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October 25, 2008

Iraq Briefing - 23 October 2008 - Shifting to an Iraqi Operation

If you don't watch the video or read any other part of this post, please skip to the bottom of this post and read Gen. Kelly's final remarks. You won't want to miss them.

This briefing is by Major General John Kelly, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-West, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). He spoke via satellite Thursday to reporters at the Pentagon.

Maj. Gen. Kelly reports to reports to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq. Austin reports to General Odierno, commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq, who on September 16 replaced his one-time boss Gen. David Petraeus in this position. Petraeus, in turn, has been appointed the next commander of CENTCOM.

Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey is acting commander of CENTCOM until Gen. Petraeus assumes command later this month. Dempsey reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

The good news from this briefing is that in Anbar the Iraqis are absolutely in control and can handle their own security. That said, we still need stay for a bit longer, but the situation is looking very good.

From Maj. Gen. Kelly's opening remarks:

GEN. KELLY: ...We started a share-the-road program where no longer would Iraqi traffic have to do anything particularly different when they came upon military convoys. That was a big change. Moved most of our convoys -- I think something on the order of 95 percent of all military movements, administrative, logistics movements, and that includes the contract convoys -- they all move late at night, certainly after 21:00 or 9:00 at night and they're off the roads by 5:00 a.m. The average Iraqi, of course, is home in bed in at that particular point in time, so they don't even see much traffic, much military activity in the province anymore.

We started to tear down literally hundreds of checkpoints, particularly the ones that had -- certainly were once very necessary as defensive positions all over the province but no longer serve the purpose. And it was kind of an operation Rudy Giuliani that we did to clean up the cities and to, as I say, take down these unsightly defensive positions, roll up the barbed wire in this attempt to convince the average Iraqi that the good news of reduced -- significantly reduced security over the last couple years -- correction, violence -- was real and even the Marines, even the coalition forces felt confident enough to allow them to travel on their own roads around us without having to stop, pull over, be under the threat of any type of gunfire and, at the same time, to break down these defensive positions.

We did PIC on the first of September. That has gone very well. We're still very much engaged but in overwatch with the Iraqi security forces. We are outside the cities, for all intents and purposes -- not to say that we don't go in frequently, to meet with them, to bring training to them.

We still have Marines and some U.S. Army soldiers as police advisers that still live inside police stations, but down to a very small number in comparison. We were up over 115; now we're down below 30. And that's -- the good news is, we are backing out. They're on their own and all we're doing is providing them training.

Even in the area of funding, we have probably in April started to shift away from the U.S. -- the use of U.S. money; as much as we could, started to rely on government of Iraq funding. It's a little harder or more frustrating because the U.S. CERP money, as I think you all know, is -- you know, we can use that in a relative sense, in a lightning quick way, but that doesn't teach the Iraqis how to budget and how to execute a budget, so we really started backing off on the use of money that I have, U.S. money, and forcing -- not forcing them, but teaching them, working with them, to use their own money. And that's turned out very well.

I turned back a fairly significant amount of money of CERP money this year, U.S. CERP money, and I recommended about a 64 percent reduction next year, to only $50 million. But the thrust, the theme will still be to use Iraqi money, not U.S. money, just as in the security LOO, it's to use Iraqi police, Iraqi army, with Marines and soldiers, U.S. personnel, in overwatch.

So as you can see we are well along in the process of handing Anbar back to the Iraqis. Our forces are now in "overwatch" and are not doing the front-line work. We are reducing our footprint as much as possible, by doing everything from running our convoys at night and taking down checkpoints. And because it's such a big issue back here at home, it's also very good news that the Iraqis are paying more of their own way.

A bit more on the money; I've read too many short-sighted people say that the Iraqis should pay us back. One, if we did this it would seem to confirm the left's argument that "it's all about the money and oil." Two, and more importantly, we are not doing this out of the goodness of our hearts (though that is a factor) but because it is in our self-interest to have a stable, pluralistic Iraq. I am convinced that the money we are spending their now will pay dividends in the future, if we stick it out and do not withdraw too early.

Recall that in 2005 and most of 2006 Anbar was considered "lost" to the insurgents. The Anbar Awakening changed all that.

There has been much nonsense written by leftist revisionists on this subject, in which they claim that the turn around in Anbar had nothing to do with the U.S. military and happened on its own. Senator Obama has even adopted this line. They are wrong, as I wrote here in Obama Wrong on Anbar.

The issue in Anbar was that initially after the invasion the Sunnis there thew their support to AUI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) and turned against U.S. forces. U.S. Marines, who were responsible for Anbar, were unable to quell the insurgency, which consisted of indiginous Sunnis and foreign AQI fighters.

AQI wore out its welcome by 2005, however and the Anbaris grew to resent them. They resisted, but so many were brutally killed by AQI that their resistance was pretty much in vain. In 2006, one Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha led the effort to "reach out" to the Marines, who took advantage of the situation movement, teamed with the Anbaris and have been able to defeat AQI. Sheikh Sattar, now known as the founder of the Anbar Awakening, was murdered, probably by AQI, in September of 2007.

I've explained our new counterinsurgency tactics in detail elsewhere, but essentially it involved moving out of our large bases and living among the population, and from there defeating the insurgency village by village. See Iraq Briefing - 04 Feb 2008 - "We do not drive or commute to work" and Iraq Briefing - 22 Feb 2008 - "We are Living with the Population"

Moving on, Maj. Gen. Kelly touches on an aspect of our counterinsurgency strategy that was absolutely key to our success; living with the Iraqis.

Prior to the arrival of Gen. Petraeus, our strategy was twofold: One,we mostly kept our troops at five large bases and send them out on raids based on available intel. Second, we concentrated on building an Iraqi army that could take on the insurgents. Neither worked

The problem with the first was that unless you are living among the populace you don't get good intel, and the people don't respect you because you are not sharing in their danger and their lives. The problem with the second was that the insurgents were building up their forces faster than we could build up the Iraqi Army. We were, in short, losing the race.

In the Q & A session, Andrew Gray of Reuters asked for some statistics. The part of Kelly's response, though, that I find most interesting is about the counterinsurgency:

GEN. KELLY:...And I would tell you, when we first started working with the police, three, four years ago, the relationship was very different. The relationship was we lived in their police stations with them, and took them out on patrol, a very dangerous time, where police were killed in very, very large numbers. So that was the relationship then.

Now the relationship is -- actually when I arrived here it was much more they went on patrol -- that is, the police -- and the Marines went with them but they were in the lead. And at that point, we started to reduce even the numbers that were in the cities with them, because clearly -- the numbers of U.S. personnel, because they were clearly doing well, and it's that whole image of, you know, we took the training wheels off, they were more than ready to leave the driveway and get out on the street. And they've done quite well, actually.

Again, we see that it is the Iraqis who are in the lead.

Another thing of importance that Kelly discussed in this exchange was how far violence had declined:

GEN. KELLY: When I got here -- when I left here, let me put it that way, in '04, we had several hundred incidents a month on a pretty routine basis. When I got here, the incidents were down to the level of about 35 a week. And an incident -- you have to understand in todays' world an incident might be an IED we find, doesn't go off. Another incident would be an IED that goes off but doesn't hurt anyone. It could be a single shot of gunfire. If there's five people shooting at you, that's five incidents. So, frankly, the way we account for it's almost meaningless now.

Because of this decline in violence, Iraqis have been able to redeploy their forces to a more population-friendly manner

GEN. KELLY:...the police now are in the cities. The Iraqi army are outside the cities, but around the cities, but out beyond the suburbs, if you will. And then the Marines are in various places doing various things for the most part outside that -- those areas that even the Iraqi army are responsible for.

Let's be honest, no one wants military units in their neighborhood

The Sons of Iraq program is an important reason for our success in quelling the insurgency I've written about them in previous briefings,so I wont' go through it all again here, but suffice it to say that they are a sort of "super neighborhood-watch" program. Funded by the U.S. we did NOT arm them, though everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. Originally called Concerned Local Citizens, the Iraqis gave them the much more Iraqi sounding name Sons of Iraq.

The SOI program is at an end, as with the near-defeat of the insurgency they just aren't needed anymore. They need to to be disbanded as no society needs a paramilitary force separate from the regular army. The issue is how to do it, because you simply cannot release thousands of young men into an economy with poor job prospects and expect that there won't be trouble. The idea is to move them into other occupations.

There has been some controversy over ending the program, and whether the national government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. See Lt. Gen. Austin's "warning" to al-Maliki in Iraq Briefing - 22 September 2008 - A Warning from Gen. Austin

It is interesting that Kelly reports that he isn't having any trouble with ending the program.

Q General, this is Joe Tabet with Al Hurra. I would like to know what's your assessment of the current status of the Sons of Iraq. How do you see the process to make them join the Iraqi forces?

GEN. KELLY: Yeah, the Sons of Iraq -- we're -- you know this -- depending on where you are in Iraq and where -- what province you're in, the Sons of Iraq are a different issue in each place.

In our case, we have right at about 4,000 of them. They work directly -- don't operate with, but they work directly for the American -- and in today's world, the post-PIC environment, for the local Iraqi army commander. They're given tasks. They're organized in small units....

(What) we asked them about was what they might want to do for an occupation after, what would -- what life would be like after the Sons of Iraq. Interestingly enough, most of them would prefer to go back to being farmers. Anbar used to be a very productive rural province. A lot of things happened in the old days: food for oil -- you know, the impact of the sanctions did a lot to hurt the economy of Anbar, particularly putting its agricultural industry in collapse.

But these young guys would prefer to go back to being farmers. Those that didn't look towards farming very much would like to be police officers and even join the Iraqi army. So I'm hoping that we'll be able to expand a little bit on the police numbers. But they have pretty quality guys. They -- again, they read and write.

So we don't have the same kind of challenges, by any means, that some of the other provinces are having.

One more exchange which gives a flavor of daily life, and how Iraqi concerns have moved beyond security

Q Those cells as refugees, if the Marines start really pulling out, will they just die, in your assessment, or is there still the potential that they could come back?

GEN. KELLY: Well, you know, I walked through the city of Kharma this afternoon with the provincial police chief. No helmet, no flak. And now, it's not -- you know, you do certain things for certain reasons, but we walked down through there today and met with the Kharma city council and the mayor and all, did the same thing yesterday -- two days ago, rather, in Ramadi with the police chief.

And their security concerns -- or a better way to put it, when they talk to me about the things that they need from me, they'll talk about electricity, which is absolutely number one. In the last several months, we have solved -- for all intents and purposes -- we have solved, with the government of Iraq, the fuel problem in Anbar province. We went from 8 percent of what they needed here, gasoline and diesel and that kind of thing, 8 percent, and we've solved that now and they're -- and they're getting at least 90 percent of their allocation every month. So that's off the table. But they talk about health care and schools and all of this.

When I first got here, they'd hit security at the three or the four mark. Now, when we talk, they'll talk about five, six, seven things that they need -- they need help from me; they need help from the government of Iraq -- and then I'll have to say, well, what about security? So we'll remind of them security and then they'll say, "Well, yeah. Okay, security, too." But then I'll look at the police chief and say there's nothing right now that I can conceive of that could come back here that the police, in partnership with the Iraqi army, couldn't handle. And that is my message to them. They can handle it.

But before you lefties say "this proves Obama is right about withdrawing!" read what Kelly says next

GEN. KELLY:...they're not quick to have us leave -- not that they want us to do their fighting for them. They just want us to reestablish something that we decided to disestablish. And when we do that, they're very confident that we can -- we can, you know -- you know, be friends with Iraq forever and not be here forever. That's the key point.

So if we stick it out we can make this thing work. I know that lefties roll their eyes at this, but yes I believe that Gen Kelly is right; if we do this right we can have the Iraqis as friends for a long time. And having an ally - even an imperfect one - in the heart of the Middle East is priceless.

Are you listeniing, Senator Obama?

Previous briefings by Maj. Gen Kelly
Iraq Briefing - 09 March 2008 - "Levels of violence -- stunning to me how low they are"

Posted by Tom at October 25, 2008 4:30 PM

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Thanks Tom for that video. One would forget about how good things in Iraq have become, with all the elections coverage et al.

Oh wait... that's probably the reason this development does not get airplay at all. It's too good.

Posted by: Outlaw Mike at October 25, 2008 9:21 PM

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