Print Media Roundtable with Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Rice from Baghdad, Iraq
QUESTION: May I ask either or both of you about the meetings with the Prime Minister in terms of what he stressed as to what he thinks the priorities ought to be for the first weeks and months of the new government? And what did you hear from him that you thought was better in terms of the previous?
SECRETARY RICE: First we asked about his priorities. I found him very focused and very clear that he understood his role and the role of the new government to really demonstrate that it was a government of national unity in which all Iraqis could trust and on which all Iraqis could rely. That was probably the most important message. We came expecting to say that the ministries also needed to be ministries of national unity just like you have a government of national unity, only to hear him say it first.
I think he's very focused on the security situation, obviously, and on the strength of the Iraqi security forces, but also the delivery of services. But he really emphasized this question of getting all Iraqis to feel that this is their government. I found it both refreshing and really, I found him a very focused person. I was really impressed.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I think that can be said about all of the people we met today. I'd known some of them previously, but they certainly have been engaged in intensive discussion and it's clear they have come to reasonable understandings about what the Iraqi people expect of them. I came away most encouraged by the meeting.
QUESTION: Janine Zakari with Bloomberg News.
I know you both have visited other places in the country but today you were confined to the Green Zone, you had to fly in in secret. What does that say about prospects for restoring security and stability here and the true state of the security situation here?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I guess I don't think it says anything about it. We came in here for a purpose. The last time I was here I was in five or six different cities. This time I was here to meet with General Casey and General Dempsey and General Chiarelli and several others and do Defense Department business as well as to respond to the President's request that Condi and I come and meet with the new leadership. It happens that they are located here. I just don't see anything to your question.
SECRETARY RICE: I've also been out to Kabul and Mosul and other places. It's obvious the security situation will continue to take our attention and the attention of the Iraqis, but we've always said and I feel it even more strongly today, that the terrorists are ultimately going to be defeated by a political process. What we are here to do today is to meet those new leaders, in particular those we have not encountered, but ones that we have to [inaudible], to let them know that they're going to have strong support from the United States, and Don is spending time on Defense Department operations, I'm spending time on embassy operations to make sure that we're really ready to lend that support.
The terrorists suffer a defeat every time the political process moves to another milestone and every time more Iraqis see their future as this political process and not with violence and destruction. That's how I think you should think also about the security situation. Why the political process is so important.
QUESTION: Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld, if you could both address this. You've both been saying that a major problem exists in removing the sectarian influence in the Interior Ministry and [inaudible] forces, but given that there are by many counts thousands of members of the Badr Brigade in the interior forces in Baghdad alone, how can that be accomplished? Tell us to what extent you discussed it today, how can that be accomplished without major disruption? Should they be expelled, forced to renounce their ties to this group? Exactly how do you accomplish the objectives that both of you have said is so important?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I guess the first thing I'd say is we don't, the Iraqis do. The Iraqis have a task and it's a complicated set of tasks.
The new government will be addressing the security situation and the security forces, the roles of the two ministries and it's their country. It's a sovereign country. This is not a government that has an "interim" in front of it or a "transition" in front of it. It's a government that's in for a period of years and undoubtedly, unquestionably, will be addressing the question as to how they can best provide for the security of all of their people. They discussed that today. They intend to approach those issues. They have a parliament and I'm sure they'll be working with the parliament on those issues. Other countries have dealt with these issues and done them in a reasonably orderly way and over a period of time in a manner that was in many instances without much violence. So it's possible that these things can be done.
SECRETARY RICE: And to the degree that the security forces themselves get better and gain the trust of the Iraqi people as a whole, then to the extent that anyone could argue that the need for sectarian forces is driven by the security situation, you essentially start to [inaudible] that [inaudible], that rationale.
So I think they are very focused on improving their security forces, improving the capability of the police, getting MOI and MOD Ministers as well as other personnel who will be competent and capable people so that the national forces of Iraq, whether you're talking about police or the national unity forces of Iraq, let me use that term. Whether you're talking about police or the army, are really capable themselves of handling the security situation.
As Don said, we're not without examples throughout the world of the militias that have been demobilized, reintegrated people, reintegrated people returning. There are many different models out there of how to do that. I think they'll be examining precisely how to do it in Iraqi circumstances. But you also have to have security forces and in particular police that can protect the population from crime as well as from terrorism. So they seem to be very focused on that.
QUESTION: Did they indicate that they're prepared to move quickly on banning the militias and on disarming them?
SECRETARY RICE: It's clearly one of the high priorities for the government. I think you know that several, basically almost I think the day after he was nominated, the Prime Minister said that one of the keys was going to be to have, and I'm paraphrasing now, but to have the arms in the hands of the government, not in militias. Now how they go about that I think is going to be something they will have to work through. But they clearly understand and clearly believe that you cannot have a lot of unauthorized people who are carrying arms and in many cases frightening and terrorizing the population, the process of protecting the population has to be one that the government takes responsibility for. They understand that those two are inconsistent with one another. It's obviously very much on their minds and it's going to be a high priority.
QUESTION: Would they use the U.S. military to disarm the militias?
SECRETARY RICE: We did not get into details of how they are going to go about this. The government isn't even in being yet. So let's remember that what we have is a Presidency Council, Speakers and Deputies, and a nominee for Prime Minister. What he's trying to do is to get his Ministers to get his program together. They've done a lot of work on this. But I think it's too early for detailed discussions of how they're going to go about it, and after all, just to underscore something Don said, Iraqis will have to determine how to do this given their circumstances and given their capabilities. How we support them will be a part of that discussion.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I suspect, the way you cast your question the implication was someone had to physically go in and disarm somebody. My guess is that in many instances this will be as much a political process as anything else.
Look at Afghanistan. They ended up with the DDR process and Japan took the lead and over time the heavy weapons were put in cantonments and life went on. Weeks or months or a couple of years before that people looked at it and said oh my goodness, all the warlords have these and they have this and the sky was going to fall. The sky didn't fall.
The one thing I'm certain of, they'll come up with an Iraqi solution.
QUESTION: This is an unprecedented visit as far as I know for the two Secretaries here for probably any foreign leader four days after he was elected before his government's even formed. You said that you wanted to show your support, but is there any concern that the pictures of the two of you here dramatically today would send the wrong message in this country and perhaps elsewhere in the Middle East that the new Prime Minister is less than fully autonomous?
SECRETARY RICE: I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that the 11 million Iraqis who went out and voted were exercising sovereignty and that this Prime Minister intends to do what he thinks is best for the Iraqi people.
This is someone who has a track record of having been a part of a number of important efforts for Iraq. We know that he's not always agreed with us or we with him, but he is somebody who has always had the interest of the Iraqis at heart and who has worked hard on their behalf.
People can say whatever they please, but this is a sovereign government, a permanent government, a government that is being formed out of an electoral process in which Iraqis voted in overwhelming numbers, and it's the most democratic process ever in the Middle East. I would challenge anybody in the Middle East who wants to talk about who this government is beholden to, to show me a process that is this democratic any place else in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Perhaps I can [inaudible] something you talked about [inaudible] mentioned a few nights ago too. You said that you don't see a need to [inaudible]. Can you tell us what exactly [inaudible] tomorrow in terms of their work in the next few months? And [inaudible] talking about the [inaudible] troop levels in Iraq. I [inaudible] personnel. I was just wondering, you're building the biggest embassy in the world [inaudible], certainly not [inaudible] in China or India. How do you plan to keep the level of [inaudible] here?
SECRETARY RICE: The nature of [our delegation] here is of course much different than what we are engaged in in a place like China or India. Those of you who travel with me will probably blanche again when I say this is probably the biggest example of transformational diplomacy that we are engaged in, which means that America's diplomats, America's personnel, are working hand in hand in helping Iraqis try to create, really from the ground up, ministries that work, provincial leadership that works, local leadership that works, essential services that can be delivered, tactical assistance to economic operations, financial operations. So it's a very big effort. I suspect that it will be a very big effort for a while.
What we have done, and when I said I don't see any need to reorganize now, we reorganized at the time of the creation of the embassy and we have had some important innovations like the Provincial Reconstruction Teams where we've had to reorganize quite a lot in the way that we do our work in the field. Part of what we're trying to do is to be outside of Baghdad more and into the provinces more. So if you want to consider that a reorganization I guess that is in a sense a reorganization. But it's a big effort.
There is a lot to do and the Iraqis need a lot of support. But I want to emphasize that what I came here to do in addition to meeting the new leadership and signaling support, is to make sure that we are prepared to deliver whatever support the Iraqis need, that we have the right personnel to do that, that we have the right skill sets of people to do that. I'll just give you one example. We believe that we ought to have one of the strongest political council offices here any place in the world. The person who's going to head that up was our ambassador in Damascus. So here you have a very senior person coming out to head up political operations. That's the kind of expertise that we're trying to draw to what is obviously one of our most important but also one of our most challenging posts.
QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, a couple of weeks ago Secretary Rice had said that there were thousands of tactical errors made in Iraq, an assertion that you took some exception with. I wonder if sitting here today you believe that no errors were made on either the tactical or strategic level, or if looking at it there are things that, accepting of course that war plans do change and evolve, if there are thing that --
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't think I do take exception to it. I said I hadn't seen it and I wasn't aware of what she meant, but she's right here and you can ask her. [Laughter].
SECRETARY RICE: Maybe you should ask me what I meant. [Laughter].
People who are around this table who were traveling with me will remember that I took them to task for first of all taking what I thought was a figure of speech and taking it literally. I also say very often, I've done that a thousand times. I don't mean that either. [Laughter].
The context of this was that I was asked a question as to whether or not we had learned any lessons and I said look, I'm sure we have made mistakes. Probably thousands of tactical mistakes, meaning not in the military sense. But to contrast that with the decision to actually take down Saddam Hussein which was the big strategic decision.
I went on to say when I get back to Stanford and am overseeing dissertations which I'm sure will chronicle the mistakes the Bush administration has made, I'll be prepared at that time to discuss and assess what were mistakes and what were not. Because I'm enough of an historian to know that things that look brilliant at the moment turn out later to have been mistakes, and things that at the moment seem to have been mistakes turn out later on to have been the right call. That was the full discussion of this point.
So yeah, have we made mistakes? I'm sure we have. But what you have to do in an operation this complex, a big historical circumstance like this, you're going to do some things well and you're going to do some things not so well. But you have to make sure that when you are faced with the kind of really big decisions, that you stay on course.
I'll give you an example. There were people when Saddam Hussein was overthrown, who said you know, Iraq is never going to really be capable, or isn't going to be capable of self-governance. They're really not to be capable of democracy. Why don't you find another strong man and put him in power. You remember folks who said that.
SECRETARY RICE: No, there were a lot of people who said put a strong man in power and then you can have a slow transition to democracy. That would have been a mistake. The Iraqi people are demonstrating that that would have been a mistake.
There are people who said they'll never be ready for elections on January the 30th, postpone the elections. It turns out, that would have been a mistake.
My whole point here was let's let history judge. For now, what we have to do every day is we have to get up and we have to work our hardest to support an Iraqi effort that in many ways is unprecedented in this region. Some things are going to go well and some things are going to go wrong, but the broad course here, the Iraqis are doing the right thing.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: The Department of Defense is an interesting institution in that they systematically engage in a lessons learned process which is intensive, broadly based, and public. So it isn't as though anyone is saying gee, we don't want to know what really took place. The Department of Defense engages in that process in a systematic way, has, is currently, and will in the future.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Mr. Secretary, you talked a little bit about some of the security challenges facing this new government, but there's a whole range of challenges in an economy that has not quite jumpstarted electricity production, that is still now below pre-war levels, problems with water. The list goes on and on. You know the list.
What does this new government do to try to demonstrate a break with the past, an ability to deliver on things that previous governments were unable to do? Do they have that ability given that whole set of challenges? And what does the U.S. mission here and the U.S. military do, what can they do to help support them, especially the first couple of months?
SECRETARY RICE: That is precisely the kind of conversation that we've been having and I think the Iraqis have some ideas. Let us work them out with them before we go to the front pages with them ourselves. They have some ideas about how they would like to show the Iraqi people that it's a new day, that they have a permanent government that's going to be able to defend their interests.
On something like essential services, I think we have made some progress. You’ve heard me say before, the [inaudible] state of the infrastructure was something that we clearly underpredicted. We didn't realize, for instance, that they had 50 percent of the electrical generating power in this country that they needed. So when you look at a pre-war comparison remember that Baghdad was getting 22 hours a day, but the rest of the country was getting very little at all and they were therefore living on generators. So the pre-war/post-war comparison isn't really a good comparison because what we did was to even out the distribution. That meant that the inadequate power generation was then obvious.
We've also had problems because there was no maintenance done essentially on this generating capability for years. Saddam basically put nothing into the operation and maintenance of the grid. So we've substantially improved the generating capability at about the same time that demand has gone way up because people feeling freer are now, you'll go out and you'll see the number of satellite dishes out here.
So we are, I think we have improved the services. We need to improve them more. We're also working, Don and I are working with General Casey and Zal together to try and improve infrastructure security, to try and improve the capability of the Iraqis to coordinate better between the various ministries that have to coordinate electricity, oil and so forth. And I think the whole package is one that should produce better outcomes on essential services over the next several months.
But it is something that the Prime Minister emphasized to us, that essential services is going to be something that he's very much paying attention to, that he's going to pay attention to in the ministries that are selected, and that we promise to try to [inaudible].
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: As a matter of fact General Casey mentioned this morning that the infrastructure security brigades that are being trained, the Iraqis that are being trained and been deployed have had some success already.
QUESTION: Did any of the Iraqi leaders with whom you spoke today indicate that they would prefer to have fewer U.S. troops in their country or ask for any kind of a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No one that I talked to. I indicated that, needless to say.
We talked about the levels of forces but there was no one who suggested that there should be lower levels than currently existed. What we did talk about was the importance of the new government meeting with General Casey and his people and discussing the kinds of steps that will be taken to continue to transfer over responsibility to the Iraqis so that we can continue to reduce coalition forces. But there was no one who came up and said gee, we think there ought to be more or less at all. Neither one of those assertions were made by anyone I talked to.
SECRETARY RICE: Me either.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, when you say you indicated, were you hoping to hear that from the Iraqis you met with?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No. I heard what I expected, that the feeling is, that I took away from the meetings, that we need to -- The security situation needs to continue to improve, the Iraqi security forces need to continue to be increased in numbers and gaining experience and taking over more responsibility, and that as that happens the coalition forces will have less responsibility and that is in everyone's interest, but no one asserted either that there currently should be more or less than there currently are.
QUESTION: Was there any discussion with Zarqawi that came out?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: It was raised in one meeting.
SECRETARY RICE: It was raised on one meeting.
QUESTION: -- any thoughts on it?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I just spoke extensively on it in the prior meeting.
SECRETARY RICE: With the Arab media.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: With the Iraqi media.
QUESTION: Can you give us a short version, sir?
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: No.
SECRETARY RUMSFELD: We'll give you the transcript.