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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Monday
Apr 23rd
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Profiles-Interviews-Speeches arrow General Petraeus praises SAS and hails 'significant progress' in Iraq
General Petraeus praises SAS and hails 'significant progress' in Iraq PDF Print E-mail
Written by Deborah Haynes, The Times   
Thursday, 14 August 2008

General David Petraeus, who is stepping down as commander of US forces in Iraq next month and taking helm to become commander of the Central Command. The Central Command is responsible for the Middle East and Southwest Asia, most notably for both Iraq and Afghanistan.
General David Petraeus, who is stepping down as commander of US forces in Iraq next month and taking helm to become commander of the Central Command. The Central Command is responsible for the Middle East and Southwest Asia, most notably for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

As you prepare to leave, looking back, what in your opinion is the biggest problem or challenge that Iraq still has to deal with?

First of all, candidly, I'll leave with mixed feelings because there's obviously still a lot of work to be done. I had expected frankly to stay longer and was prepared to do that but the shuffle at Central Command caused a change in plans.

I will certainly look back particularly in the last 18 months noting very significant progress, even since you were last in here in February there began another pretty dramatic step forward for Iraq with the operations in Basra, Maysan province, Baghdad and now in Diyala and continuing in Mosul, there is still a good bit of hard work to be done for sure in Mosul.

Obviously there are numerous challenges that Iraq still has to face ... There are certainly further security challenges albeit much less than say 18 months ago when Iraq was on the verge of a civil war and there were 50 dead bodies every 24 hours turning up on the streets of Baghdad. Forty two car bombs in the month that I took command in Baghdad alone and it went up the next month.

Clearly there has been important political progress in the month of February alone ... the budget law, the amnesty law and provincial powers and subsequent steps forward since then in terms of the Sunni coalition returning to the Cabinet, the ministers being approved by the Council of Representatives, filling the four other seats that were vacant. But then of course did not resolve the issues to be able to approve the provincial elections law and so that task still lies ahead of the Council of Representatives and I think they are all pretty determined to figure out a way ahead.

...

In the economic arena, all of a sudden you are seeing private investment ... you see the electricity grid is literally all up for the first time in about three years ... and oil production is up by some 400,000 barrels I think in the last six months as well in part because of electricity, which then means there is more fuel for the electricity. So you are either spiralling upwards or you are spiralling downwards and I think in general the spiral has been upward but clearly there are a lot of activities, I find it difficult truly to say that there is one activity, because I think there are many. I have been a proponent of comprehensive approaches. You just cannot say this is it and if you focus on this and solve this everything else will fall in place. That is actually not the case. Certainly further political progress cementing national reconciliation, consolidating the gains in that arena is hugely important but so are further advances in the provision of basic services, so is economic growth and greater employment, given the substantial unemployment and under employment that still exists in Iraq.

But so much of that now is possible ... People are now arguing about Iraq's budget surplus instead of where is the money going to come from. It truly is pretty dramatic that some of these issues that are raised as problems — well Iraq isn't paying enough but they have the money — isn't that a wonderful problem to have? Again a year ago that was the farthest problem from our mind ... I don't know that there is ... one big, lingering problem. I think what there are numerous challenges that lie on the horizon, some that have been there all along, some others that are just sort of hanging out there if there isn't progress in one area or another.

I would quite like to look at Basra. I would like your reaction to an observation that was made to me by Colonel Robert Castellvi, senior advisor to the 1st Iraqi Army Division about his impressions upon entering Basra in the early stages of the Charge of the Knights offensive: “There were whole swaths of the city that were under militia control. The provincial government had stopped functioning as a government that provides security for the people. The city was pitch dark at night. There was very little economic activity going on. There were dead bodies on the streets, there were burnt-out vehicles on the streets, it looked like an urban combat zone that was in the midst of great turmoil.”

It was a combat zone. Maliki had deployed forces down there and that's why the 1st Division was going down there. That was part of the deployment of additional forces. There is no question that the militia, criminality and violence in Basra had reached intolerable levels. That's why Prime Minister Maliki ordered the operation there. An operation in a “PICed” province. This was a province under Iraqi control in which there were agreements made as part of the provincial Iraqi control process.

As early as September of 2007, if you go back and look at my statement to Congress then, I stated that Basra was going to require an Iraqi solution and that did prove to be true, frankly. We could see it even then.

The various forces in that city, over which the Iraqis very much wanted sovereignty and drove the whole PIC province as a result. The militia forces again were causing levels of criminality that could not be tolerated and Maliki took action.

The early days there were dicey, there is no question about it and it was an urban combat zone. That's what was going on, it was a fight. The fight was precipitated by Iraqi forces following the orders of their sovereign prime minister to identify and then to deal with the militia criminals and also these organised special group elements as they are called, the Iranian-supported elements that were in the city, and frankly the 14th Division got into it a good bit quicker than was planned. The 1st Division was still moving down there as the 14th Division was very much in some very tough combat during which we were also shifting so-called enablers to try to catch up with a very rapidly developing situation as a result of a sudden decision by Prime Minister Maliki. We were shifting Predators, attack helicopters, we were trying to establish the kind of command-and-control mechanisms needed to bring the enablers to bear.

Brigadier Julian Free, the acting commander at the time, fairly quickly made a decision to put advisors back with the 14th Division as that developed and to help the 14th Division given the challenges that they had in the early days in Basra.

That action, the MiTTing of the 14th Division by the UK, the positioning of armoured reserve forces by the UK, unmanned aerial vehicles and close air support provided by the UK and the US, the provision of come MiTTs — an Infantry Company from the 82nd Airborne Division, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the regiment I was privileged to command — from Nassariyah, also MiTTing up with another element of the 14th Division, the arrival of the two brigades of the 1st Iraqi Army Division with their Marine MiTTs and also brought close air support controllers with them ... and the provision of additional Iraqi forces, all of which were literally on the move as 14th Division got into it and really was challenged very much by the strength of the militia response.

The British say that the 14th Division wasn't ready for the battle at that point because they were planning for it to be happening later. Don't you think that that means that the handover of control of security to the Iraqi authorities was premature?

Remember that there was an enormous desire by the Iraqis to conduct the Provincial Iraqi Control transition in Basra ... The assessment was that it was ready to happen.

Was that an incorrect assessment?

I think it is a much more complex situation perhaps than people realise. There are Iraqi political dynamics involved that are very, very significant in Basra. There are economic dynamics, there are a host of security dynamics, there are criminality dynamics, there are militia dynamics. And there was a sense that frankly they could take this forward. That General Mohan, who was in command, was a strong leader, that Major-General Jalil was a strong police leader and frankly there was a plan to take that forward and to continue to build the 14th Division and continue to build the police.

It in fact was at the brief back to me and to the Minister of Defence and the Iraqi National Security Advisor, it was at that briefing which was laying out this plan, that I was officially alerted — we had a sense already — but I was officially alerted that Prime Minister Maliki was likely going to accelerate the plan very dramatically, ie was going to deploy forces within 48 hours.

What went through your head at that point?

I met with him the next day at his request and took some of the leaders from the forces headquarters and from the Multi National Corp. There are obviously a variety of considerations. The first was that this is the Prime Minister of a sovereign Government that we have been encouraging to act in a sovereign manner, a leader we have at times encouraged to make very tough decisions and he just made a very tough one.

So there was not much of an option not to support him. He asked, will you support me and I said of course we will.

There were discussions about setting conditions. About establishing forces, setting the intelligence base line, confirming or denying what the assessment was of the militia forces, the criminals. They are basically in three large, large neighbourhoods.

And to do a host of preparatory steps so as not to just plunge right into this, not to precipitously launch.

In fact he laid out lines of operation: tribal line of operation, political line of operation, economic or reconstruction line of operation and security line of operation.

What transpired though was the sense of precipitous entry into combat by the 14th Division and the police before these additional forces and before our enablers and before a variety of other activities could be completed and that caused the very challenging situation to emerge in the early days of Basra.

There was a very, very serious situation that was turned around, frankly, by the arrival of the additional Iraqi conventional and special operations forces and then the ability to bring to bear the enablers that was provided by the UK MiTTing the 14th Division and the 1st Division units arriving with their MiTTS.

An essential part of counter-insurgency warfare is about accommodation...

There were Iraqi accommodations in Basra, there were coalition accommodations in Basra, there were deals. I was very up front about that. In fact when I came through London on the way home from Congress in September and noted that, I mean that's how you end these kinds of endeavours. Sometimes the deals work out well and sometimes they don't, and when they don't then you have to go back and rectify the situation.

What do you make of the deals that were cut down in Basra?

The Iraqis were behind this ... There was some driving of these. It is a much more complex picture I think than you realise, the political dynamics of the Iraqi Government and the desire to, I mean Basra has a special place as you know in the overall political economic and social fabric of Iraq.

There was an enormous push by the Iraqis to exercise control over Basra. There was a bit of a race actually to try to accomplish all of these different tasks and to develop the Iraqi forces, to finish construction of infrastructure, to equip different security units and all the rest of that.

This is a sovereign country at the end of the day, and while certainly we have got to offer our views and our opinions and really it is a matter of describing risk, that process went forward and there was this very big desire to conduct Provincial Iraqi Control.

It is something again that as I said, I think I was very open about as early as September, the momentum was building, there was a lot of back and forth and I think with the eventual outcome it may have been good the way it turned out.

What about the disengagement that happened and the deals that were struck both by the Iraqis and previously by the coalition, which meant that the British were not welcome in the city and Mohan didn't want to ask them in the city because of the various accommodations that had been made?

Mohan wanted to do this. The Iraqis wanted to do this. At a certain point you are not going to force yourself on the Iraqis. They are the police, they are the army.

They are, but surely there is a responsibility of the coalition if things like that are going on (murders of women etc) to have a more proactive role.

I would first of all say that the precision of that reporting was not all that great, frankly.

You can look at the statistics that we had and they were certainly not of the order of what some of the more magnified reports out of there. There was not a completely clear picture of what was going on in Basra in various parts of the Iraqi Government.

This is a region in which conspiracy theories, rumours and sometimes sensational reports develop incredible legs. While certainly there were unacceptable activities going on — and there are unacceptable activities going on in plenty of places in this country and throughout the region — the very strong desire of General Mohan ... he still wanted to carry on with the plan that was developed.

...

Political reasons, we clearly recognise in counter-insurgency, can sometimes trump security considerations. We explicitly recognise that in our joint campaign plan where we say that the main line of operation is the political line of operation not the security line. Everything may be founded on security progress but at the end of the day, political considerations in Iraq can trump security considerations. And that was the case in this situation in many points in that particular saga.

Do you think what has happened in Basra has affected relations between the US military and the British military?

No, not at all. In fact, recently I have talked to all of your leadership, your Prime Minister, your Secretary of State for Defence, your chief for Defence Staff, and once again have reiterated the importance that we put on the British contribution.

There should be a good bit of credit given to the chain of command in Multi National Division South East as the situation developed in Basra, which was very, very swift. This was a matter of days ... The deployment starts and the fighting begins and we had not adjusted all these different assets that we were scrambling to move to support the operations down there ... all of these activities ongoing and all of a sudden the Iraqis are in a fight for their lives in terms of the police and the 14th Division. One brigade of which had just come out of its training. That was really a shame frankly that the ... brigade had literally just moved down there, just getting established and all of a sudden gets thrust into very challenging urban combat.

I don't know that the reporting has taken into account the sheer complexity of this stuff. It has made it appear as a black and white issue and it hasn't been. It has been much more involved, it is much more murky if you will.

Looking at US force levels, the 45 days are ticking down. What is your opinion on what is going to be happening with the number of troops?

It is an opinion that is still being formulated. We are very actively analysing the situation and our various options ... have been reviewing options for a couple of months already, several months in fact. Looking out to the future and assessing what the best options are and then trying to refine a recommendation to make at an appropriate moment here.

Will it be a significant drop?

When we sort that out I'll be able to answer that question but we haven't yet resolved what the recommendation will be.

Would it be fair to say that by the end of the year there would be less forces here?

Again, wait for the recommendations. I am not going to hint one way or the other on that.

How are the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) talks going?

I think the SOFA talks have gone well.

What is your forecast on Lebanon after your trip?

The reason I went to Lebanon was twofold. First, both Ambassador Crocker and I have, sometimes together sometimes on our own, been going around the region, visiting different countries to provide them accurate information on the situation in Iraq to give them updates to offer assessments and so forth.

Iraq is really open for business now and frankly I think it is now seen as a country to be engaged, not a country to be ignored.

...

Objective number two is I am going to be the next Central Command Commander and appropriate therefore, while informing them about what is going on in Iraq also to establish relationships that can help in the future. In the last six months I have been to the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia twice, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey ...

What about concerns of the “Shia crescent” that is building in the region?

I think that a number of countries in the region, including Iraq, have concerns about some of the activities of Iran. I would say Iranian influence, not Shia influence. Clearly Prime Minister Maliki raised those concerns when he went to Tehran several months ago. The weapons that have been found in Iraq during and since the operations in the former militia strongholds can be traced back to Iran in many cases. Some cases produced as recently as January and February 2008. In some cases with documentation from Iran left with them.

Those countries and Iraq have legitimate concerns in that regard.

There's also a desire for constructive normal relations between Iraq and Iran. Iraq welcomes in particular the religious tourists, it welcomes the supply of electricity, of refined oil products, commerce. It doesn't welcome Iran's rockets, mortars, RPGs and Iranian-trained surrogate forces.

Everyone is watching and waiting right now to see if in fact Iran is going to continue to, together with help from Lebanese Hezbollah ... train, equip and fund organisations that are a destabilising force in Iraq.

The special groups have not been that active in Iraq since their leaders went back to Iran. The militia are being reshaped, reformed into a social services organisation by Moqtada al-Sadr. His focus and that of his movement appears to be more in the political and social arena, which is something I think that all Iraqis are pleased to see.

The militia and special groups had come to be seen as mafia-like elements in the neighbourhoods, where at one point in time they were seen as protectors when the al-Qaeda in Iraq activity was so high.

...

I think the Government and others are all watching to see if Iran will in a sense transform as well or if it will continue to send this predator surrogate force back into Iraq to cause problems on Iraqi soil and that will send a very disturbing message to the leaders of the Government of Iraq.

Will that be a key focus for you in your new job, Iran's behaviour?

I think the entire region is trying to divine what it is that Iran wants to accomplish in the years ahead and whether there is a prospect for it becoming a constructive force in the region or is intent on being a destructive force.

How are you going to use your experiences in Iraq — fighting insurgencies, the surge, accommodating with the other side like we saw with the Awakening Group (Sons of Iraq, former Sunni insurgents who turned against al-Qaeda) — in your new job? When you deal with Afghanistan, are you planning a surge there? The same sort of accommodations with the Taleban?

It would be very premature to start offering thoughts about a country I have not been in for three years, although I am going there in the near future. But I think the biggest lesson that we've all relearnt, and I think we relearn it periodically, is that every situation is unique. Every situation has its own context, its own circumstances and the key of course is an accurate and nuanced understanding of the conditions of the situation and then the crafting of an approach that is appropriate for that context ... Within Iraq, for example, what works in Ramadi may not work in Baquba ... You have to constantly assess and learn and adapt.

I think that that approach first of all has to inform what we are doing in Afghanistan. My objective, my task will be to assist General McKiernan and the security forces there. And to do so with a regional approach as well. Obviously the challenges in the federally administered tribal regions of Pakistan have an enormous influence and not a good influence on the situation in parts of Afghanistan.

We have to work with our colleagues, our partners in Pakistan as well as those in Afghanistan in trying to craft a comprehensive approach for the entire region or that sub-region.

...

British special forces, you have praised them before. Please could you expand on that? Why are they so good?

Who dares wins and they have exceptional initiative, exceptional skill, exceptional courage and I think just exceptional savvy. I can't say enough about them actually, about how impressive they are in just thinking on their feet.

...

Some months back, they were pursuing somebody in a very complex operation involving a lot of different capabilities that are present in Iraq and actually working together with a host of different coalition conventional forces and intelligence organisations and ... they did some very quick work to determine that was going to meet another individual who was much higher up in the pecking order. They rented a pink bongo truck in the side on the road, took off their Kevlar, drove through traffic, went to the location and managed to pick up . It was brilliant, actually.

Are they better than the US special forces?

They are all fantastic and they all work together. They enable each other very much. It's as always the collective capability that enables these operations.

It is quite routine to have everyone again working together.

We have had many, many cases of very important operations. They have helped immensely in the Baghdad area in particular to take down the al-Qaeda in Iraq car bomb networks and other al-Qaeda operations in Iraq's capital city so they have done a phenomenal job in that regard.

And they did by the way when I was privileged to conduct operations with them when General Lamb was the director of special forces ... I had an additional duty in Sarajevo in the war criminal hunt. I initially had a position in the organisation on the US side that carried out the war criminal hunt in Sarajevo. We, in fact, because of the collective activities working together, we got more war criminals in that one year than they ever got before that.

I have long had very, very high regard for them. I have also long had high regard for British forces in general across the board ... There is a reason that we have a substantial number of commissioned and non-commissioned officers on our staffs it is because they are very, very good.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article4505427.ece


Last Updated ( Thursday, 14 August 2008 )
 
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