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July 24, 2010

Iraq Briefing - 21 July 2010 - "A certain sense of normalcy" in Iraq

This briefing is by General Ray Odierno, commanding general of U.S. Forces-Iraq. He was in Washington on Wednesday, and gave a press briefing at the Pentagon.

Wikipedia has it right: "Raymond T. Odierno (pronounced /oʊdiˈɛərnoʊ/; born 1954) is a United States Army general who serves as the current Commanding General, United States Forces - Iraq, a post he has held since its creation on January 1, 2010. He assumed command of USF-I's predecessor, Multi-National Force - Iraq on September 16, 2008. He previously served as Commanding General, III Corps, from May 2006 to May 2008. General Odierno is known as the operational architect of the Iraq War troop surge of 2007 and is credited with implementing the counterinsurgency strategy that, along with the Sunni Awakening militia movement, led to the dramatic decrease in violence in Iraq from late 2006 to early 2008." At the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom through June 2004 Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division. From June 2004 until May 2006 he was the primary military advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He is scheduled to rotate out of Iraq sometime at the end of the summer to a new position back in the United States

As commander of U.S. Forces-Iraq reports to the Acting Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command) Lieutenant General John R. Allen. Marine Corps General James N. Mattis was appointed on July 8 as the new commander of CENTCOM but awaits Senate confirmation. The commanding general of CENTCOM reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who of course reports to President Obama.

This video and others is at DODvClips. More interviews and military news programs is at The Pentagon Channel .

The transcript is at Defenselink.

From General Odierno's opening remarks:

GEN. ODIERNO: Today, since the height of the surge back in 2007, we've closed or turned over nearly 500 bases. We have 16 more that we want to turn over prior to 1 September, and we are on schedule to do that. We have reduced our presence by 75,000 troops since January of 2009 and 32,000 since January 2010. Today we're approximately 70,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines present for duty in Iraq.

Since June of 2009, we've retrograded over 37,000 rolling stock, wheeled vehicles, and nearly 20,000 have gone to Afghanistan. Additionally, 1.2 million pieces of non-rolling stock have left the country. Our military footprint will continue to decline over the next five weeks, and we are on track to be at 50,000 boots on the ground by the start of Operation New Dawn on September 1st.

Our change of mission for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn will officially mark the end of combat operations and signify our transition to stability operations from a military sense. In truth, we've been conducting stability operations for several months. As the president has said and the vice president reiterated on his last trip to Iraq, the United States, though, remains committed to a stable, sovereign, self-reliant Iraq, and we are dedicated to sustaining a long-term bilateral relationship with Iraq.
...

I think it's important to put the security and political environment in Iraq today in perspective, as it compares to where we were in 2006, 2008 and even 2009. There has been steady, deliberate progress across all lines. There's clearly more to do. But a new baseline has been established.

As I fly around Iraq on a daily basis, I see the streets and markets are thriving with activity whether in Baghdad, Basra and even in Mosul. There's a certain sense of normalcy.

On to the Q & A. There was much that was discussed that is of interest, but we'll focus on the the first two sets of questions. The first is on the Sons of Iraq program, and the second on Iranian Special Groups.

Regular readers know that the Sons of Iraq were a big topic during these briefings over the past few years. Originally called "Concerned Local Citizens(CLCs)" they were eventually renamed by the Iraqis to Sons of Iraq. Concerned Local Citizens is a typically American term, Sons of Iraq typically Iraqi. Search for one of those terms in the "search" section to right, or go to one of the Iraq categories at right and search that way.

Either way, they were an attempt to co-opt outright insurgent members or potential members in Sunni areas. Many Sunnis became insurgents not so much for ideological reasons as economic and cultural ones (the need to prove oneself by taking a few potshots at an American). As such, if we could provide them a job that paid more and was at least to some degree rewarding it meant one less insurgent.

The CLCs/Sons of Iraq acted as a sort of "super neighborhood watch," keeping tabs on their neighborhoods. Although we did not arm them, everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. They straddled the line between police force and American-style neighborhood watch.

In the end it was a very successful program and contributed materially to the defeat of the various insurgent forces. However, once the insurgency was defeated, there was no need to keep them around, at least as a large force. At best they were simply unnecessary, at worst they could morph into an anti-government militia or insurgency themselves.

Two problems have emerged in the past year or so, and they both stem from the fact that most of the SOI were and are Sunni and the Iraqi government is dominated by the Shiites. The government did not want to take over paying the SOI, and they did not want to transition them into civilian jobs. Clearly without a job awaiting them there was the temptation to join AQI, and we certainly didn't want that to happen. As a result, the Americans have been pushing the Iraqi government to do the right things, which they mostly have, but not without some tension.

Q General, I wanted to go back to this issue of the Sons of Iraq. I mean, you mentioned this morning how important it is, how important they are to the movement there and progress there, and that you said it's our responsibility to protect them.

How do you do that when U.S. troops are no longer going to be allowed to involve in combat operations?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, I'm not sure I said it's our responsibility to protect them. What I said is we have a sense of responsibility because we've turned this program over to the Iraqi security forces. So what we will do, as we do every other operation now, working through our Iraqi security force partners, we will ensure that the Sons of Iraq program stays vibrant inside of Iraq.

The Iraqi government has dedicated $300 million to this so they can continue to be paid. We're overseeing the transition of the Iraqi security forces to other agencies. And that's the important part. And I always thought that this was an initial building block to reconciliation, and I think it's an important one. And I think that that's why it's important for us to maintain oversight, which is what we do now.

Q But would the Iraqi government be in a position to protect these Sons of Iraq in the future?

GEN. ODIERNO: Well, again, what they are, they are working with the Iraqi security forces. So the Sons of Iraq that are still conducting security operations are either working for an Iraqi army or Iraqi police unit, and they are responsible to continue to assist them and help them. And we monitor this very carefully, work very closely with our Iraqi security forces partners to ensure this happens.

Q Can I follow up on that? -- you have to make sure that you're going to provide -- continue to provide oversight. Practically speaking, what does that mean? If the Iraqi government decides to pull the plug or reduce their commitment to the Sons of Iraq, what levers does the U.S. have to pull?

GEN. ODIERNO: First, there are absolutely no signs that the government of Iraq is going to pull the plug on the Sons of Iraq. I mean, again, they have dedicated $300 million of their budget to pay them this year. They have -- I met with the minister of Defense two days ago and we had this discussion. They are dedicated to ensuring that they continue to work with the Iraqi security forces.

What's happening now is it's about them transitioning to other governmental jobs. And we're about halfway through that, we got half to go.

So it's important that we -- to continue along that progress.

And the prime minister made a statement -- after the latest -- there was an attack this weekend on Sons of Iraq. And he made a statement of how important the Sons of Iraq have been to bringing stability to Iraq and the critical role they played in 2006 and '7. And I think that's the general attitude.

And the reason they're vulnerable is because Al Qaeda in Iraq realizes this. And as they try to reestablish themselves based on the losses that they've had over the last several months, they are focusing on the Sons of Iraq, because they, in some cases, were once part of the insurgency. So they're trying to focus on them and attack their will. And that's why it's important that us, with the Iraqi security forces, pay extra attention now to make sure they understand that we are going to be there. And they have done that over the last few days, and we will continue to help them do that.

"Special Groups" weren't discussed quite as much in past briefings, but Kimberly Kagan did give them quite a bit of attention in her recent book The Surge: A Military History, which I reviewed here.

Special Groups, a term of the U.S. military, were small, cell based groups created and sponsored by Iran. I'll quote from my own review of her book:

The organizing force in Iran was the Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods(or "Quds") Force (IRGC-QF)(also known as "Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution" or "Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps"). The Qods Force is part of the Revolutionary Guards, and they report directly to the Supreme Leader, who as of this writing is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. From what I can tell, the IRGC is roughly equivalent to the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel). The Qods Force is responsible for exporting the Iranian revolution. Hezbollah in Lebanon, for example, is probably the most important group formed by the Qods Force.

Qods Force and Hezbollah personnel teamed to train Iraqis in groups of twenty to sixty in Iran so that they would function as a unit; hence the term "Special Group," a term given to them by the U.S. military. Hezbollah training of Iraqis in Iran began in 2005. Special Groups usually remained separate, but possibly teamed with JAM for some operations.

Special Groups functioned alongside and in cooperation with JAM and other militia groups. Some of them came from JAM and other militia groups, being their more extreme members. Perhaps the best description is that Special Groups are an "outgrowth" of JAM and other similar groups

Back to the Q & A:

Q Sir, you have said lately that some special groups in Iraq backed by Iran continue to remain a threat to U.S. forces. Do you have any information if these groups are directly connected to the Iranian government?

GEN. ODIERNO: Yeah, it's very difficult to say they're directly connected to the Iranian government. But what we do know is that many of them live in Iran, many of them get trained in Iran and many of them get weapons from Iran. And they get them from various sources, and it's difficult sometimes to track the exact chain of command; it's difficult to track the funding. But it's clearly being done inside of Iran.

We believe the Qods Force is involved in the training and funding of these groups, so obviously there's some connection. You know, this -- the Kata'ib Hezbollah specifically, we've had some significant threat warnings from them about attacks on U.S. forces for varying reasons. I think they also, by the way, have conducted attacks against Iraqi security forces as well, and this is to create, I believe, some type of instability and lack of confidence in the government of Iraq.

So it's an issue for everyone, not just U.S. forces. We've been working very closely with the Iraqi security forces to target these elements. And we've gotten great cooperation so far from them.

Raymond Odierno isn't the household name David Petraeus is, and certainly Petraeus deserves the lions share of the credit for saving Iraq. General Petraeus set overall strategy in Iraq in 2007-08, and Odierno implemented it.

Essentially, Odierno was to Petraeus what Patton was to Eisenhower. For this he gained the moniker "The Patton of Counterinsurgency," by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, two people who know what they're talking about.

Overall a very useful and informative briefing, and readers are advised to watch the video and read the transcript.


Posted by Tom at July 24, 2010 10:15 PM

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