Delivered October 8, 2008
Thanks very much for that kind introduction and for those
generous words. I've noted on numerous occasions that those kinds
of words can only be accepted on behalf of all of those who really
turned big ideas at the strategic level into operational reality at
the tactical level, and I was pleased to meet before this
introduction with some of those who have had sons and daughters
serving in Iraq. A number of people have noted that they are the
new greatest generation; in fact, Tom Brokaw was the first of those
to say that, to use his term with that modifier in front of it, and
I very much agree with that. And therefore, again, I can only
accept that on their behalf.
I would observe, though, also when hearing kind words like that,
as I mentioned to some folks yesterday, you're reminded of the
old saw that I wish my parents could've heard it; my dad would've
loved it, and my mother might've actually believed it.
But it is great to be with you. It's a wonderful audience;
again, some awfully distinguished folks from our governmental
organizations over the years, and also an organization that of
course has contributed enormously to policymaking and
policy-watching. And so it's a real privilege to be with you
What I wanted to speak about today was, of course, Iraq and then
perhaps the future and the daunting responsibilities in the Central
Command area, which is quite a vast one, as you know, and has a
number of the world's other problems in addition to Iraq and its
neighbors. As was mentioned, I just finished about three weeks ago
a tour of a little over 19 months as the Commander of the
Multi-National Force-Iraq, from February of 2007 to September 2008,
having had two previous tours there, one as the Commander of
the 101st Airborne Division in the first year during the fight to
Baghdad and then subsequently up in northern Iraq.
And then going back, at the request of Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, first to do an assessment of the security situation of
security forces in the spring of that year and then to establish
what came to be known as MNSTC-I-an acronym he loved, I might
add-the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq, and
also the NATO Training Mission in Iraq, positions I was privileged
to hold for a little over 15 months. We took a look at the security
training effort there and came back and offered some thoughts and
some recommendations, including one which is very relevant as
I look to the future. That was that Afghanistan was going to be the
longest campaign of the long war, and having been back there
recently, I still subscribe to that view.
The Surge: A Strategy for Success
The topic, though, first is Iraq. I wanted to give a little
update on where we are in Iraq. I wanted to talk about, in a sense,
what the surge was in terms of both forces and the ideas that
accompanied the deployment of those forces, show you some of the
metrics that we use to track the progress in Iraq and then talk a
little bit about the future challenges. I'll start with the bottom
line up front: substantial progress, yet still fragile and
reversible; however, the progress is less fragile today than in
This is indeed the bottom line. I don't think there's any
question about the nature of the progress there; an awful lot of
the metrics are down by about 80 percent. Attacks, 180 back in June
of 2007, are somewhere between 20 and 30 now for a period of about
four months. Civilian deaths, our casualties, and so on are all
down very substantially.
But as Ambassador Ryan Crocker and I have noted on a number of
occasions-including in April when we came back for our
testimony-and as General Ray Odierno and I testified in the
confirmation hearings in May and have each stated since then, that
progress does remain fragile, and it does remain reversible. This
is the case because of the challenges that lie on the horizon for
Iraq and that they are now coming to grips with. But I would add,
perhaps, that this progress is a little less fragile and a bit more
durable than when Ambassador Crocker and I were here in April,
certainly, and even than when General Odierno and I testified in
May. But that is, again, very heavily qualified by noting that
there are enormous difficulties that Iraq still has to deal
I wanted to talk a bit about the "surge" because the surge was
more than what the most prominent element of it in most folk's mind
was: the addition of some 30,000 U.S. forces over time, the combat
elements of which were five U.S. Army brigade combat teams,
two Marine battalions, a Marine expeditionary unit, and then a
number of enablers, including a division headquarters, some
additional aviation engineers, MP assets, intelligence forces, and
others. These forces tend to be the focus, but the surge was also a
major signal of commitment from the United States and some other
coalition countries that added forces; Georgia, most prominently,
added 2,000 additional soldiers during that period, and some other
countries made more modest increases as well.
In many respects, the surge enabled the growth in Iraqi security
forces to about 135,000 today and growing. The Iraqi army, Iraqi
police, Iraqi national police, and border forces all grew
substantially and became more professional during that period as
well. This was important because some of these forces had become
hijacked by sectarian interests- the national police, in
You will recall General Jim Jones recommended that Iraqi
security forces be disestablished last summer, but through a
nearly two-year process, every leader from the national commander,
the division commanders, the brigade commanders, and about 80
percent of the battalion commanders were retrained to help instill
professionalism. More recently, the Italian Carabinieri has begun
helping as well with this important program. All of that has helped
turn the national police into a force that is now quite a credit to
Iraq and one that our commanders-and that's the ultimate
measure-actually want to see working with them in their areas
As force levels grew, the security situation improved. When
before 50 to 55 bodies were showing up in Baghdad a day, our other
efforts became less difficult as this violence began to subside. At
a time like that, you're not going to get legislation or other
activities accomplished because the sole interest is survival.
This growth was joined with the hiring of over 100,000 Sons of
Iraq, the product of the awakening of Sunni and also Shia tribes.
One of these was stood up before the surge even started-in one
case, way before the surge started. However, it died stillborn
because it could not be protected adequately. But these tribes were
raising their hand to reject extremism and al-Qaeda in Iraq. They
were unhappy with what al-Qaeda had done to their
neighborhoods and did not want any more of it. We assisted
their efforts with an information campaign that we tried to hang
around al-Qaeda's neck. I believe it was successful.
This enabled the employment of counterinsurgency concepts.
It was not just additional forces, but how those forces were
employed that proved to be important. One would enable the other.
What you have in a situation like this is either a downward
spiral or an upward spiral, and there is no single factor that
propels you upwards. There are many factors that conspire together
or actually complement each other.
Implementing the Big Ideas
The job of strategic leaders is first to try to get the big
ideas right; then it's to communicate those big ideas to
subordinate leaders and hopefully be so persuasive that they
embrace them. This is very much in partnership with the "Big O
Show," as we call him, General Ray Odierno. General Odierno, who
has taken my place as the Multi-National Force-Iraq Commander, was
the Multi-National Corps-Iraq Commander for that first year that I
was back there as the force commander. He was the operational
architect of the surge during that time and an important
contributor to it. Our country is fortunate to have someone
like that who would be willing to go back after only being home
about eight or nine months after his second tour.
The first big idea was that we had to secure and serve the
population. The decisive terrain in counterinsurgency is not
necessarily the high ground or the bridge or the usual focus of
military operations, but the human terrain. You have to understand
the people. You have to have a nuanced appreciation for the
organizing structures, the tribes, the religious elements, the
political parties, how the system is supposed to work, and how it
really works. We now even have human terrain teams with every one
of our brigades that assist us with this task.
But the idea of focusing on securing the people was of enormous
importance, because we had reached a point where the security
challenges were so large that we could not transition those
challenges to the Iraqi forces. General Casey and
Ambassador Khalilzad recognized this in December in an
assessment at that time. The importance of the human terrain was a
reason that we had to focus on securing the population.
The only way to secure the population is by living with
them. You cannot secure the people of a neighborhood from a large
base by driving through it a couple of times a day and returning to
that large base. You have to locate with them, you have to share
risk with them-and this in partnership with Iraqi forces. If this
is done, then relatively quickly they will start to provide you
information on who the bad guys are in the neighborhood. This
enables you to conduct more precise operations over time. This will
start a spiral, and you can start picking up the bad guys and
getting others on the run.
You can also put up T-walls. Gated communities in America cost a
great deal of money, and we've provided these for Iraqi
neighborhoods in Baghdad free of charge. This is a very important
population-control measure and is hugely significant in the effort
that we employed to secure the population. There are still
innumerable fault lines that exist between these different areas in
Iraq's capital city, but you have to be there with them; it is the
only way that you can secure them.
Unity of Effort
You obviously have to have much more than just a security plan.
Security is an absolutely vital foundation, but it is not
sufficient. You have to have a plan that encompasses what we call
lines of operation: economic, diplomatic, political,
informational, rule of law, and capacity building. Ambassador
Crocker and I worked very hard to develop and refine the Joint
Campaign Plan that focused on securing the population and the other
lines of operation. We then sought to execute it as a team. In
fact, our offices were only about 30 feet apart and separated only
by the waiting room and some administrative offices. Whenever we
met Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or congressional
delegations that came in, we always did so together in
addition to testifying together in September 2007 and in April
The Joint Campaign Plan was very important. We spent a lot of
effort on it. We brought in a Joint Strategic Assessment Team, did
comprehensive security reviews and assessment boards about every
six to eight weeks, and tweaked it several times during our
As you link arms and go forward, you do not have unity of
command. The ambassador reports to the Secretary of State; the
military commander obviously reports up through a military
chain to the Secretary of Defense. So, understandably, you're
not going to achieve that. But what you do have to strive to
achieve is unity of effort and unity of purpose. We tried very hard
to do this as well. This has to be done all the way down through
the organization, which means all the way down to about the brigade
level where you have civilian provincial reconstruction teams,
elements, and a number of other partners. Everyone has to strive to
work together, to have a common vision, common objectives, and then
try to link arms and make their way together.
You have got to stay after the enemy. We had to go after and
take away their strongholds and safe havens. We knew where al-Qaeda
in Iraq's strongholds and safe havens were in the winter of
2006- 2007, and we had to go in and not only clear them out, but
hold them after we were finished. Another element in the spiral
upwards is to get local markets, the schools, and the
provision of basic services working again.
All of that reinforces each of the other elements. It gets you
more intelligence, more information, and more support from the
people. Over time, you start to drive down the level of violence.
Ultimately, you can even get folks to live together again by
fostering local reconciliation. But you've got to get your teeth
into the enemy. We talked about trying to get into their jugular
and stay after it with every means available.
There is an important distinction between simply clearing
and leaving and clearing and holding. Our clearing operations were
huge. It took us a month to clear the city of Ramadi, which had
become the capital of the new caliphate, and then Baqubah
subsequent to that. Even with the growing support of the people in
Anbar Province that started as early as the late fall of 2006, it
still took us until mid-March of 2007 before we had the sufficient
plan, power, structure, and so forth to clear and hold Ramadi.
Once operations had commenced, it still took us a good month to
do it from stem to stern, a city of only about 350,000-450,000.
Then we were able to hold it. During this particular operation, you
literally could see from patrol base to patrol base, or
combat outpost to combat outpost. You would have to isolate
each neighborhood with barriers to prevent vehicles from moving in
before you could actually move in and clear it. That is the kind of
challenging operation that was required to accomplish this.
We had from the beginning an intellectual construct that
talked about promoting reconciliation at the local level. If you
find tribes that are willing to reject al-Qaeda, then we sought to
embrace and support them. We even parked tanks out front of Sheikh
Sattar's house, who was the Awakening leader of most
significance in the fall and early winter of 2006. He was very
important in the developments in Anbar Province over time.
Tragically, he was later assassinated, showing you the threat that
these individuals are under and the risks that they take.
We had an explicit intellectual construct of identifying
and separating the irreconcilables, the hard-core Taqfiri, from the
rest of the population and then trying to reconcile with as many as
there were left. You don't end these operations by killing or
capturing your way along the line. What you do is, you end up
getting rid of the hardest of the hard-core and then trying to make
the others part of the solution instead of a continuing part of the
We used the British experience in Northern Ireland quite
effectively in this regard. I had a deputy who had to sit down
across from Martin McGuinness, a noted IRA brigade commander.
He wanted to reach across the table and grab him by the throat
because Martin McGuinness's men had killed some of this
individual's men in 22 SAS. But, of course, what eventually happened is
they all reconciled, which has helped to achieve a relatively
enduring settlement there. Ironically, Martin McGuinness is now on
an inspirational speaking tour with some other leaders from South
Africa and elsewhere and showed up in Baghdad to tell us about
reconciliation at one point earlier this spring.
When I took command, we wanted to continue the process of
transitioning security responsibilities to the Iraqis. A number of
provinces had already transitioned, and others were in the works.
But you cannot transition to the Iraqis a problem that is
bigger than we can handle, given that their capabilities were
much less. This was all the more true given that some of their
organizations had actually been hijacked by sectarian
The local police are also very vulnerable in such situations.
The Ministry of Health, for example, had been completely hijacked
by militia interests. In my first month back in Iraq, Prime
Minister Maliki turned to me one time and asked me to detain his
Deputy Minister of Health. I realized then the severity of the
situation. We later had to do the same with the sky marshals at
Baghdad International Airport and with a number of other
elements. This becomes a life-and-death matter for people. To
survive, some of them had to end up at least acceding to supporting
militia or Sunni extremist al-Qaeda interests.
We worked very hard to lay out objectively and realistically
what was going on there on the ground. At various times, I had
former mentors, various study groups, and different individuals
come to Iraq where we would brief and spend time with them. In the
spring of 2007, it was not uncommon for them to comment that we had
a strategic communications problem. I would say no; actually,
we have a results problem. As long as the situation is what it is
on the ground, there is no strategic communication strategy that
can convey anything but the fact that this is a very serious time
in Iraq. When you have 180 attacks a day, this is not about
spinning the news; it's about showing the results on the ground.
The level of violence starts to come down as we go after al-Qaeda,
take away their sanctuaries, support reconciliation, deal with the
militia, and eventually they cease fire because of the losses that
they took from us and because of the losses they were taking in the
eyes of the Iraqi population. Their worst fear is losing the
support of the people.
Combating Sectarian Violence
As the al-Qaeda threat diminished, the militia population came
to be seen as a mafia element in the midst of those neighborhoods.
Over time, the extortion of money from shopkeepers, the
kidnapping for ransom, the linkage to assassinations of two
southern governors and several police chiefs, and then the violence
that they precipitated in the holy city of Karbala led them to
realize that their reputation was severely tarnished and that
they needed to "take a knee" to regroup. Prime Minister Maliki
personally led a 100-vehicle convoy down there the next day
with his special operators to deal with that situation. He did the
same after the violence of March and April of this year, and they
have actually now made a very strategic decision to turn the bulk
of the militia into a social services organization and to return to
the roots of the movement, a respected movement in Iraq, based on
the martyr Sattar who was dedicated to serving the poor and most
downtrodden in that country-a reason that they had the support
of a number of the people.
There was a report that it mattered whether the bullet hit the
front of the head or the back of the head to be classified as
sectarian violence. We brought the reporters out and said we were
declassifying our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Only
the military could have a two-page SOP for determining whether
something is or is not sectarian violence. We laid it out. We
declassified the metrics, and we stand by those; Ambassador
Crocker and I stand by our testimony from September, April, and
May. We endeavored to let the facts speak for themselves and to
offer caveats and try to keep expectations measured. That's fairly
difficult in an election year, but, again, our job was to try to
lay that out and then let journalists, think tankers, and others
draw their own conclusions.
We fought very hard in this country for values that we place
great stock in, and even though we're engaged in a war with an
enemy who rejects those values and who carries out barbaric and
horrific attacks, we must stay in line with our values. At one
point, when I had some concern about this, I put out a letter to
our troops that laid out that rationale and described how we had to
very intently focus on living our values. When I was in a previous
assignment where we had responsibility for a number of
different institutions on the institutional side of the Army that
included doctrine in our school system and education for leaders
and training centers, we put out the field manual on interrogation
operations. We absolutely adhered to that in Iraq. I can tell
you that, by and large, it worked. We obviously lived our
Most of this you learn from interface with captains and
others who are out there turning broad concepts into operational
reality on the ground. I saw a sign in a command post that said,
"In the absence of orders or direction, figure out what it should
have been and execute aggressively." To be truthful, that was
exactly the kind of attitude that we were trying to foster, and it
is something we just kept refining during the course of this last
tour over there.
Our captains got it, and we wanted them to move out in line with
their understanding of our intent for them that cascades down from
the force commander through the corps, division, brigade,
battalion, and so on. By and large, I think you can be very proud
of the way that they did just that.
Refining, Adapting, and Learning
It is hugely important in an endeavor like this that you never,
ever stop refining your concepts, adapting to the enemy, learning,
and, again, reviewing and assessing. This is an enemy who may
be barbaric, may carry out absolutely heinous activities, but
is also a very savvy enemy and a very lethal and determined enemy.
We have to continue to learn. We have to continue to assess the
situation on the ground and always continue to refine our approach.
What works in Baghdad today won't work in Baghdad tomorrow. It
won't work in Anbar today. So you have to come back to that nuanced
understanding of a situation, work very hard to develop it, and
then to retain it as the situation continually evolves.
I laid out to Congress last April in the testimony the approach
that you have to take to deal with an organization like al-Qaeda in
Iraq. It's not just al-Qaeda in Iraq; it's Ansar al-Sunna, Ansar
al-Islam, Jaishul Islami, all of these other Sunni extremist
organizations that grew up in Iraq during the course of the period
after the initial liberation and got a foothold in some of these
Sunni areas in which there were grievances and perceptions of being
disowned, disrespected, and out of jobs-all these challenges that
accrued over that time.
What you need to do is make sure that you attack their
structures so that you limit their access to weapons and
explosives. You cut down the number of foreign fighters that come
into the country-in this case through Syria. That has very much
been done; they are down from over 100 to less than probably 20 a
month now. Keep in mind that is a lot of suicide bombers in
particular. You have to take away their strongholds and safe
havens, not allow them to lick their wounds.
You can have a lot of success in individual operations, but
unless you do all this, you are not going to take that organization
down. We killed Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, a very
effective and charismatic and good operational leader, and the
level of violence actually went up because they still had these
areas in which they could recoup, start to rebuild, and then plan
and conduct more operations.
You have got to try to reduce the level of support for insurgent
groups in the population, take on their ideology and all of its
different forms. This includes the Internet. In your strategic
communications efforts, you have to try to degrade their ability to
command and control in the country and try to reduce their links to
the al-Qaeda senior leadership, which of course is in the Federally
Administered Tribal Areas or the border areas of western Pakistan,
North-West Frontier Province.
You have to try to take away as much of the oxygen from the
movement as you can, and the oxygen is money. They are in many
respects a mafia-like organization in Iraq and elsewhere where they
generate revenue through extortion and a variety of other
illicit schemes, and many members of their organization are in it
for money. Those at the top and some others are in a sense the true
believers of what is an extremist ideology.
But it takes more than the kinetic operations. Our special
operations forces may carry out the most important five to 15
operations in a 24-hour period, along with some increasingly very
effective Iraqi special operations forces, but that's not enough.
You need large conventional forces, with increasing help from
Iraqis, to take away and hold their strongholds and safe havens.
You need political activity to complement what you're doing to
capitalize on the security gains down at the local level, these
tribal awakenings, which played such an important role and which we
sought to foster actively and then to support and secure when they
were courageous enough to raise their hand, recognizing that
in many cases the hands wouldn't go up until we had actually
cleared some of these areas because of the threat to them until
that point. But whenever it was they raised their hands-if it's
before the operation, after it, or during it-you want to embrace
them and give them an opportunity to help hold those areas.
That's where we hired the Sons of Iraq, over 100,000 over the
course of time, now down from that number.
You have to try to reduce the reasons that they embrace al-Qaeda
in Iraq-the pressure from militias, perhaps sectarian
pressures, if there are Kurd- Arab issues, whatever it might be-you
have to try to ameliorate those, to reduce them so that there's no
reason why a Sunni Arab would throw himself into the camp of
al-Qaeda in Iraq. And then at the national level, of course, you
eventually want laws that start to cement some of this, or at least
to solidify it a bit. Some legislation has been enacted, but
there is a lot more that has to be done.
Enormous efforts in intelligence drive this. You have to fight
for intelligence; everything you do has to be determined to gain
information that will help you. The proliferation of unmanned
aerial vehicles over the years now has been very helpful, and the
most important development in this world is not one breakthrough in
any one discipline-there have been a number of those; Bob Woodward
was alluding to one of the very important ones, and indeed it
has been-but the real breakthrough, I would argue, is in the fusion
of the products of all the different disciplines: human
intelligence, signals intelligence, imagery intelligence,
measurement intelligence, and applications that enable you to put
all that together and to analyze it very rapidly and provide
actionable intelligence to our forces.
We had to completely revamp what we did in detainee operations.
We discovered that we were allowing in these compounds of 800 to
900 detainees the training of the terrorist class of 2007 and
2008, because there were Taqfiri in there, very hard-core
extremists who would intimidate, recruit, motivate, and train right
in those compounds. You have to envision a huge penned-in
enclosure, and you have to conduct counterinsurgency operations
inside the wire where you identify and isolate the irreconcilables,
get them out of the general population, and then you provide
training, education, job skills, and other opportunities for those
in the rest of the population so that when they are reintegrated
into society, now with a judicial pledge and a tribal support
apparatus, the re-arrest rate goes down. In fact, it is down since
September/October, when we finally finished implementing this. It
is down to below one percent compared with double digits before
During Ramadan alone this year, we just finished a release of, I
think, over 2,600 detainees. We brought it down now from a peak of
somewhere around 26,000 to below 18,000 now and coming down. The
big news is, without the kind of re-arrest rate that we experienced
before because we have separated these hard-core out of the
rest of the population.
Now, you've got to do other activities, the so-called
non-kinetics. Try to reduce the reasons that there are unmet
expectations by improving opportunities for jobs, education,
and basic services. You have to be active out in cyberspace. You've
got to be legal, you've got to do it in line with our values, but
you cannot just cede that space to the enemy and allow him to
operate there with impunity. You have got to try to get source
countries to support you so you make it tougher to fly on a one-way
plane ticket from Tripoli to Damascus as a military-age male. Saudi
Arabia over the last four years has undertaken a very comprehensive
counterinsurgency, really counter-extremist program that has
produced very impressive results as well.
And then, in this case, you've got to work the borders,
still an area that needs work in Iraq in a major way, and try to
get the country through which these foreign fighters travel to help
you a bit more. The record there is still certainly very mixed,
although the numbers are way down in large part because of what
we've done to the networks inside Iraq and what source countries
have done to help as well.
From January 2004, the first uptick in violence occurred when
you had the first Fallujah and the militia uprising. Beyond that,
it stayed roughly around that, other than Najaf, Fallujah, the
elections each time, and then absolutely took off in the wake
of the Samarra bombing of February 2006 that set off a cycle of
sectarian violence that became horrific by the winter of 2006-2007.
There were some 50 to 55 dead bodies every 24 hours at the height
of that sectarian violence just in Iraq's capital alone in December
Reducing the Levels of Violence
General Odierno and I in the spring of 2007 said this would get
harder before it got easier, and the violence did go up because now
we were going after al-Qaeda in its strongholds and its safe
havens, and they fought back. So the level of violence peaked in
the early summer time frame as we launched the surge of offenses,
and then, as we started to make progress against al-Qaeda, it
started to go down. Then we had the first militia cease-fire in the
wake of the violence in Karbala when they took a knee to try to
repair the damage to their image with the people. There was a
little uptick again with Ramadan, although it was much less this
year. This is the most peaceful Ramadan that Iraq has had, although
certainly there were some terrible attacks at the very end in
Baghdad. But from a historical perspective, violence is
This year, violence levels continued to fall, increasing only
when Prime Minister Maliki ordered the operations against the
militia in Basra and then ultimately in Sadr City. Some very tough
fighting occurred by our troops, in support of and then in the lead
as well, with our Iraqi partners for the last four months at levels
not seen since early 2004, as I mentioned, coming down from a peak
of somewhere around 180 attacks a day in the June 2007
timeframe to an average of about 25 or so right now. In fact, this
week it has been below that, although areas of concern still
Now, if you're focused on security of the population, you
have to focus on violent civilian deaths. There is a discrepancy
between the Iraqi data and U.S. data. The difference is because the
Iraqis had much greater visibility until we started creating all of
the additional bases in places like Baghdad-77 additional joint
security stations, patrol bases, and combat outposts in Baghdad
alone so that we could indeed live with the people. Over time, the
differences in reporting started to converge. Civilian deaths
due to violent activity have been reduced very substantially since
their height in the winter of 2006 and into 2007.
We did focus a great deal on ethno-sectarian violence, and
when it comes to Baghdad, it was really sectarian violence. It was
Sunni extremist al-Qaeda on Shia, and then the Shia militia on the
Sunni population. The violence was ethno-sectarian in some
cases when it was Sunni on Kurds or Arabs on Kurds, Yazidi
Christians, Turkoman Shabaq, and so forth as well as on Shia. In
Baghdad, a very, very substantial reduction occurred as our
forces went into its neighborhoods. Between the period of December
2006 and August 2007, a very dramatic reduction in sectarian
violence took place in Baghdad.
That came about because our forces went into those areas, tried
to sit on the violence, to stabilize it, to bring it down, to go
after the bad guys, to promote local reconciliation, and then
to start to deal with some of the other conditions in there in
terms of markets, local commerce, and local governance. There are
still many mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad; certainly, some
neighborhoods became more Sunni or more Shia, became hardened in
their sectarian composition. But there are innumerable fault
lines throughout the city over which there would still be fighting
had it not been for the actions of our troops and the actions of
our Iraqi partners to deal with this sectarian violence, to employ
population-control measures, and to stop fighting across those
sectarian fault lines.
The sectarian composition is quite a mix throughout Baghdad,
albeit with some neighborhoods very heavily Shia, some very
heavily Sunni, but with numerous ones of each interspersed
throughout. In fact, a report, I think, in today's Post or Times
talked about the process that has been ongoing of people returning
to their neighborhoods. It started in a trickle this spring
and has now grown a reasonable amount over the course of the spring
and into the fall.
We still need to work very hard on car bombs, suicide car bombs,
and suicide vests. In either the month that I took back over or the
month after I took back over command of Multi-National Force-Iraq,
I remember 42 car bombs in Baghdad. It went up from there. We
brought those numbers down very substantially with our Iraqi
partners going after the network, but there are still car bombs,
and suicide vest attacks now are a particular problem, with women
carrying them out. Although they are down very substantially, a
good bit more work is needed in this particular area.
Assassinations are another area that we have to focus on with
our Iraqi partners because it presents a very pernicious
activity in a situation like this.
When we go after weapons caches and move into the neighborhoods,
all of a sudden the Iraqi population will tell you where the
weapons caches are. As you go into the al-Qaeda strongholds, the
Sunni extremist strongholds, and eventually the militia
strongholds, you pick up more and more weapons and explosives
caches. You can see, for example, that in 2007 we found more than
in the previous two years combined, and we've already found more in
2008 than we found in all of 2007, although the numbers are
starting to come down as we are literally running out of the
major strongholds and safe havens, the major militia areas, and so
forth. Certainly, there are still some out there, but that
number has started to fall as those numbers have ceased to
exist in the same way that they did before.
Reducing the al-Qaeda Presence
I want to show you where al-Qaeda was in the winter of 2006-2007
and where it is now. In Baghdad in 2006-2007, there was a
substantial al-Qaeda presence in the western part of the city,
south center, and then over into what's called Otamia and that
district there. This significant presence caused very severe
problems with the continuation of car bombs and suicide attacks. In
the Euphrates River Valley and Anbar Province, there were very high
levels of violence at this time. The Euphrates River Valley is a
dagger pointed at the heart of Baghdad. The southern routes
out of Baghdad, southeast, south-this was the so-called Triangle of
Death southwest of Baghdad on the major route south to the holy
cities of Karbala, Najaf, and ultimately to Basra. Up the Diyala
River Valley, Baqubah was starting to supplant Ramadi
gradually as a new stronghold for al-Qaeda in early 2007; up the
Tigris River Valley, Za'ab Triangle, Mosul and Ninewah.
Currently, al-Qaeda has a very reduced presence in Anbar
Province. They're trying to come back, and they will still conduct
occasional attacks, but a very significantly reduced number. In the
southern belts, they are also trying to come back. There is still
some residual presence, but it doesn't quite register in the way
that it did before. In Baghdad, there are still some pockets of
al-Qaeda because it is very hard to root these out, to identify
them in these neighborhoods that may have 50,000 people in
them. Although they do swim among the people, they don't swim as
well because the people will turn them in now when they identify
them at a vastly greater extent than before.
There is a reduced presence in Diyala, although up in the
so-called Hamrin Mountains, there are still some challenges there.
In Samarra, the presence is reduced. The city of Kirkuk is a
very challenging area because of the Arab-Kurd dynamics there,
as you may know, and sorting out the eventual status of that
city is very much a source of political tension and friction. In
Mosul and Ninewah Province, there is still a presence that is
very troublesome, and although the level of violence in Ninewah
Province may be down by a half or so from what it was six months
ago as a result of some significant operations, there is still
considerably more work to be done.
Shia militia had quite a substantial presence in Sadr City, the
eastern part of Baghdad, northwest, and then some in other disputed
areas, three neighborhoods in Basra in particular, a city of
about 2 million people, and then in the southern areas, of course,
the Shia-populated areas, Maysan Province, and then some of the
other major cities and a bit up in the Diyala River Valley as well.
As a result of the operations, in particular, ordered by Prime
Minister Maliki starting in March and then, certainly, others that
were carried out prior to that, you see a much-reduced presence in
Sadr City, certainly, and some of these other neighborhoods that
were historically friendly and supportive. Their presence was also
substantially reduced in Basra. We must watch for the return of
A big help during this time has been the Iraqi security forces.
If you look at the Iraqi army combat battalions, there are 167
combat ones now. This does not include transportation, engineer
battalions, and others. Our commanders on the ground assess
that about 116 or so of those are actually in the lead in their
areas for operations. The sheer growth alone is an endeavor that is
people-intensive. It takes a lot of forces to guard the kinds
of infrastructure and so forth from attack, but 200 total combat
battalions now compared with about 90 back in the summer of
There are a number of examples of our reconstruction
efforts which offer a microcosm of our larger efforts.
In the intellectual heart of Baghdad known as Mutanabi Street,
where Iraqi booksellers and the intellectuals tended to congregate,
a reconstruction project was recently completed after the area was
blown up by al-Qaeda in the spring of 2007.
A very historic bridge in the center of Baghdad, connecting the
west to the east, was blown up by al-Qaeda in the spring of 2007.
The Iraqis vowed to rebuild it. They did it with their construction
materials, engineers, and workers, and it has recently
Another metaphor for our effort in Iraq is the electrical towers
that had been blown down for as long as three years in some cases.
One in particular was down in that area on the edge of the
"Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad. It eventually became one that
I got a report on every single morning in the morning update-it was
that keen a focus that we put on it-and eventually it was rebuilt
after the area was secured and the Ministry of Electricity
personnel were able to go in and repair it. The whole
400-kilovolt structure is now up, and in fact they're building a
good bit of redundant structure.
There is progress on the economic front. It's frustrating.
It is never as fast as we want to see; there are enormous
challenges beyond just the security challenges of operating in
Iraq, but also all the structural challenges of a country
transitioning from a very centralized command economy to one that
allows some free enterprise and investment. There are actually
quite a few investment deals, hotels, and so forth now ongoing.
Five countries have named ambassadors, and some actually have
them in Baghdad. The Arab League named an ambassador after, I
think, a year and a half without one. UNAMI, the U.N. Mission in
Iraq, has increased its presence and activities after the horrific
bombing early on [August 2003] after which they had to close their
presence there. Iraq is really seen to be engaged now and not a
country to be shunned, although some reservations still persist by
some of the countries in the region, without question.
There has been political progress. Disagreement did not keep
government officials from agreeing on different laws, some of them
quite important, including Iraq de-Baathification reform, the
budget that distributed the oil income equitably to all provinces
and different ethno-sectarian groupings, amnesty, provincial
powers. The Sunni ministers rejoined the government after having
walked out over a year ago, and there's a very good Sunni prime
minister now as well. They discovered supplemental budgets,
$22 billion in a supplemental-no earmarks yet. Just yesterday,
the Presidency Council approved the provincial elections law that
had previously been approved by the Council of
Representatives and on which they were unable to agree prior
to their recess for August.
Although there has always been lots of friction and
disagreement-"Iraqcracy," as we call it- there has been some
political progress, and we can be very thankful to have some
terrific diplomats. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has led the way to help
with this process, along with others from coalition countries and
the U.N. assistance mission in Iraq.
The Challenges Ahead
But there are numerous challenges out there, and I would like to
highlight them. As I mentioned, we hired some 100,000 Sons of
Iraq-about 80,000 of those were Sunnis and 20,000 Shia-and
integrated them into Iraqi security force institutions, jobs,
retraining programs, education. About 54,000 of them were just
taken control of by the government in the Baghdad security
districts. Their payday comes due on November 1, and we will see
how that works out.
It has been difficult, and I think you have to understand, if
you walked a mile in their shoes, why it's difficult. These are
people that were shooting at them, shooting at us; they have our
blood on their hands in some cases, but this is how you end these
kinds of conflicts. There was no alternative but
reconciliation and, in our view, to hire some of them as well
once they raised their hand and said they wanted to keep their
areas clear of al-Qaeda. Their experiences with al-Qaeda
convinced them of the need to do that.
There are a lot of expectations out there on behalf of the
population. They think they should be the Japan of the Middle East,
and they ought to be. The blessings Iraq has are extraordinary. Not
only do they have officially the fourth largest oil reserves in the
world, since there's been no exploration in recent decades, they
could have the second largest. Some folks actually think, from
Texas, they have the first largest. We'll see. But whatever they
have, it's extraordinary. They just completed a big deal to capture
flare gas that could be very significant. They're producing only
about half the electricity that they need right now. It is up about
10 percent from last year, but is still not adequate.
There are still certainly ethno-sectarian
tensions-Sunni-Arab, Arab-Kurd-and a variety of different
challenges in minority issues. They have to deal with that with the
provincial elections law. The possible return of the two major
sources of violence in Iraq also poses problems. These include the
Sunni extremists, al-Qaeda in Iraq and their Sunni, if you
will, extremist insurgent allies and partners over the years, and
the Iranian-supported Special Groups. These are elements associated
with the militia that were specially called out, brought into Iraq,
trained there on special and very lethal improvised explosive
devices called EFPs (explosively formed projectiles) and the use of
rockets, mortars, RPG-29s, and so forth.
Most of the Special Group fighters went back to Iran or to
Lebanon or Syria, and much smaller groups to the latter two,
following the violence of March and April when they decided again
this is a fight they could not win and the people were
overwhelmingly rejecting them because of what the
violence was doing to their neighborhoods. We have to keep an
eye on that. The Iraqi government is determined not to let
them come back and resume their activities, and they have been very
active in picking them up as they do see them come back. We remain
concerned about it.
Displaced families are returning, as I mentioned. This is an
enormous problem: 2 million people were displaced internally, 2
million more displaced out of the country. They have been returning
because of the improved security situation and because they are
running out of money in places like Syria and elsewhere. So
far-touch wood-it has gone reasonably well with relatively few
incidents, but certainly there have been some, and the
potential is there for more.
We also need to extend the legal authority for U.S. forces and
then for some other coalition countries; this is the strategic
framework and status of forces agreement.
A number of challenges lie ahead for Iraq in a situation in
which there is a lot of ongoing political discussion among the
various parties as some of the alliances that have served them over
the past year or year and a half have started to be redrawn, and so
we'll see how that plays out in the weeks and months ahead.
At the end of the day, it comes back not just to the U.S.
soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and civilians
of the Defense Department, State Department, and other
agencies, but also to our coalition partners and then very much
increasingly to our Iraqi partners.
They do it for each other because of the special brotherhood of
the close fight that they are part of. They do it because they
believe they are serving an important cause, working in important
missions around the world as our uniformed services always have
done. There is no compensation that can ever be enough for them,
but I can tell you that the support of the American people,
regardless of their views on Iraq and Afghanistan, is something
that America has very much gotten right. I want to thank you for
that, because many of you in this room have played a key role in
the support for our soldiers and for their families, who have
sacrificed a great deal since 2001 in particular.
I would close by saying, as I told them in a letter to them on
the last day that I was in command, that I can imagine no greater
privilege than having served as their commander in Iraq for that
last 18-month period. Thank you very much.
General David Petraeus is former Commander, Multi-National
Force-Iraq. Since delivering this lecture, General Petraeus has
assumed the command of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
General Petraeus's presentation to The Heritage Foundation
included PowerPoint slides. They can be viewed at this link:
22 Special Air Service Regiment is a special-forces regiment within
the British Army.