(Note: The general appears via video teleconference from Iraq.)
BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): General Lamb, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. Can you hear me okay?
GEN. LAMB: I certainly can, Bryan. Yeah, you're loud and clear.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, good afternoon, and good morning to the press corps here in the Pentagon. Our briefer today is Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb of the British Army. He's also the deputy commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq. He is the senior British military representative in Iraq, and he assumed this position in August of this past year.
This is obviously his first visit with you here in the Pentagon press corps, and we'd like to thank you for taking the time to be with us this morning, general.
And our custom in these formats is to turn it over to you and let you give us a brief overview and then to take some questions from there.
GEN. LAMB: Yeah, good, Bryan. Thanks. I think it's a bit like sort of "once more unto the breach, dear friends."
Who am I? Graeme Lamb. I'm a Scotsman. I spend my entire adult life doing this stuff, 25 -- no, 35 years now; know nothing else, really. I have a youthful spirit, a sense of humor. I still believe in duty, service and sacrifice. May be a bit old-fashioned. "Go as a pilgrim and seek out danger, far from the comforts and the well-lit avenues of life" type stuff. I still believe in heroes.
It's my fourth time back to Iraq, so I've got a feel for the complexity of this place. Came here in '91, came back again in the buildup to and then during the war itself and the engagement, went home briefly to remind my wife I was still around, came back again in 2003, went right through to that and left just before the end. Enjoyed the company of Marty Dempsey up in Baghdad, Ray Odierno, who was in Tikrit, and Dave Petraeus, who was up north in Mosul, although I'll now have to call him "general," I suppose, since he's coming back in.
It's hard pounding. This is as complex as I've ever seen anything I've ever done. This is really difficult. This is three-dimensional chess in a dark room.
But hard pounding is what Wellington said at Waterloo before he went on to win as part of a coalition.
And I sense what's different now -- fourth time on, I see each time I've come back progress, small steps, I think, as the CG puts it. I see hope, I see opportunity, and I see things still being difficult, very difficult.
What I see right now is a huge commitment by the Iraqis, politically and militarily, to the endeavor we're now engaged upon. In short, I still believe we can do this.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for those comments, general. And we have plenty of questions here, so we'll get started.
And let's go ahead with Kristin. Go ahead.
Q Sir, this is Kristin Roberts from Reuters. One of the more well-known analysts -- defense analysts here in Washington, Anthony Cordesman, has said that the British have essentially been defeated in Basra. Have the British been defeated?
GEN. LAMB: Hey -- sorry. You were slightly cut out. The -- can you run that one again slowly?
Q One of the most well-known defense analysts here in Washington, Anthony Cordesman, has said the British have been defeated in Basra and that Basra is being run completely by Shi'ite militias. Can you give us your thoughts on that?
GEN. LAMB: Yeah. The -- I tend not to do the D-words out here: decisive, defeated. I see democracy with a small d, but defeated? No, we haven't been defeated.
I see the militias down there making some inroads. I see difficulties that are not insurmountable. I see 10 division out there on Operation Sinbad right now, independent, operating and making a difference in the town.
I don't think we're defeated in any sense. Somebody's occasionally thrown in the odd IDF attack. We did 35 years in Northern Ireland. Twenty-five of those, in effect, they continued to shoot at us and bomb us, and we weren't defeated in that. The -- it's just not the way I see it. That's from my position on the ground.
MR. WHITMAN: Pam?
Q Sir, this is Pam Hess with United Press International. I think we all appreciate your optimism, but many people watching this will have a hard time squaring your optimism and your statements that there's been progress on the ground with what we see, and not necessarily just from the news but the U.N. report, 34,000 Iraqis dead this year; the Pentagon reports of just spiraling sectarian violence. Can you square up for us where your optimism comes from more specifically and how we balance that against what we have to take to be fairly objective reports?
GEN. LAMB: Yeah, it's just the way I see it.
Now, I could take it as the glass half full or the glass half empty.
Let me give you an example. I was out at Hit the other day, Ramadi. The battalion commander out there, young battalion commander -- actually, I suppose he's not that young; he just looks it -- had been in Ramadi two years before, had done a full year's tour. As far as he was concerned, he always just seemed to be going backwards. When I saw him the other day, as far as he was concerned, they were making huge progress.
Ramadi. Four months ago I don't think there was any policemen in the town. Seven hundred and ninety-one now.
They were shot at from a building. Two hundred policemen drawn together surrounded the building, cleared it. Now, that's just an example of some progress.
I then look at some of the economic issues. I look at the megawatts of power that are coming on line. I see some of the reconstruction programs that are going out. Now, that gives me a degree of optimism.
I see this prime minister. I see this government. I see the challenges they face, and I'm not trying to dismiss the difficulties or trying to give you some sort of political upbeat spin. I don't do optimism. I don't do pessimism. I just do realism as I see it. And I do spend a lot of time out here. I spend a lot of time out here. I got a feel for the Arabs.
So it's just the way I see it, and it's not sort of in effect trying to -- I don't know -- make something out of nothing. I think the situation here -- you know, as someone once said -- I think it was a field marshal of ours said things are never as good or as bad as you think they are. I just see these in fact at a point in turning.
I think 2007 in transition is where we're at. I see 2007 being a point where we continue to move forward. That's just the way I see it. Now, others would disagree with me -- academics; people who have been here on the ground, elsewhere; and you can find it, a bad story. You can, you know, go and ask a Welsh farmer if things are good. But the reality, as I see it, right now, here, 2007, is things are difficult. This is hard pounding. I don't doubt that in any sense. But I do see every reason for optimism. I see a commitment with this government that I have not seen before. And don't forget, they've only been in power for, what, some 240 days. It took you 11 years to write your Constitution, and we're still trying to write ours.
I see progress on the investment law. I see movement on the hydrocarbon law. I see the Sunni community looking towards to come back into the political process. I see this government, this prime minister dealing with the militias. We are judged by our actions in this world, and I do see them taking the right actions. Now, that's just my view from the ground here as I see it from Baghdad, and I do get around a bit.
MR. WHITMAN: Did you need to follow up?
Q Well, I -- if I could. It's Pam again. One area of concern in Washington here particularly is Prime Minister Maliki. General Pace was questioned very hard on the Hill about all the times that he's made promises, that he hasn't come through with them. What is it that you think has changed, that this time he will? Because that's critical to, I think, the U.S. supporting this new plan.
GEN. LAMB: I talked with somebody from the Council of Representatives quite early on when I arrived here, just a private supper, to get a feel. And he said that, you know, Prime Minister Maliki didn't expect this position. It was sort of, you know, greatness thrust upon him. He wasn't prepared for it. It's new ground for this prime minister. It's new ground for this government. It's new ground, actually, out here in the Middle East for what they're doing.
If he had been elegant in English and someone we felt we comfortable with, my instinct would have been I would have probably been uncomfortable with him to make this succeed. I've seen him over -- whatever time I've been here -- four months, and he's gone, not in great bounds, from strength to strength. I've seen him challenged, tired, worn, stressed, as we all are, on a regular basis. I've seen him be decisive, make sound judgments and carry his cabinet with him. I think that he's got what it takes. I said the other day, you know, I like the cut of his jacket. In short, he gets my vote. But again, it's just how I see it.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to Lolita.
Q General, Lolita Baldor with the Associated Press. Obviously a lot of this depends on the Iraqi army. Can you give us a little bit of your view as to whether or not you think they have the equipment and training that they need; how much more they need? Maliki has said that they are not getting the training and the equipment that they need.
And also, can you address whether you've seen additional Iraqi brigades coming in? Is there an actual calculable increase in the number of Iraqi army brigades in Baghdad?
GEN. LAMB: Yeah, again, I mean I come from an army that -- I don't know, I suppose we must have 300 years behind us. Many of these it's three and a half years from a standing start. You have significant achievement in the training effort of what Marty and those before him have brought in MNSTC-I, and that's not only American trainers, but it's also the Iraqi trainers that have been part of that enterprise.
Equipment and weapons is, I think, what Maliki -- Prime Minister Maliki was talking about and said we haven't quite got the right kit. You know, "General Hindsight" is one of those clever guys; he's always right and we're always wrong. And yet we're in the arena, we're responsible and accountable.
If I look back to the British counterinsurgency, probably even the American counterinsurgency approach before we entered this particular campaign, the sort of equipments you went for were light, highly deployable systems; they weren't main battle tanks, they weren't armored vehicles, they weren't a surfeit of ISR systems. We've adjusted and adapted. Our initial cut of equipment probably to the Iraqi army was based upon our understanding of the insurgency and the internal needs of that army.
Where do they stand right now? They have an FMS of over $7 billion. They've got the ability to buy the equipment, and they're doing that; they're proceeding on that basis, and therefore they can get the equipment and they can get the weapons that they want that suits their needs. And we'll help them get there. Where we started off and where we are to now, we've adapted and adjusted. If we could turn the clock back and see things as they are today, maybe three years ago we might have seen how we might have equipped them slightly differently. But it was done, in my view, correctly, balanced on the situation of the day. And right now, Prime Minister Maliki, his minister of defense, his minister of the interior, have got the money, they've got the authority, and they've got the wherewithal to get on and buy whatever they need as they see fit to defend this nation as they want, and we'll help them do that.
MR. WHITMAN: Al, go ahead.
Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. We were told here at the Pentagon, in a background briefing last week, that especially the U.S. military would be watching very closely how the Iraqis fulfill their commitments for this new Baghdad security effort, not only how many troops they send, but which troops, and how they perform and how they're led; as well as on the political side, whether the government actually does not interfere with operations that may be politically sensitive, such as the arrest today or yesterday of this senior Sadr leader.
Can you tell us, about a week into this, how is the Iraqi side performing both on the military and political side?
GEN. LAMB: Yeah, sure. I think the -- what are they called, the backgrounders, or where you talk off camera but it's stuff you can use, was probably right. Of course we're going to watch. We mentor, we monitor, we train with. I think, you know, 2007 is the year of transition, and that's active transition, it's aggressive transition. It means we're embedded with the Iraqi forces to ensure that they are capable, that we're able to give them the bits and the support that they don't have -- aerial surveillance and other intelligence assets. And we will watch how they develop and go through.
Right now I think they're performing just fine. I see them up in Mosul, Tall Afar, out into Fallujah and Ramadi, I see them in Baghdad. Are they perfect? No. Is there a ways to go? Absolutely. Do I see points where there's probably indications of sectarian nonsense? Yes. Do they have a system to remove their commanders? Yes, they do, and it's a formal system, where it goes forward to a board, a coalition member sits on that board, the names are given, the reasons why, the case, so it's not just arbitrarily done on the basis of he's a Shi'a or he's a Sunni or he's a Kurd, but on the basis of their competencies. That goes up to the minister of defense and it goes up to the prime minister for adjustment.
As far as the prime minister's concerned, he's very clear. And my view is that he walks the talk. He said that he will deal with militias and he will not accept sectarian nonsense and he won't allow the government to interfere.
Now, will people make telephone calls between now and the next few months that tries to interfere with events? Yes. But when I saw him the other day, he said the only basis on which he would interfere is on a presidential order which is written, which goes to the minister of defense and then goes down. The Baghdad security plan will sit with General Abud, who I've met a few times, an Iraqi lead, Iraqi divisional commanders, and the coalition alongside and with them.
So I sense that not all's perfect. There's work to be done. But everywhere that they're touching and we're engaged with them -- the trick is to -- as they stumble, to help them and pick them up. That's what transitioning with rather than transitioning to -- the Iraqis are in this year. But I do sense the political commitment, right now, is rock-solid -- political, economic and the media piece in support of the Baghdad Security Plan and his commitment to the military -- I don't see any faltering on this at this time.
Q General, what about on the troops? Are the right troops arriving in the right numbers? And I appreciate your confidence in the prime minister's approach, but has it been tested yet?
GEN. LAMB: I sense that we're being tested every day in every way. You might say that it's been tested on some of the arrest operations against the militias that we've seen recently. He made a comment -- I think it was only a few days ago that 400 militiamen had been picked up from the Jaish al-Mahdi. It is a balanced approach. That's what he said he would do. Well, that's what he's doing, and these are quite difficult circumstances.
As to the troops that are coming down here, we're seeing elements coming from across Iraq from the Iraqi army. Minister Abdul Qader, who's the minister of defense, was very clear that he wanted an army that could deploy anywhere, not just the even and the odd divisions, as you probably heard in the past, but he wanted everyone. And where it was necessary for them to come into the fight, then they would do so.
Now, the logistic movement of those, the wherewithal, the lifting up of the battalion, brigade, a division, elements of that that believed it was committed to just a local -- whether it was north, west or south -- will require a degree of finessing. But right now the forces that are being looked for to come down to Baghdad are coming. And I think General Casey made the comment, when he gave the briefing the other day on the Baghdad Security Plan, that at the end of that briefing -- I think the comment from the Iraqi commander was this is the first Iraqi plan since the start of the war, and everyone clapped. A real sense of ownership. So they're committed to this deal.
Now, we'll get untidy starts. It always happens. I don't know. Going to the Falklands in '82, the answer is, we had kit all over the place. It was move on Saturday, having been told on Thursday, and no one knew where the Falklands were. So my sense is that there'll be lots of untidy. You will be able to look into and say it's not working, this is not right. But the general consensus I get is things are moving, commanders are being held accountable to the chain of command, and it's clear where that chain of command is.
MR. WHITMAN: Michael and then over to Joe.
Q General, Michael Gordon, New York Times. There's an Iraqi chain of command under General Abud, there's a coalition chain of command that terminates now in General Casey, and there's a committee, as I understand it, a crisis committee that's been established to try to create some sort of unity of command, that sits astride the Iraqi chain of command and has Iraqi and American and coalition membership. Can you explain to us how this committee is supposed to work and how you hope to achieve some sort of unity of command?
GEN. LAMB: Yeah. It's easy to see the Baghdad security plan as just a military operation, and obviously it's not. It pulls together the economic, political and media aspects, and they're all headed up by ministers in their own right. The importance of that supporting act, we know through history, matters greatly in the success. The Baghdad security plan goes beyond the boundaries of just Baghdad itself. It approaches Anbar to the north.
So what you have, I suppose, in effect, is an oversight committee, a command that looks towards how all these different lines of operation are being brought into a decisive -- I used the "D" word there -- into an effect here in Baghdad. As far as the command chain, as you go down, it's clearly an issue of partnership. But as we've seen elsewhere -- Sinbad, for instance, in Basra, is not a bad example, where we started off very much with the British in the lead, the Iraqis coming alongside, and then the Iraqis, in effect, taking ownership with a confidence, competence, credibility, and capability to look after the affairs in their own cities. Then that is the approach that we're setting out to in Baghdad.
Does that answer your question?
Q On the oversight commission, committee, who are the members? How does that work?
GEN. LAMB: Yeah. That, at the moment, has the prime minister as the chair of that. It has General Casey, the minister of interior, minister of defense, and then those responsible for political, media and the economic part.
Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. As a commander on the ground, do you support the President Bush plan for putting more, additional brigades in Baghdad?
GEN. LAMB: Since the president has committed forces, as a ground commander you can't ask for more. General Pace is sending more than has been asked for, and that will allow General Casey to reinforce success, or as the situation depends. They're set out in a timeline, and it would be wrong for me to speculate as we go into that timeline as to how that's going to play out. But from what I'm seeing at the moment, what Prime Minister Maliki wants, what was agreed in Amman, what General Casey needs, what I sense is the parts that will help move the Baghdad security plan from the numbers, ground force element is concerned, yeah, we're in good shape. Thanks.
Q General, Kathleen Koch with CNN. You mentioned earlier that there would be lots of untidy. I'm wondering if you can give us some details of this arrest of this top lieutenant of Muqtada al-Sadr and let us know if that happens to fall under this category. Apparently Sadr's people are saying that this is someone who is not involved in anything operational, any combat, he handles public relations for them, happened just to be there at the wrong time, and that the person, apparently, that the coalition forces were looking for was not even present. Calls are being made to try to get him released. Can you explain this to us?
GEN. LAMB: Yeah. On the wider piece, the point that Prime Minister Maliki made, and fully understand by us, that the militias and anyone associated with them would fall within a category if they were acting in nefarious attitude or illegally would be sought after, the individual in question is someone we've been looking for. Based upon the evidence and intelligence we have, he was arrested and is currently in our detention.
Q It's a fact, sir, though, that calls are apparently being made to obtain his release. A few minutes ago you said that Maliki gave you his assurance that he would be the only one making calls, it would come from presidential level.
GEN. LAMB: I'm sure there's no shortage of calls being made on this individual. What we have to do is present the case as to why we detained him, and we're doing that.
MR. WHITMAN: Tom.
Q General, Tom Bowman with NPR. I wanted to get back to the equipment issue, if we could. One of Maliki's aides was quoted as saying that they would like to see some heavy arms. And you indicate that they have enough money to buy whatever they want. Is this an issue of they would like you to donate these heavy arms, or do you have a philosophical difference with the Maliki government about what they should be receiving?
GEN. LAMB: I haven't been involved in any of the detailed negotiations as to exactly what they want. That's really held by MNSTC-I and General Marty Dempsey. But I have philosophically no difficulty at all. This is a sovereign nation. If they wish to spend their money, and they're making it, through whatever process they want, whether it's FMS or elsewhere, to buy and purchase equipment which they see as necessary, then they will seek our advice as to what they should and how they may wish to use that, but it is for them to decide as to how they go forward. They have the money, which is theirs. If they wish to seek a donation or look for some sort of gifting of equipment, they have the opportunity to pursue that line of operation if they so wish. Otherwise, they have the money to go out and buy a brand-new kit. It's their call. Sovereign nation.
Q He referred to heavy arms. You have no idea what they're talking about?
GEN. LAMB: Heavy arms? No, I assume they're talking about armored vehicles here -- heavy main battle tanks, artillery pieces -- call it what you will.
MR. WHITMAN: Gordon, I think we'll need to make you the last one.
Q General, Gordon Lubold from Military Times. Just a factual question. Can you just tell us how many troops there are that are now -- British troops? But also, when do you expect to have the bulk of your force out of there? Sometime within 2007?
GEN. LAMB: At the moment, I think the figure I saw in the BUA was 6,155. That -- obviously we have people in transition and going through a bit of a RIP at the moment. But the normal figure is right about 7,2(00), 7,5(00) that we have in theater. That's before you get into the normal sort of -- (inaudible) -- of people trying to get their two weeks out of theater.
I think our prime minister has been very clear about the commitment. As the situation in Basra dictates, then we'll adjust our forces as necessary as we transition through this year. Do I see ourselves being here throughout 2007? Yes. Do I see that commitment carrying on to 2008? That will be for discussion amongst this sovereign government, my government, our part in the coalition, and the like. But if we're asked to stay here, then I don't see any reason -- although it's a political one -- that we would not continue to remain committed to the Iraqis. And as Littlehart said, "The object of war is to make a better peace." That's what we're doing.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, with that, general, we have used up the allocated time here. Before bringing it to a close, I would like to turn it back to you in case you had any closing comments you'd like to make.
GEN. LAMB: Yeah. Thanks very much indeed. I just hope you treat me kindly. I don't normally do this stuff.
I just took a bit -- I was looking around and came across Thomas Paine's piece, that was George Washington, before he crossed the Delaware, had written from the American crisis, and I think it reflects quite well to where we are, where this coalition is, and where your great nation stands.
"These are times that try men's souls." In this 21st century, I would add these are times that try men and women's souls. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the services of his country. But he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have in this with us that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
I see American soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines and civilians -- none of them shrinking from their duty. They are in service of your great nation, and they deserve the love and thanks of man and woman. To this conflict, as I said, I believe, and I've never doubted it, it's doable. Where there is a will, there is a way. And it would be a shame to seize defeat from the jaws of victory, as I sense 2000 sets us up for.
Thank you very much, indeed.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, General. We appreciate it. We hope we haven't been too bad a lot for you. And we hope, perhaps, you'll join us again in the near future.
GEN. LAMB: (Off mike) -- that foolish. Thank you. (Laughter.)
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