Gen. Casey Outlines Iraq Situation in News Conference
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2006 Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld briefed media in the Pentagon yesterday. Following is Casey’s opening statement:
“It's been about three and a half months, I think, since I've been back here, and I just wanted to give you an update of where I see us in the mission here and then take your questions.
“I think it's no surprise to anyone that the situation in Iraq remains difficult and complex.
“What makes for that difficulty, complexity, a couple of things. One, since the elections in December and, more particularly, since the bombing of the Samarra mosque last February, we have seen the nature of the conflict evolving from an insurgency focused against us to a struggle for the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis.
“Secondly, there are several groups that are working to affect that process negatively. The first, the Sunni extremists, al Qaeda, and the Iraqis that are supporting them. Second, the Shiia extremists, the death squads and the more militant militias. In my view, those represent the greatest current threats in Iraq. The third group is the resistance, the Sunni insurgency that sees themselves as an honorable resistance against foreign occupation in Iraq. And lastly, the external actors -- Iran and Syria. And both Iran and Syria continue to be decidedly unhelpful by providing support to the different extremists and terrorist groups operating inside Iraq.
“If you add the intensities of Ramadan and the fact that the new government is just standing up, this makes for a difficult situation, and it's likely to remain that way for some time.
“That said, violence and progress coexist in Iraq, and we shouldn't be distracted from the positive things that are going on there amidst all the violence. I'll remind you that 90 percent of the violence takes place in five provinces, and those five provinces represent a little less than half of the population. And that said, while we're -- we and the Iraqi government -- are not comfortable with the levels of sectarian violence in the center of the country, we continue to move forward together there and around the rest of the country.
“Let me make a couple of points.
“First of all, the new government has been in the job a little less than 150 days. And this is the third government that I've seen now take over in Iraq. And, as you can imagine, it takes everyone a little -- a few months there to get their legs under them. They're working hard to build unity, security and prosperity for all Iraqis. And when I talk about those three priorities with the prime minister, he fully recognizes that if you want prosperity, if you have to have security, and if you want to have security, you have to have unity. And he's been making a very significant effort on the reconciliation front.
-- “He's been working with political leaders from all the different sectarian groups on the four-point program to reduce violence in Baghdad. He's done that over the last week or so.
-- “Last Saturday, he had a meeting with political leaders from Anbar province to gain their support for government programs in Anbar province.
-- “He will be conducting, before the end of the month, the third in a series of four conferences on national dialogue and reconciliation. This one is on civil society.
-- “He's been working with political leaders and our ambassador to craft a political timeline for where the political leaders would agree to coming to grips with some of the more difficult issues dividing the country: the oil revenues, federalism, militias, items of those nature.
-- “And he's working with the international community on building an international compact that would drive investment and growth for all Iraqis.
“All of these initiatives are going to take some time to come to fruition, but the energy and the commitment is there.
“Second, we also continue to make progress with the Iraqi security forces. Right now we have six of the 10 Iraqi divisions -- 30 of the 36 brigades and almost 90 of the 112 Iraqi battalions in the lead. Nine months ago, for perspective, there was one division, four brigades and 23 battalions.
“Now I'd like to remind everybody of where that puts us in the overall process. The overall process of building the Iraqi security forces is a three-step process.
“The first step: train and equip. You organize them into units. You give them the individual training, and you equip them and you put them in a position where they are ready to go out and conduct operations.
“The second step: you make them better. And for the army, that means you put them in the lead. And our strategy is to put the Iraqis in the lead with our continued support so that they learn while doing rather than learn while watching us.
“And the third step is you make them independent, and that's what you'll see going on here over the better part of the next 12 months. We've said all along that we wanted to give the Iraqis the capability to conduct independent counterinsurgency operations, and that is the program that we are currently on.
“I would also say that we continue to make progress with the Ministry of Interior and police forces. Now, the police have a bad reputation in Iraq and, from my view, that's undeserved. Broadly, it's undeserved. There are units within the national police forces that deserve that reputation, and I think you just saw recently where one of those units was actually pulled off line by the minister of interior for complicity in some sectarian violence.
“With respect to the Ministry of Interior forces, two of the 18 Iraqi provinces now have already assumed Iraqi control in their province.
“What that means is that the police forces in that province are capable of maintaining domestic order without routine coalition support, and in Muthanna province and Dhi Qar province that is happening. I would expect to see six or seven Iraqi provinces under provincial Iraqi control by the end of the year.
“We are about 90 percent through building the police and border forces that we said we were going to help the Iraqis build, and we expect to complete that by the end of the year. We've also, with the Iraqis, started a national police reform program, where we’ll take a whole Iraqi national police brigade offline, move them to a training base and give them three weeks of police training and loyalty training, so that we change not only … their abilities but the ethos of the unit. That will go on at about one brigade a month here until it's completed in the August timeframe.
“Finally, we have -- because our goals here are to help the Iraqis over the long term -- we have instituted, helped them institute two professional development courses for junior and mid-level officers this year, and we will put it -- and help them put in place a course for senior officers and non-commissioned officers over the course of next year.
“And lastly, as some of you have seen this, but the minister of interior himself has instituted a ministry reform program. He announced it at the Council of Representatives. He emphasizes loyalty, accountability and operational performance. And, as part of this program, his inspector general and his internal affairs divisions have already processed over 3,000 corruption cases -- are investigating 3,000 corruption cases and almost a thousand human rights cases, and he's taken action already in relieving over 1,200 officers, including a few general officers.
“So lots of work to do with the police and still with the army, but the progress you're seeing there is heartening.
“Now, another way to look at progress to help you get some perspective on this is take a look at what one of our divisions accomplishes in Iraq over the course of a deployment. In this case, I'll talk about the 101st Airborne Division, who was responsible for an area in northwest Iraq, was there from November 2005 until just this last September.
“Over that period, they detained over 150 high-value individuals, each one of these a painstaking intelligence collection and development effort that led to the capture of an individual.
“They secured over 200 polling sites for the December elections and allotted 1-1/2 million Iraqis to vote in those provinces.
“They moved two Iraqi divisions, nine brigades and 35 battalions into the lead. They brought five provincial and 11 district police headquarters up to the second-highest level of preparation. They oversaw the training integration of over 32,000 police. They supported the development of two strategic infrastructure brigades with 14 battalions.
“They supervised the building of 100 police stations, 130 border forts and improved seven international ports of entry … along the borders. And, as a result of that progress with the Iraqi security forces, they were able to reduce a two-star headquarters, two coalition brigades, a total of 10,000 coalition forces, and they closed 25 bases over the course of that time.
“Looking back, it's not insignificant what a division can get done by taking small steps every day. And that's what we say: ‘We make progress in Iraq every day, small steps at a time.’
“So bottom line? Tough situation in Iraq. And I suspect that through Ramadan and over the next couple of months, it's going to continue to be difficult.
“That said, we continue to make progress across the country every day. It's a tough business, but the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the coalition and their Iraqi colleagues are well up to the task, and they do a magnificent job under difficult circumstances.
“In closing, I think it's important for the American people to know what a magnificent job their servicemen and -women are doing in a very, very difficult environment. And we and then the Iraqis continue to move forward against very divisive forces that are trying to deny the Iraqi people the prosperous future that they so well deserve after 35 years under Saddam Hussein. And we will succeed in Iraq, but it will take patience, and it will take will.
“Finally, I'd like to recognize the sacrifices of the families who've lost loved ones, and I'd like to particularly recognize the family of (Iraqi) Lieutenant General Hashimi, who was murdered yesterday. I served with him -- he was the first chief of the Iraqi armed forces -- served with him briefly in the early days in Baghdad. And I'd also like to recognize the families of deployed soldiers, who make great sacrifices every day in support of their deployed soldiers. Both these groups are in our thoughts and prayers.”