SEC. RUMSFELD: Greetings. Good afternoon. We -- I'm very pleased to have the deputy president here at the Pentagon. We've had occasion to visit over the years in Iraq and here in the United States, and it's always good to see him. He has had visits with the National Security adviser, Steve Hadley, and the president via SVTS, the secure videos, and has been visiting some people on Capitol Hill. And we've just had a very good discussion about the situation in Iraq and the activities of his government.
I should add that this morning I spent a good deal of time on the phone with General Abizaid and with General Casey -- which reinforced the impressions that I've been given by General Chiarelli when he was here yesterday and we had a personal meeting -- with respect to the efforts taking place in Baghdad and the progress that's being achieved. The last period of July and August have been, since the beginning of the effort in Baghdad, have been successful in the sense that we're seeing a reduction in the levels of violence and in the numbers of attacks in the areas, particularly that the forces have been able to clear. And the Iraqi forces have been doing a very good job, and I should emphasize that because from time to time we hear things to the contrary. But both General Casey and General Chiarelli both were complementary of the work that's being done by the Iraqi security forces in this effort in Baghdad.
Mr. Deputy President, would you like to say a few words to this distinguished gathering, many of whom have been over to Iraq and been in your country and had a chance to report from there.
MR. AL-MAHDI: Good afternoon. Well, first, thank you for this delicious lunch we had together. I came for a private visit here to United States, but it turned to be one of the most important of my visits here to Washington. I met yesterday with President Bush, with Vice President Cheney; now, I am with Secretary Rumsfeld, with Hadley. We had good talks.
Our purpose here really is to support the national unity government of Mr. al-Maliki, which is doing well. It started its work on a reconciliation plan. It's working. There is a good dialogue now going on in Iraq. A good plan to secure Baghdad, Baghdad is a key issue, and this is our repose, our answer to all of those talking about civil war in Iraq. We don't think we are leading to one. Zarqawi was planning to push the country for such an issue, but all communities in Iraq refuse such resort.
But the government is stronger than ever. Our armed forces is getting much better than before in number, in quality, in operations. They are leading operations now. In 204 (sic/2004), it was MNF leading the operations. The Iraqi army is doing a good job in Baghdad, as Secretary Rumsfeld said.
All the reports we had says now for five weeks there is a trend for decreasing violence.
There is a lot of work to be done with our neighboring countries, on the international level, with the United States here. And there is a lot of work to be done also on investment, on reconstruction, which is necessary. We have stable areas in Iraq. Seventy percent of Iraq is in a stable situation, secured one. So reconstruction works should be done there. This will enforce security also.
So we are fully optimistic of our future. The Iraqi people think that there is no other issue but victory in Iraq. The Iraqi people can't leave the country. There is no withdrawal for the Iraqi people. The MNF are supporting the Iraqi people and will continue to support and have the sympathy of Iraqis.
So we are really very grateful, Secretary Rumsfeld, for all your efforts, all your assistance to Iraq and the Iraqi people. We shed blood together in this battle, and we'll continue our work together.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you very much.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes? Jim?
Q Has Muqtada Sadr shown any willingness to come into line, to join the reconciliation process? Today in, I think it was, Amarah, the Mahdi Army was claiming to have kicked out the occupiers after British troops withdrew.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Do you want to comment on that?
MR. AL-MAHDI: Well, I have a comment.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. Go ahead.
MR. AL-MAHDI: Well, we exchanged some views about Sadrist movement in Iraq with Secretary --
SEC. RUMSFELD: We were just talking about it upstairs.
MR. AL-MAHDI: Yeah. We said we have to distinguish between the political line and the militia line. We (think with said ?) Muqtada Sadr we are working a lot, and he is supporting the government. He has ministers in the government. And we are trying to distinguish between undisciplined groups from the disciplined ones. The government of Mr. Maliki is working very well on that issue.
As you know, we inherited so many issues from the past, from the old regime. And disorder is really caused not only by militias but by the insurgents, by the terrorists, by neighboring countries. We should work each of the issues separately. We can't generalize how to deal with the Sadrists, in the same way dealing with the insurgents, in the same way dealing with the terrorists.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Barbara?
Q Mr. Secretary, you spoke about the decreased violence in Baghdad. By all accounts from your commanders, it is down, and they attribute that to the increased presence not just of Iraqi troops but the additional U.S. troops on the streets of Baghdad.
So my question is, how does this not prove the case that more U.S. troops in fact would help reduce violence in Iraq?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, the -- there are more troops in Iraq every day. The numbers of the Iraqi security forces are now something in excess of 267,000, I believe. And there -- it's also no question but that you can go in and clear out an area and achieve a reduction in violence, and the test is not that. We know that. The test is what happens thereafter. And the important thing is for the Iraqi government to achieve success with respect to its reconciliation process. It's important that they deal with the militia issue, which has been raised. And it is important that they continue to strengthen the ministries, so that the government of Iraq can contribute. This is not purely a military problem, and it is not going to be solved purely by military forces.
Q Understood, sir. But my question actually is, there is now -- your commanders are speaking about a reduced -- you yourself -- a reduction in Baghdad attributable not just to Iraqi forces but to more U.S. forces which the U.S. military put on the streets of Baghdad, to avoid what's commonly known as the Whack-a-Mole problem of you leave and then it comes up again. Why does this not prove that actually more U.S. forces working alongside Iraqis do in fact help reduce -- does in fact help reduce violence?
SEC. RUMSFELD: That question -- it's correct. It does do it, for a period. But the important thing is to have the entire process go forward -- the political, the economic, as well as the security.
And there is the tension, which I've responded to your questions and others I betcha 50 to 60 to 70 times. There is a -- what is important is for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government, ultimately, to deal with this problem. And our task is to continue to support them so that they are in a position to be successful in doing that, and we believe that's what we're doing.
Q Mr. Secretary?
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yes.
Q How much progress has there been in political reconciliation?
MR. AL-MAHDI: Well, dialogue is open. At least 20 of the groups are dialoguing now with the government. We have to see the results. We have to see the impact of this. We are optimistic. More people are coming. But we have to -- really to work this on two-folds -- two ways: one way, how to put pressure on the insurgents, on the terrorists, and the other way, how to be flexible and open to all proposals -- the reconciliation plan, the amnesty plan, releasing prisoners. All this is open and all is offered to people who would be willing to put their arms aside.
SEC. RUMSFELD: I mean, what's important is that the president has -- the prime minister has committed himself to it. The leadership of the government have committed themselves to it. Admittedly, it is a lot easier to talk about it than to do it. It's been done in other countries. I believe it can be achieved here. They're going to have to work very hard on it, and it's going to take some time, but it is a process, not an event.
STAFF: One more question, folks.
Q Sir, let me ask you: Are American forces in Iraq right now are --
SEC. RUMSFELD: We'll make this the last question. Make it a good one.
Q Are American forces right now stretched too thin in Iraq in terms of manpower and equipment? The Marines this week had to activate the Ready Reserve, and we have reset equipment that is not taking place right now.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, that was a lot of pieces, some of which were inaccurate. They're not activating the Ready Reserve. The Marine Corps is going out to the people who have an obligation that continues and exists. They are individuals who are -- what is in -- we call the Individual Ready Reserve and as opposed to the Selective Reserve, where they drill and train regularly. And these people have an obligation, and the Marines are reaching out to them and talking to them and will be bringing some relatively small number of them on active duty in the period ahead.
The question of are they stretched thin? Certainly when you're in a war and in conflict and have demands on our forces, that we do. They're in Afghanistan, they're in Iraq. They are in -- fighting fires in Washington State and in the West. They were -- we just put 6,000 plus down on the border here -- of National Guard forces on our southern border. They were involved in the Pakistan earthquake and Katrina. So there are a great many things that our forces do.
We have in excess of two million, and we currently have, I think, 138,000 in Iraq. And clearly, we have to continue to modernize the force. We have to continue to find ways to see that the force is not stretched.
But the test I think is in how are we doing in recruiting and retention? And the answer is that recruiting and retention are up month after month after month meeting their targets.
I think that no one would like to be in a conflict. Everyone would prefer not to -- the Iraqis, the Americans, the coalition countries, the troops. But those folks over there are doing a terrific job. They are the best trained, the best led, the best equipped forces on the face on the Earth in the history of the country, and they're doing a wonderful job for our country.
Thank you, folks.
MR. AL-MAHDI: Thank you, thank you. thank you.
SEC. RUMSFELD: They're the best equipped in the history of the world.
MR. AL-MAHDI: Thank you.
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