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Q&A with General David Petraeus

Q&A with General David Petraeus by email from Camp Victory, Baghdad. Received Tuesday, September 4.

1) Before you left for Baghdad on this tour, you told Congress there is no military victory in Iraq and that what is needed is a political solution. What is the strongest indication on the ground that the surge is creating the environment needed to achieve a political solution?

There is no question that all of us -- Iraqi leaders, as well as Coalition leaders -- are frustrated with the slow pace of political solutions. These solutions include fundamental issues that underpin the allocation of resources and power within the Iraqi political state after years of authoritarian rule. It takes time to resolve these issues, however, just as it took the U.S. time to resolve fundamental issues like civil rights (which is similar to de-Ba'athification) or states rights (which is similar to provincial powers).

Nevertheless, there have been some indications of progress. First, we have seen on-the-ground reconciliation among groups that were opposed to the government. The Anbar Awakening is the most prominent, where Sunni Arabs have turned against Al Qaeda and are now being integrated into Iraqi Security Forces. This effort has spread to other areas, as well, such as Baqubah and in locations such as Abu Gharib, Ghaziliyah, and Ameriyah in Baghdad, where local groups have reconciled with the government and the government is in the process of incorporating them into legitimate security organizations.

Second, this bottom-up approach has led to greater demand from the local groups, cities, and provinces on the central government and there have had to be national-level compromises to support these "constituent demands." For example, on Thursday, 6 September, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih and a number of cabinet ministers will travel to Ramadi for the Anbar Forum II where we believe the DPM will announce for Anbar Province increased police authorizations, supplemental funding, additional reconstruction funding, and other initiatives that reflect the government's concern over a Sunni Arab province.

There are, moreover, political solutions that are being worked in practice, even if they are not yet codified in law. For example, the Iraqis do not have a de-Ba'athification law, but they have a large program to recruit former Army officers and Ba'ath Party officials and offer them jobs. Over 5,000 have returned to the Army and the Prime Minister told me that some 15,000 to 20,000 more now have civilian jobs. Tens of thousands of other former officers and NCOs have been added to the official retirement rolls. Additionally, the Iraqis do not have a provincial powers law, but they have provided budgets and authorities to the provinces, which are operating under those reasonably significant powers. Finally, Iraqi leaders have not agreed on an oil revenue sharing law, but they are distributing revenue to the provinces on a generally equitable, per-capita basis.

As you noted in the question, few of these political solutions would have been possible without the improved security provided by Coalition and Iraqi Forces.

2) What is the best moment you have had in the eight months of this command?

Patrols with our Soldiers in Baqubah and our Marines in Ramadi quickly come to mind. In both of these cities, our troopers, together with our Iraqi partners, conducted some tough operations to root out the Al Qaeda elements and take away their sanctuaries. They quickly followed up the combat operations with comprehensive plans to maintain the security gains they'd made, integrate local citizens into the efforts, and reestablish basic services and governance. Now, near Ramadi, for example, local Iraqis are again graduating from the Habbaniyah Police Training Academy – a location that we closed some two years ago due to lack of volunteers and security challenges. And young men by the thousands in Anbar have volunteered for the Army and Police throughout the province. Plans are even underway to build a Rule of Law complex in Ramadi similar to the successful complex we've helped the Iraqis establish in Baghdad. It was great to see the progress in Ramadi -- and Baqubah -- first hand. It reminded me what is possible given committed Coalition and Iraqi troopers, the support of the local populace, and a solid plan.

Another memorable moment occurred on the 4th of July. I was privileged to administer the oath of enlistment to 588 wonderful young Americans in Baghdad who were re-enlisting for another tour in our military. This was, we believe, the largest reenlistment ceremony ever held. It was very special to see so many young men and women in uniform reenlisting, in combat, for another term of service in our military, fully knowing the sacrifices their additional service might require. Our nation is truly fortunate to have such exceptional men and women, and it remains the greatest of honors to be serving with them again in Iraq.

3) What is the worst moment?

I often think that within one single day, there are many highs and many lows. Still, some lows seem particularly tough. I have repeatedly said that upon returning to Iraq in February, the damage I saw that was wrought by sectarian violence was far worse than I had expected it to be. That truth hit home for me the day after I took command. Patrolling around Baghdad, I saw firsthand the extent of the damage done in 2006 and I realized how much work we had ahead of us, not only to secure the country but also to help create the conditions for the national reconciliation that must take place. In the ensuing months, we have made some progress towards both those goals, but the progress has been uneven and there clearly is an enormous amount to be done.

The worst moment, though was probably the recent loss of 14 Soldiers in a helicopter crash. In truth, nothing weighs more heavily on a commander than the loss of our troopers; one never gets "hardened" to news of a loss. Every death is tragic, frankly, but our sadness is multiplied when several deaths occur as the result of a single event. The recent Blackhawk helicopter crash was particularly devastating. We lost fourteen Soldiers in a split second, to include 10 troopers from a single unit scheduled to redeploy in just over a month. One of those troopers is the second son that one of our families has lost in this war. It goes without saying that we must remember our fallen comrades and carry on in their honor.

4) The COIN manual you co-authored calls for very high force ratios, by some interpretations higher than the US presently has in Baghdad. Going forward, do US-Iraq and coalition partners need more troops to achieve the mission and, if not, how does the current level square with your analysis as spelled out in the COIN manual?

No wartime commander in history has ever had as many forces as he's wanted -- nor as much money, as many allies, or a host of other desirable resources -- and I am no exception. That being said, I feel we do have sufficient Iraqi and Coalition forces to continue improving security across Iraq.

As we have demonstrated through the employment of the forces that we have, we do not necessarily have to secure every part of Baghdad at once -- this can and has been done in stages. As the security situation in an area improves, forces are required to hold the gains that we have made. Over time some of those forces can be local police units working with the Iraqi Army and Coalition Forces in Joint Security Stations. (In Fallujah, in fact, Iraqi Police and neighborhood watch elements have gradually replaced Iraqi Army and US Marine forces successfully.) Beyond that, we now are increasingly being assisted in our efforts by local Iraqi citizens. In recent months, some 30,000 Iraqis have stepped forward and volunteered to join the fight against the extremists who made their lives difficult. They have rejected Al Qaeda and the extremist ideology it espouses and have decided they want to take an active role in securing their neighborhoods. These local citizens are turning out to be of enormous value as we seek to maintain local security. From Ameriyah and Abu Ghraib in Baghdad to Arab Jabour to Baghdad's south and Ramadi to Baghdad's west, we are seeing these local citizens come forward. They are pledging loyalty to the Government of Iraq and joining legitimate security forces. And with the assistance, support, and intelligence they provide, security is increasing. In the coming months and years, supportive citizens, along with Iraqi Security Forces, will be essential to establishing sustainable security across Iraq.

The bottom line is that, from the success that we have seen so far, I do not envision that that the US would need to send more troops. In fact, we are in the process of doing the "battlefield geometry" to determine the way ahead as the surge of forces inevitably runs its course.

5) In Mosul, I saw firsthand how the 101st successfully balanced hard and soft power. Can you discuss the balance in Baghdad during the surge and the challenges presented in cracking down on insurgents while keeping the civilian population on side. Can you share perhaps one scenario in one neighborhood where this balance was successfully struck?

Getting the balance of hard and soft power right is very important. In Baghdad -- and throughout Iraq -- we have tried to complement kinetic, military operations with equally aggressive non-kinetic reconstruction operations. A good example is the city of Baqubah. Al Qaeda had essentially controlled that city in the Diyala province for a number of months, although some clearing operations had been carried out in the spring. In June, one of our Stryker Brigades commenced Operation Arrowhead Ripper, an operation that entailed several weeks of substantial fighting as both coalition and Iraqi soldiers cleared the city of Al Qaeda elements. Almost immediately afterward, while still maintaining security, the unit shifted emphasis to rebuilding the city and repairing the damage done by the Al Qaeda stranglehold that had significantly depressed economic activity and governmental participation. Working with the Iraqi government, including having the Deputy Prime Minister and several cabinet ministers travel to Baqubah, our forces and their Iraqi counterparts improved services, ensured that food was delivered, helped reopen important industries (such as the Baqubah flour mill), started the rebuilding of infrastructure, and took other steps to foster economic development and an improved quality of life. It is important to note that this was done with our support, but primarily through the local and national government and fully involving Iraqi forces so that citizens could see that it was the Iraqi system and not just Coalition Forces that were seeing to their needs.

Money truly is ammunition at such a point in an operation, and if properly employed, it can show the populace that there is a better alternative to that held out by Al Qaeda. We have become much better in recent times at helping the Iraqis use their own systems to bring these services and developed the institutions to make them sustainable. Also, our Embassy partners, USAID, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and other agencies have provided a tremendous boost in making this happen in Iraq.

6) What time frame do you see for accomplishing the goal of the mission informally known as "the surge" in Baghdad? And when it is accomplished how soon after would you estimate it is possible for the US to begin a drawdown of forces?

Our soldiers are achieving success in many areas of our security operations, and we are dealing a significant blow to Al Qaeda and other extremist elements in Iraq. That is not to say that there have not been setbacks, for there have been. Beyond that, the success has been greater in certain areas than others. Nonetheless, what our troopers have achieved is measurable and important.

Although the surge of forces was designed to be temporary, the assumption underlying the surge endures. A secure environment will remain necessary to provide the space for Iraqi leaders to tackle the tough political issues that must be resolved in order to achieve reconciliation and sustainable security. As the surge proceeds, though, we have continued to transition responsibility for security to our Iraqi partners as conditions on the ground and their capabilities have warranted. We have already transitioned responsibility in 7 of Iraq's 18 provinces, in fact, and we will continue this process in other parts of Iraq as conditions make that possible. I will provide Congress my recommendations for the adjustment of our forces based on the success that we are having and in recognition that we do not want to keep our soldiers deployed any longer than necessary. Based on the progress that our forces are achieving, I expect to be able to recommend that some of our forces will be redeployed without replacement. That will, over time, reduce the total number of troops in Iraq. This process will take time, but we want to be sure to maintain the security gains that Coalition and Iraqi forces have worked so hard to achieve. It is that security that will provide an environment in which Iraqi leaders can resolve the important political issues that stand between their country and true reconciliation.

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