And it required a heavy force of coalition forces, police and army. Now you see markets are opened up. The mosque is being reconstructed at an accelerated rate. But not only is it being reconstructed and there's some normalcy returning to Samarra, pilgrims are returning. And we see thousands of pilgrims from other countries coming into Iraq to visit the shrine and they're not having any security incidents.
So there is much -- (audio break) -- there is much more construction to be done on the mosque. There is some clean-up around the city. There are some security steps that we must take forward to return the city back to its normal state. We have to open up the hotel that once served to allow the pilgrims to stay over and now is a temporary base for some of my forces. We're going to turn that back over by this summer to the Iraqis, so that they can have religious tourism again in Samarra and have people stay over, and also build and be a boost to that economy.
So two very exciting steps that we have seen and much progress being made in both the Baiji oil refinery and the golden mosque in Samarra.
Q If I could follow up, sir, can you offer any statistics on the percentage capacity the refinery's working at, some of the export numbers and figures that is contributing to the economy?
COL. PIATT: Yeah, I'm trying to -- I think we have about -- I think last month it produced or exported over -- I'm trying to get my figures right here; I'm sorry -- 60 -- no, it's -- well, the percentage it's operating -- the refinery's operating between 65 and 80 percent, and some months it's been higher than that.
The barrel-per-day production is about 290,000, I believe. I don't have the facts in front of me, but the increased capacity is tremendous. And what -- and best thing about it is that we have created transparency in that refinery, so we have reduced speculation of corruption either through internal or through some type of enemy network. It's working by Iraqis, for Iraqis.
COL. KECK: Okay. Well, we have come to the end of our time. Gentlemen, we appreciate your being with us today. And as customary, we would like to turn it back over to you for any final comments before we end. So back to you, Colonel Piatt and General.
COL. PIATT: Well, as we say in Hawaii, mahalo and aloha until we see you again, but also, as we say in Iraq, "shukran jazilan and "a'ash al-Iraq," Thank you very much, and long live Iraq.
COL. KECK: (Off mike) -- you again down the road.
Thanks for coming, folks.
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