MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming. And we'll make this brief, because you all know very well our guest speaker this morning. We're privileged to have once again with us General Ray Odierno.
General Odierno is the commanding general of U.S. Forces-Iraq. He took command of U.S. Forces-Iraq in September 2008, following his command of Multinational Corps Iraq.
As I said, he's no stranger to our briefing room. The last time he was here was on June 4th. So we're certainly grateful that he made time in his very busy schedule to come back here again.
Sir, with that, thank you again for taking your time, and over to you.
GEN. ODIERNO: I have a short opening statement. Then I'll open up to questions.
First, thanks for coming. Good morning.
The reason I'm back -- I'm back just for a few days; I got back last night, will leave this weekend -- is DOD and Department of State are hosting a transition conference as we walk through the challenges and to set the stage for the transition from a military-led to a civilian-led operation in Iraq.
If I could just -- first, I'd like to let you know that I continue to be extremely pleased with the performance of the Iraqi security forces. While we still see attempts by al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist elements to create uncertainty and to deflate confidence in the government of Iraq, nationwide, security incidents remain at the lowest level since we've been keeping records. High- profile attacks during the first six (months) of 2010 have decreased by nearly 50 percent when compared to the first six months of 2009.
Clearly there's still some violence, and we still need to make more progress in Iraq. But Iraqi security forces have taken responsibility for security throughout Iraq, and they continue to grow and improve every day. They've demonstrated they are apolitical and loyal to the constitution during this period of transition, which is extremely important.
The continued progression of the security forces and their improved -- and the improved environment which has been achieved over the past several years inside of Iraq -- and that's come through our partnership with the increasingly professional security forces -- has enabled us to deliberately reduce our forces, in line with the president's guidance, all while simultaneously continuing to do our mission every single day.
Today, since the height of the surge back in 2007, we've closed or turned over nearly 500 bases. We have 16 more that we want to turn over prior to 1 September, and we are on schedule to do that. We have reduced our presence by 75,000 troops since January of 2009 and 32,000 since January 2010. Today we're approximately 70,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines present for duty in Iraq.
Since June of 2009, we've retrograded over 37,000 rolling stock, wheeled vehicles, and nearly 20,000 have gone to Afghanistan. Additionally, 1.2 million pieces of non-rolling stock have left the country. Our military footprint will continue to decline over the next five weeks, and we are on track to be at 50,000 boots on the ground by the start of Operation New Dawn on September 1st.
Our change of mission for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn will officially mark the end of combat operations and signify our transition to stability operations from a military sense. In truth, we've been conducting stability operations for several months. As the president has said and the vice president reiterated on his last trip to Iraq, the United States, though, remains committed to a stable, sovereign, self-reliant Iraq, and we are dedicated to sustaining a long-term bilateral relationship with Iraq.
Operation New Dawn does not change the level of U.S. commitment to Iraq. It changes the nature of our commitment: one that is military-dominated to a civilian-led commitment. As we transition to stability operations, U.S. forces will continue to train, advise, assist and equip Iraqi security forces and carry on with our partnered counterterrorism operations. We'll support the U.S. Embassy, provincial reconstruction teams, United Nations and other nongovernmental organizations dedicated to building Iraqi civil capacity.
The goal of this strategy is to help Iraq build strong, enduring, democratic institutions from rule of law to good governance and establish the foundation for long-term development.
Iraqi elections held in March were incredibly successful. The Iraqi people embraced the right to vote and choose. Challenges to the election process only further solidified the credibility and legitimacy of the election.
The outcome was very close. And this has led to complex negotiations between the major blocs. That said, political discussions and negotiations continue in earnest.
All blocs realize the importance of forming a government that is transparent, accountable and representative of the Iraqi people. And I believe they are working towards this end.
I think it's important to put the security and political environment in Iraq today in perspective, as it compares to where we were in 2006, 2008 and even 2009. There has been steady, deliberate progress across all lines. There's clearly more to do. But a new baseline has been established.
As I fly around Iraq on a daily basis, I see the streets and markets are thriving with activity whether in Baghdad, Basra and even in Mosul. There's a certain sense of normalcy.
Over the past 7-1/2 years, the Iraqi people have proven to be extremely resilient and courageous. They want to move forward and make their country better than it was before.
Political and economic progress is more important now than ever. That's why we believe this new stage in our relationship will help ensure that Iraq remains on a path to develop security, diplomatic and economic depth that will ultimately contribute to peace and stability in the region.
With that, I look forward to any questions you might have.
Q General, I wanted to go back to this issue of the Sons of Iraq. I mean, you mentioned this morning how important it is, how important they are to the movement there and progress there, and that you said it's our responsibility to protect them.
How do you do that when U.S. troops are no longer going to be allowed to involve in combat operations?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I'm not sure I said it's our responsibility to protect them. What I said is we have a sense of responsibility because we've turned this program over to the Iraqi security forces. So what we will do, as we do every other operation now, working through our Iraqi security force partners, we will ensure that the Sons of Iraq program stays vibrant inside of Iraq.
The Iraqi government has dedicated $300 million to this so they can continue to be paid. We're overseeing the transition of the Iraqi security forces to other agencies. And that's the important part. And I always thought that this was an initial building block to reconciliation, and I think it's an important one. And I think that that's why it's important for us to maintain oversight, which is what we do now.
Q But would the Iraqi government be in a position to protect these Sons of Iraq in the future?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again, what they are, they are working with the Iraqi security forces. So the Sons of Iraq that are still conducting security operations are either working for an Iraqi army or Iraqi police unit, and they are responsible to continue to assist them and help them. And we monitor this very carefully, work very closely with our Iraqi security forces partners to ensure this happens.
Q Can I follow up on that? -- you have to make sure that you're going to provide -- continue to provide oversight. Practically speaking, what does that mean? If the Iraqi government decides to pull the plug or reduce their commitment to the Sons of Iraq, what levers does the U.S. have to pull?
GEN. ODIERNO: First, there are absolutely no signs that the government of Iraq is going to pull the plug on the Sons of Iraq. I mean, again, they have dedicated $300 million of their budget to pay them this year. They have -- I met with the minister of Defense two days ago and we had this discussion. They are dedicated to ensuring that they continue to work with the Iraqi security forces.
What's happening now is it's about them transitioning to other governmental jobs. And we're about halfway through that, we got half to go.
So it's important that we -- to continue along that progress.
And the prime minister made a statement -- after the latest -- there was an attack this weekend on Sons of Iraq. And he made a statement of how important the Sons of Iraq have been to bringing stability to Iraq and the critical role they played in 2006 and '7. And I think that's the general attitude.
And the reason they're vulnerable is because Al Qaeda in Iraq realizes this. And as they try to reestablish themselves based on the losses that they've had over the last several months, they are focusing on the Sons of Iraq, because they, in some cases, were once part of the insurgency. So they're trying to focus on them and attack their will. And that's why it's important that us, with the Iraqi security forces, pay extra attention now to make sure they understand that we are going to be there. And they have done that over the last few days, and we will continue to help them do that.
Q Sir, you have said lately that some special groups in Iraq backed by Iran continue to remain a threat to U.S. forces. Do you have any information if these groups are directly connected to the Iranian government?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, it's very difficult to say they're directly connected to the Iranian government. But what we do know is that many of them live in Iran, many of them get trained in Iran and many of them get weapons from Iran. And they get them from various sources, and it's difficult sometimes to track the exact chain of command; it's difficult to track the funding. But it's clearly being done inside of Iran.
We believe the Qods Force is involved in the training and funding of these groups, so obviously there's some connection. You know, this -- the Kata'ib Hezbollah specifically, we've had some significant threat warnings from them about attacks on U.S. forces for varying reasons. I think they also, by the way, have conducted attacks against Iraqi security forces as well, and this is to create, I believe, some type of instability and lack of confidence in the government of Iraq.
So it's an issue for everyone, not just U.S. forces. We've been working very closely with the Iraqi security forces to target these elements. And we've gotten great cooperation so far from them.
Q On another issue, we have seen yesterday the Syrian president meeting with Muqtada al-Sadr and Iyad Allawi. Do you think Syria has a key role in breaking the impasse now in Iraq?
GEN. ODIERNO: I think they play a role.
I -- one of the things frankly that I would like to see more of is, I really want Iraqis to solve this problem. And obviously Iraq's a very important and strategic country in the Middle East. So all the nations are concerned about what happens in Iraq.
So what I would like to see is just Iraqis stay in Iraq, negotiate, work towards solving the impasse that we have right now in forming the government. Obviously it's important to talk with other nations, get their views. But they should not be directly involved in solving this problem.
They should just support the process, pass their views and have discussions with Iraqi leaders. And I think that's what's happened in this case. And it happened to be that Muqtada al-Sadr and Allawi were together there, and they met.
I think that's important, that we start to have these meetings between these different leaders. I think it's good that that happened. They had a chance to discuss the issues.
Q General, this morning, you talked a little bit about perhaps considering a move back to nine-month deployments in the -- once you're down to 50,000 troops or in the period following, up to 17 months, while you're still in Iraq.
Could you talk a little bit more about the thinking that -- behind that concept and when you might be thinking about possibly implementing that and whether that would affect all forces?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I've asked my staff to look at it, and they're looking at it now. And the reason we're looking at it is for a number of reasons. First, I think nine months would be reasonable. Secondly does it fit as we -- as we draw down to zero by 2011?
Would it be better to have a nine-month deployment than a 12- month deployment, to meter how we want to remove our forces?
So that's the focus. So I've asked them to go take a look at it, come back, and we'll work with the joint staff and the Army as we look at these issues. And if we can do it, we'll move to it.
Q Is this just with the army deployments and not IAs as well, individual augmentees?
GEN. ODIERNO: This is -- we're talking about unit deployments here, not -- I think individual augmentees will probably stay at 12 months.
Q Figured -- just, follow, then: Is there -- do you see a point at which the deployments of units to Iraq would end, I mean, without any additional fresh forces coming --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, that's happening now. That's been happening. I mean, that's how we're reducing the size of our force. And we will -- you know, we continue to do that. I mean, what's happened over the last, you know, six to eight months is we have -- we've made very specific decisions on which forces would be backfilled and which ones weren't, which capabilities would be backfilled. For example, we've reduced some capabilities. We've made that consciously as we've moved down to this 50,000-size force. And that's exactly what's happened. And so then they go back into the force pool and are available for other missions around the world.
Q What month will we see the last troops being deployed to Iraq?
GEN. ODIERNO: Unclear yet. Unclear.
Q I want to go back to the transition from combat to stability and explain a little bit about what that means. I remember, when the first BCT was announced, it was going to be an AAB.
GEN. ODIERNO: Right.
Q If it's the same troops and the same kind of activities, then this --
GEN. ODIERNO: We're training -- yeah, sure --
Q I'm thinking of your -- sorry -- your comment this morning where you said that there are no more combat patrols happening.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Yeah.
Q But, you know, our reporters, we see -- we see troops on patrol -- is it -- that's not a combat patrol; what do you -- what do you mean?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, first -- I mean, what we do, first, is everything we do is -- are -- again, a combat patrol is when you go -- I mean, my definition for combat patrol is you're going out for a very specific mission to go after a very specific target or to go and influence some sort of an operation that's ongoing inside the country. We don't do those.
What we do do is we have advisers that go with Iraqi security force units that go out, or we have logistics patrols that are -- that are out there to provide and support our forces.
So the majority of our forces are embedded inside of Iraqi security forces as advisers only, and that's how we move -- and we've been operating like that for quite some time. So this is not something -- you know, I would say for the last four or five months that's basically what we've been doing.
The only exception to that is in the disputed areas, where we have a tripartite security architecture where everybody's agreed that we'll do a -- and this -- I would call -- this is not really combat, this is more conflict prevention kind of things that we're doing up in the disputed areas, where we have Kurds, Iraqi peshmerga, Iraqi army and U.S. forces on checkpoints. That would be the only thing that would be close to -- be considered combat. But I really consider it conflict prevention, not combat, although, you know, I remind everyone that as we moved away from combat operations, the enemy has not -- some of these insurgents groups have not declared the end of combat operations. So we always have to be prepared to defend ourselves, and we will always be prepared to defend ourselves, and we'll be very active in defending ourselves.
Q General, with the delay in forming a new government, have you given serious thought to perhaps asking the chain of command to slightly delay the drawdown to 50,000? If not, is it because you think that this headline is important for the Iraqis to see?
GEN. ODIERNO: I think -- there's a couple reasons. First, I have not. I went through -- I had decision points I went through during the year, and I've decided that I believe it's in the best interests of our mission that we don't -- we don't keep above 50,000 beyond 1 September. First I think -- couple things:
The Iraqi security forces are capable for handling the level of security that's necessary.
Secondly, I believe 50,000's still a lot of capability. And so it's not like we don't have any -- we still have capability on the ground that if we have to and the Iraqis want us to, we can help them.
Thirdly, I think it's important we live up to our commitment. It's important to them that they see that there is progress being made, we're recognizing that progress, and that they see that the U.S. is true to their word. And I think that's important. We noticed that on the 30 June 2009 -- (inaudible) -- this lesson, when we came out of the cities. When we -- most people didn't think we were going to really come out of the cities. When we did, it made a real difference psychologically on the ground, and I think it's important that we do that.
There comes a time, in my opinion, when it becomes counterproductive. I'm not saying it's counterproductive we have U.S. troops in Iraq, but I think it's counterproductive for us to be doing combat operations in Iraq. I think it's time for them to do those. So what we're trying to do is get them ready to do this, and I think that's where we're at now in the different phases of the operation that we've been through.
Q General, along that line, you said that counterterrorism operations would continue.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q From a practical standpoint, what does that entail? Would it include kinetic or combat operations? And can the U.S. do that independently or would it be in partnership with the Iraqis? How does that work?
GEN. ODIERNO: First off, we do no independent operations in Iraq. We have not done it for several months. To the highest level of our most covert counterterrorism operations are all coordinated and all joint with -- partnered with Iraqi security forces. So that -- Iraqi special operations forces. So that will continue.
You know, it's like we do in other places. We are working with them to develop intelligence, to develop targets, and then we -- it goes through the Iraqi chain of command for approval, and once they approve it, we then execute -- we help them to execute the targets.
We -- over the next 17 months, one of the things we have to do is continue to build their counterterrorism capacity. And we will continue to do that so when we leave in 2011, they have the ability to continue this. And they've made a lot of progress, but we still want to help them to make more. So we will do partnered operations in those contexts.
Q Again, from a practical standpoint, would those partnered operations include U.S. combat forces that would be --
GEN. ODIERNO: Yes.
Q -- (inaudible).
GEN. ODIERNO: Yes.
GEN. ODIERNO: Sir.
Q As you withdraw from Iraq, are you -- are you shifting any arms and equipment from Iraq to Afghanistan? And how are you doing that?
GEN. ODIERNO: We've moved about 20,000 vehicles from Iraq to Afghanistan. It's already done. They've already been moved. We've moved many other items as well, and that's gone very smoothly.
And you know, we continue to move some enablers over there but for the most part, it's finished. We've moved -- we've identified everything that we no longer needed. It's been moved over to Afghanistan already.
So that part of it's really basically complete. And so what leaves now will go back to the United States for the most part.
Q And move to Pakistan?
GEN. ODIERNO: You'd have to talk to TRANSCOM about that. You know, I don't know. I don't track that. My job is to move it out of Iraq, and that's what we do. And we turn it over to TRANSCOM and others to do that.
Q On the transition to the State Department, can you say what responsibilities that are currently DOD responsibilities would be transferred to State and when?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, we've done -- there's 1,000 -- we've identified over 1,000 tasks that USF-I currently does. And we have binned them into different categories, three basically -- four actually.
One, some will -- I'm not going to tell you – I don’t have them off the top of my head, but some will be transitioned to the government of Iraq. Secondly they'll be transitioned to the interagency that's left behind, run by the embassy. Third, some will transition to CENTCOM, who will continue to have engagement obviously with Iraq after our departure. And fourth, we'll stop doing it, either because we have completed the task or it's no longer necessary.
So we've binned them in those four. And that's part of the discussion we'll have over the next few days, is to go through those and go through how we will transition those.
We have gone through in detail in Iraq, between the U.S. embassy and USF-I, and we work it almost on a daily basis to continue to work through these issues.
So the important thing is, we've identified and we binned them, and now it's about how we actually get them transitioned. We've transitioned some already. But it will -- that's what will happen over the next 17 months.
Q Do you have any particular concerns about any specific tasks --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I would say one is -- actually I mentioned is the counterterrorism task. I think -- I think that's one that we have to -- I feel comfortable we're heading in the right direction. I just want -- it's such an important task. I want to make sure that we turn that over to the government of Iraq properly. I think that's one.
In terms of the State Department, the most difficult one obviously is the police training. But they -- we have -- we're working with them every single day on this. We have to get certain things done at a lower level because when they take it over, they'll be working at a different level. And as I mentioned this morning, is -- NATO, I think, will play a role in this as well. The Carabinieri out of -- the Italian Carabinieri is there now, are playing a huge role in training the federal police. There's a potential that the NATO training mission would extend beyond 2011. It's a very -- it's about 3(00) or 400 people, only I think Iraq's interest's in that because of the exposure to the international community and NATO itself. So I think that's a good potential -- so those are things that we have to work as we move forward.
Q You talked before about Iranian influence, but about AQ and AQI, do you see AQI having any reachback at this point or any connection sort of back to AQ central and that whole connection that existed for so many years? Or has AQ central sort of along the Pakistan region kind of washed their hands of these guys and said, "You're done"?
GEN. ODIERNO: I wouldn't say they've washed their hands of them, but I will tell you that with the killing of AAM (Abu Ayyub al-Masri) and AUAB (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), the lines have been cut.
My guess is they'll try to reestablish those over time. But it's unclear how they're going to do that. We watch that very carefully, obviously.
Q You talked earlier about, you know, AQI trying to destabilize the Sons of Iraq and all that. AQI at this point you see being sort of self-contained inside of Iraq.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yes, it is. Yes. And in fact it's changed -- it's changed dramatically. We've broken their centralized control. It's very difficult for them to even communicate internally to each other in Iraq, but we have decentralized cells in certain areas who are kind of carrying on the last orders. You know, since we picked up so much of the senior leadership, they're kind of carrying on some orders they had worked on several months ago and they're trying to continue to do that.
And they're trying to regenerate. But they're having trouble recruiting because the people of Iraq for the most part have rejected al Qaeda's ideology. And so what they're trying to do is they're trying to grasp on -- they try to go after ex-detainees, they try to go after those who at one time might have been associated with them, because they're having trouble regenerating themselves. And so that's why we're watching that very carefully and want to make sure it doesn't happen.
Q Can I ask you to reflect a little bit? I mean, you're one of the few that was there at the very beginning, at the middle, when it was at its worst, and now which by any description is the end phase for U.S. forces. It has to be a remarkable thing for you to have observed this.
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think it's been -- it's been a very up- and-down experience, as we all know. But what I -- one of the things that's been most gratifying to me has been the performance of our forces, how our forces have adapted and learned, how our leaders have adapted and learned and adjusted to very difficult situations. And I'm pretty proud of that, of the young men and women who've been able to do that.
You know, this is still a very complex place. And I've said before, we're not going to be sure of the outcome for, you know, three to five to 10 years, because I believe it's -- it will be based politically, and it will be based on political and economic decisions that they make.
But I would say, back in 2006, very few people would have said we'd be where we are today in Iraq. And that's somewhat gratifying, that we've been able to move it forward as far as we can.
Q So my last question is, although Afghanistan is not in your bailiwick, you have seen the entire continuum of a war. And as a four-star general, when you look at Afghanistan, can any of the things you've learned in Iraq work there?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q Is there something? Because people see Afghanistan and they see a very troubled situation.
GEN. ODIERNO: A couple -- a couple of things. Again, I never -- I'm not an expert in Afghanistan, and I've said this many times. I spent a lot of time in Iraq.
But there are things that are transferable. One is about, when you tackle a problem, you have to understand the environment itself, and you have to understand the political, economic, cultural, tribal, however it happens to shape the situation. And then you have to take what you have available to you, the lethal and nonlethal means.
And you -- and if you do it right, you have to understand why something is happening. And what we've learned is, you have to go -- once you figure out why it's happening, then you have to figure out: What's the best solution: lethal, nonlethal? And then you've got to go after it in that way.
And I think we can apply that in Afghanistan. I think General Petraeus will apply that in Afghanistan. I think General McChrsytal was starting to apply that in Afghanistan. Because it's never the same solution. That's one of the big lessons learned that I've had over the time in Iraq, is that you have to really understand why something is happening, then you understand whether it's got to be a lethal solution or a nonlethal solution or a combination of both in order to get the results that we want.
And ultimately what you need is, you need the population to believe that they will be protected against these elements, so they can then get confidence in the government and confidence in providing information, in order for stability to be brought back.
And how you do that in Afghanistan is probably different than how you do it in Iraq. But the way you go about it in doing the assessment is the same. I think that's what they're going through now, as we get more troops in there and more headquarters.
Headquarters are important. Headquarters make a real difference. That gives you the intellectual capacity to understand the why whether it's a battalion, a brigade or a division-level headquarters. And I think as we get more of those into Afghanistan, I think it will make a difference.
MODERATOR: Last question.
GEN. ODIERNO: I'll do two more.
Q Can you talk a little bit about airpower in Iraq? Are you seeing any kinetic strikes still at this point?
GEN. ODIERNO: I track it very carefully. We have not done a kinetic strike in at least six months. It might even be longer than that. It might -- I think it's even longer than that.
But it's been a very long time. I track every one of them, and they brief me weekly on that. We don't need to do that anymore. In fact, there's been very few helicopter engagements in a very long time.
So, and again it's the nature of the shape of the fight. We don't have to use that anymore. It's 2007, we had to do that in order to get control back. But now that we've gotten control back, you don't need to use that kind of capability.
So, and it's important, because what we don't want to do is alienate people with collateral damage. And we know collateral damage in an asymmetric fight is extremely important.
And so we haven't done it. But we have many other uses for airpower. It's a great reconnaissance -- you know, we use it. You know, we can use it to -- for deterrence. So it still plays a role but one that's much different.
Q I have a question about the State Department's request, from Patrick Kennedy back in April, for an -- they said it's an unprecedented level of support they're going to need to meet the challenge.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah.
Q They asked for choppers, like 24 UA-60s, 50 MRAPs. Where does this request stand?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, Tony, you really need to talk to State. But we're working our way through that. It's -- I think we'll probably talk about that a little bit this week. First you got to decide -- you know, finalize what we want to do over there. State Department's got to define what they want to -- how much freedom of movement they want to have.
And of course, it's always about protecting, you know, our people out there, and is it -- you know, what is going to be the end state? So I think we still have some discussion to go on that. And I think we have to -- you know, it could change over time, based on the security environment changing as well. Maybe they won't need all that. But I think initially they decided, we better go in for what -- the worst case, based on, you know, what we think could be the worst- case scenario. But we'll sort through that as we move forward.
Q Now, they did ask for LOGCAP IV (Logistics Capability IV) continuation. I asked you to -- briefly at this breakfast this morning.
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Yeah.
Q But they made a fairly strong plea that they need this contract, as obscure as it is outside of Iraq, to continue under Army auspices. Can you address that at all from the podium?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, we -- again, we have to -- we have to work with -- we made a decision to stay with LOGCAP III this year --
GEN. ODIERNO: -- and that was based on the fact not that we didn't want to recompete it but that it would have caused us to transition LOGCAP during this time of reducing our forces. So it's going to have to be recompeted at the end of -- in 2011. And I think at that time there will have to be a decision made on who's responsible for running the contract.
Q State or DOD?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. Yeah.
Q Members of Congress were expressing some concern yesterday at the confirmation hearing for the prospective new ambassador for -- to Iraq about security and especially in light of the delay in forming a new government. They were very concerned that this would raise the costs and the risks of the transition, and they were wondering how long this might take. Can you take another shot at what you see happening and how much --
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I --
Q -- how much concern should there be about this?
GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah. I think, first off, there's uneasiness in Iraq because of how long it's taking. But there has not been any degradation in security and stability. So there's uneasiness by the Iraqi people. They'd like to see a government formed. I think everybody's ready to see a government formed.
But I would say the government is going to be formed. They will get there. Whether it happens next week or two months from now I don't know yet. As I said earlier, it's very complex negotiations that are going on because of the closeness of the election. You know, I would argue this is one of the closest elections we've probably ever seen in the Middle East. And I think that says a lot for -- that the people had -- you know, clearly were able to express their views on who they think should help to run the government in the future.
But now they have to work through this as they build through the parliamentary system coalition. And there are some -- there are some very tough issues they have to work through. The important part is that they have discussions, they have them peacefully, and they want to form a government that's representative of the entire population and the vote itself. And I think that's why it's taking longer, because it's not an easy solution.
So I would be concerned if there's not a government formed by October or so; I would start to have some concern. I'm hoping it gets formed by August. There's still much -- there's still a potential for it to be formed before Ramadan. But we'll have to wait and see. And I think we just have to continue to watch it very carefully.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
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