Joint Press Conference with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Iraqi Minister of Defense Abd Al-Qadir Al-Mufriji
(Note: Min. Qadir's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)
MIN. QADIR: Welcome, everybody. We have met a few days ago with the American secretary of Defense in Washington. We had some good discussions in different subjects, and today he is visiting -- his excellency is visiting us. And before, we were with him in a meeting with his excellency, Mr. Prime Minister, the commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces.
The subjects were discussed, which are our immediate needs in terms of the equipment, acquisition, training, command and control, as well as assessing the current situation, the status of the terrorist activities in Iraq. This is one of our biggest concentrations. How we are going to cooperate and coordinate from now until the end of 2011? What are our future plans?
At the same time, the completion process of our capabilities, readiness of the both Iraqi minister of Interior, Iraqi minister of Defense to coordinate with the Pentagon.
(Audio break) – and how we are going to put the detailed plan, in terms of the ground forces, naval forces, air force, and how we are going to put the right plans together according to the priorities and according to the transfer and the capabilities of the American forces are going to present to us, and how we’re going to take the subject forward.
The subjects are very big and very much multiple, that have been discussed in detail in a very open way. And we have discussed the different possibilities and we are going to look forward in the very soon future, put new plans and capabilities (off mike).
Q (Through interpreter.) Now for his excellency, the secretary of Defense, for a question. What is the necessity, what is the construction of his visit, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: Good afternoon, I would like to begin by thanking both the prime minister and the defense minister for their warm welcome, and also look forward to discussions with the interior minister later this afternoon.
Today's meetings and the prime minister's visit to Washington last week are reminders of the strong bond of friendship and shared sacrifice that underpin the relationship between the United States and Iraq.
Our mutual commitment is perhaps most evident with regards to security matters. American and Iraqi troops have fought side by side with many on both sides making the ultimate sacrifice to build a new Iraq.
As a result, together we have made incredible gains for the Iraqi people. And I congratulate the Iraqi security forces for their courage and their resilience, and for their recent assumption of responsibility for security in cities and towns across the country.
General Odierno and I are confident that Iraqi troops are up to the challenge of securing these urban areas and soon their entire nation, but we stand ready to assist, if called upon.
Looking forward, we will continue to support Iraq's progress toward national unity, and we will encourage progress toward ensuring that all of Iraq's communities are represented in its security forces and institutions.
We are also willing to assist in resolving disputes over boundaries and hydrocarbons; disputes that require a continued commitment to the political process in word and deed by all the players.
We will also coordinate closely as we develop Iraq's military capabilities. This includes more resources for the U.S. training mission. And given current economic and budget realities in Washington and in Baghdad, it is more important than ever to set clear priorities and focus on the capabilities needed to ensure Iraq's domestic and external defense as our forces draw down.
The June 30th repositioning of American troops and the continuing evolution of our security partnership is yet another step as we move together toward a fully normalized relationship between the United States and Iraq.
Between now and the end of 2011 when all U.S. troops are scheduled to depart Iraq, we have a number of important milestones to achieve, including fair and secure elections, the seating of a new national government, and the continued draw down of U.S. forces leading to our change of mission in August 2010 to a largely advise-and-assist role.
This is all part of a shift in the focus of our relationship from security matters to economic, cultural, educational and diplomatic cooperation under the Strategic Framework Agreement.
While great strides have been made, we know that significant challenges remain, from the ongoing threat posed by extremists to lingering ethnic and regional tensions. There will undoubtedly be some hard days ahead as enemies of a free Iraq try to derail progress.
As in the past, however, their efforts will fail. Iraq's leaders, inspired and encouraged by the Iraqi people, will show continued resolve as they enter a new and brighter era, one defined by an ever-more stable, sovereign and self-reliant Iraq. Thank you.
MIN. QADIR: Twenty minutes for questions -- 20 minutes only for questions for -- and the podium. Only one question for each reporter, please.
Q (Through interpreter.) Mr. Minister, there has been some reports that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense is going to purchase 18 F-16s, that the delivery will be in 2020, as well as there have been some reports that there has been a request by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense for some purchase from China and France.
Can you, as the Iraqi minister of defense, tell us about the equipment and the program of the acquisition for the Iraqi armed forces?
MIN. QADIR: As we're building an Iraqi air force, we as the Iraqi military, we have been walking into some certain phases and trying to transfer from a certain ability to another one. And the last project was the combat, and we have huge options.
Those options that we are moving toward, some modern, new airplane capabilities, but it's going to take a long time in terms of delivery, or our capability to be able to include those kind of modern system. But we as the Iraqi government, as the Iraqi military, we have to have the right airplane to protect our skies in 2011.
That's why we have to have the best kind of capabilities to protect our capabilities so we as an expert as well as a force to protect the country. We do listen to the technical recommendation by our air force headquarter.
We do not look for names. We have to look for the capability that match our educational system, our technical system, and according to a very tender timeline. And we do accept about 80 percent of the right standard to have their quick strike capabilities. But wherever we can get it, we are going to obtain it.
Q Thank you. (Off mike) -- with NPR. Last week on his visit to Washington, Prime Minister Maliki suggested he might still be open to U.S. troops remaining beyond 2011, depending on the security situation at that point. I wonder, Minister Qadir, whether you also would leave the door open to that possibility?
And, Secretary Gates, the same subject. You have expressed when asked the personal view that that might be necessary at some low levels. Where are you on that today?
MIN. QADIR: This is just an assumption. That's why the question will be also probably an assumption. This all belongs to the SOFA agreement. The SOFA agreement will be expired at the end of 2011. At the end of 2011 there is going to be another government. This is going to be another government, not this government.
The combat field or the ground of Iraq is going to show if the Americans can stay longer or not. That's why the next government is going to assess the requirement of Iraq and how long they can stay.
SEC. GATES: I think the top priority is to implement the agreements that we've already signed. We have implemented the June 30th deadline in the security agreement to withdraw from Iraqi cities and towns. We will have withdrawn all of our combat units by the end of August 2010. And we will stick to our commitment to withdraw all of our troops by the end of 2011.
Those are the commitments we have made. Those are the agreements that we have signed with the Iraqi government, and we will implement those agreements as written.
I think it's premature at this point to talk about what happens after 2011. I think that that is an issue that we would leave -- as the defense minister says, a new Iraqi government will be elected next January, and I think that what happens beyond 2011 is a subject probably best left to the end of 2010 or 2011 itself. But in the meantime, the United States is absolutely committed to carrying out all of the commitments that we made in the security agreement.
Q (Through interpreter.) From Iraqi TV. Mr. Secretary of Defense, what's the official situation of the United States about the Kuwait situation, trying to leave Iraq and the 7th Chapter of the United Nations?
SEC. GATES: Well, this is more a diplomatic matter that is not exactly my expertise, but I will say that I think the United States was intrigued by some of the proposals made by the U.N. special representative, Ambassador di Mistura.
This is clearly a matter that needs to be resolved between Kuwait and Iraq, but it seemed to us that the U.N. offered a possible path forward and we hope that both countries will be able to resolve these issues so that Iraq in particular can move into the future without the burden of Chapter VII.
Q (Through interpreter.) I would like to ask the Iraqi minister of defense, what is the reason of the -- why did the prime minister have some kind of a concern with President Obama in regard of a meeting that happened in Turkey, according to what Prime Minister Maliki said and also what Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister Hoshyar Zebari said. What is the -- is it correct news?
MIN. QADIR: His Excellency, the prime minister, he had an open discussion, meeting with President Obama, and I was one of the persons who attended that meeting. It was a special private meeting, I could say.
The subject was discussed in a very calm atmosphere. There was no demonstration that happened. And at the same time, the Iraqi government will never, never accept to have agreements about internal affairs of Iraq without involving Iraq. This is the commitment and it's the concern of the Iraqi government.
This entire agreement was presented as an agenda of the Ministerial Council. It's been studied now in the U.S., why this kind of meeting happened in Turkey.
Q (Off mike) – If I could (off mike) for Secretary Gates. Were you aware of these secret meetings (off mike) American officials and representatives from Iraqi insurgents?
SEC. GATES: I was not aware of the specific meetings, no, but the United States has tried to play a constructive role over time in reconciliation efforts. But as the defense minister says, at the end of the day these are all decisions that must be made by the government of Iraq.
Q (Through interpreter.) Al Arabia. The question is for the Iraqi minister of Defense. Some days ago the American State Department, there has been -- there is some kind of --
(Conversation in Arabic.)
INTERPRETER: The first question is -- I couldn't understand it -- for the minister of defense.
Q (Through interpreter.) There were some discussion about there is some kind of military operations are going to happen between Iraqi and Kuwaiti borders.
And the second question for the American secretary of Defense, you just mentioned that there has been some work to do -- we are doing -- what are the targets that you are talking about that we have to do with this (off mike) that we have to achieve before the 2011?
MIN. QADIR: I don't know what you have just said that the Ministry of Iraqi Foreign Affairs said that it has been through an official channels or not. It was just something judicial -- sorry, it was just something in the rumors and the press. I don't know where did you get this information. You know, we don't have any official information.
As a minister of Defense, wherever I go I get an update about operations. I do not have any kind of Iraqi security forces in the Kuwaiti borders. And I do not even have the right number of the Iraqi naval forces to be able to do such a job.
So, as a Ministry of Defense, I do not have any kind of a leak or any idea that we are going to have such an operation.
INTERPRETER: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. GATES: I am not aware of any particular targets leading up to the end of 2011. We have specific dates that we have committed to in terms of our forces, and I mentioned those just a few minutes ago.
If there are any goals, they are more focused on the transfer of military equipment and purchase of military equipment -- transfer to and purchase by the Iraqi military to ensure that it has the capabilities to maintain internal security and border security by the end of 2011.
But these are simply efforts we are undertaking jointly to determine what the requirements of the Iraqi forces are and then do our best, in partnership with the Iraqis, to help them meet those needs and requirements.
Q Hi, I'm Kevin Baron with the Stars and Stripes. Mr. Secretary, we were just in the south where we saw some of the assistance and advisory role going on there. We were told that it's going wonderfully. They haven't had any incidents. They've been able to maintain a large pilgrimage that needs to happen. (Off mike) -- story about more violence still going on.
What assessment have you heard and at what point was there any sort of consideration to address the schedule to bring in more advisory, which is the case here, to replace the combat troops -- (off mike)?
SEC. GATES: I'm not aware of any effort or any plan to bring in the Advisory and Assistance brigades early. I would say that what I told the prime minister this afternoon, based on what I heard from Iraqi officials in Nazariah was that one of the main reasons that the situation has evolved so smoothly in the south in particular is because both Iraqi commanders and American commanders have been -- have gone to great lengths to educate and train their forces and their subordinate officers on the terms of the security agreement.
And I very much commend both sets of commanders for doing that. My belief is that that has been going on throughout Iraq. I think it is inevitable that, given the changes of circumstances, that there would be the occasional problem.
What I think is remarkable is that you had such a dramatic redeployment of American forces and a dramatic change of the rules of operation, and that there have been so few problems along the way. And I think it's really a testimony to the security forces' leadership in Iraq, as well as our own American commanders, in training and educating their subordinates on the terms of the security agreement.
So I think one of the main reasons for my visit this time was to see how the change was going, since June 30th, and I must say, what I have seen and what I have discussed, both in the south and here in Baghdad today, leads me to believe that the circumstances are indeed as positive in the developments as I had been led to believe.
INTERPRETER: Last question.
Q (Through interpreter.) From the Ministry of Defense Media for the secretary of Defense.
Mr. Secretary, the test is very common. Eisenhower has -- that you have a very big knowledge about the military. What kind of support you are going to provide and assistance to the Iraqi army and Iraqi military, and how you are going to assist us so the withdrawal will happen in 2011, and especially after all the success and achievement at the Iraqi military has achieved -- what kind of support?
SEC. GATES: Well, in the first place, I don't think I have a very big knowledge of military affairs, and certainly not such to be mentioned even in the same sentence as General Eisenhower.
That said, we are in the process of working out, with our Iraqi colleagues, what their needs are, and we obviously have suggestions and recommendations, but it's their military and it's their police.
And so we are in the process, here in 2009, in working out the kinds of equipment we might be able to transfer to the Iraqi security forces, equipment that's already here, as well as talking about purchases of new equipment by the Iraqis. And we basically will be guided by the requirements that they provide and that we develop in a dialogue with them.
MIN. QADIR: Thank you very much.
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