News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Odierno from Iraq
(note: General Odierno appears via digital video imagery distribution system from Baghdad.)
BRYAN WHITMAN (Pentagon spokesman): All right. It looks like we have some picture. Good morning. Welcome. Let me just check with General Odierno and see if he can hear me.
Sir, this is Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon.
GEN. ODIERNO: I can hear you loud and clear.
MR. WHITMAN: Okay. It looks like you may have heard me, but we're not hearing you. Let's see if we can't get his audio in.
I think we have you now, general. Can you hear me?
GEN. ODIERNO: I can hear you -- I can hear you loud and clear.
MR. WHITMAN: Very good, general. We're hearing you good, too. And good afternoon there, and thank you for spending some
GEN. ODIERNO: Hold on please
MR. WHITMAN: General, we're --
GEN. ODIERNO: Hello?
MR. WHITMAN: Okay. It looks like we have you back now, general. Are you hearing us okay?
GEN. ODIERNO: Thank you. I'm hearing you fine.
MR. WHITMAN: Very good. Okay. I think we've worked through those technical problems.
Again, I just want to thank you for some time this afternoon. I think everybody here knows that this is Lieutenant General Ray Odierno. He's the commanding general of Multinational Corps in Iraq. He redeployed back to Iraq in December of last year, and he directs the operations of the joint and coalition forces in all sectors of the country.
Like I said, this is his second tour, and his second time, I think, briefing you here in this format when he spoke to us at the end of February.
You are at Camp Liberty, I believe, general, and so what I'd like to do is just go ahead and turn it over to you for some opening remarks before we get into some questions.
GEN. ODIERNO: Great. Thank you very much.
I appreciate the opportunity to make a few comments to you all today. Yesterday, the Iraqi people were dealt another blow.
In the morning, terrorists set off a car bomb, bringing down the Sarafiya bridge that has spanned the Tigris River for decades; and in the afternoon, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the cafeteria of the Council of Representatives, just after the members had concluded their session for the day.
The government of Iraq has launched an investigation into the incident to determine how security arrangements were breached and to make recommendations for the future. The Ministry of Interior has assumed overall responsibility for the security of the Council of Representatives building. We will continue to work closely with them. It is clear that we still have a long way to go to provide security and stability to the people of Iraq.
The incident has only strengthened the resolve of the government of Iraq, though, and its Council of Representatives. The Council of Representatives held a special session earlier today to express their outrage at the attack.
The terrorist bombs do not differentiate between children and adults, women and men, Sunnis and Shi'a, Arabs and Kurds. Those killed and wounded are guilty of nothing other than being Iraqi. The terrorists would rather wreak havoc and destruction than contribute building the new Iraq. They would rather blow up a bridge than help create the necessary infrastructure for a modern state. They would rather destroy the representatives of the people than help to develop the institutions of government. But at the end of day, for us to be successful here, it is the Iraqi people who must impose their will.
It is our responsibility as the coalition to help the Iraqi people achieve their aspirations for a better future. Our forces will stand shoulder to shoulder, as we have now for almost four years with the Iraqi security forces, until they no longer need our support. We understand the importance of providing forthright assessments of the situation here in Iraq, and will always attempt to give honest analysis.
In Baghdad, steady progress is being made, and Fard al-Qanun is showing some early results. But real success is based on sustaining progress over the long term, with eventually Iraqis alone providing security to their people.
Currently, 26 joint security stations are being manned across Baghdad by Iraqi army, Iraqi police and coalition forces. We also have over 21 combat outposts throughout Baghdad. This continuous presence is making the Iraqi people feel safer and has greatly increased the amount of information provided to the Iraqi army, police and coalition forces by the public.
Across Baghdad, markets are being hardened, with checkpoints and barriers, and merchants have returned to sell their produce. And Iraqis are busy shopping in the markets of Rusafa and Dura. And there are more projects such as these will -- that will occur in the near future.
We are seeing a drop in sectarian murders in Baghdad, and some displaced families are returning to the city.
The number of caches we are finding per week has doubled since the beginning of Fard al-Qanun. Just yesterday, in the Mansour district of Baghdad, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Strykers and the 6th Iraqi Army uncovered a cache which was a key logistics node for multiple IED cells in western Baghdad. The different types of initiators found, to include sensors, led our analysis -- analysts to believe that the IED technicians provided devices to both Sunni insurgents and Shi'a insurgents throughout Iraq.
In terms of the surge, we now have over half of the troops' plus-up in place. Third Infantry Division has established Multinational Center -- Division Center in Baghdad, providing command and control in some areas formerly in Multinational Division Baghdad's area of control. Three of the five additional brigades are in Iraq, and by the beginning of June, the remaining forces will be in place.
An additional three Iraqi brigade headquarters and 11 additional battalions have moved into Baghdad in support of the operation. The capacity of the Iraqi security forces continues to grow. We are assisting them in training, mentoring and equipping. There are currently 10 Iraqi divisions, eight of which have transitioned to Iraqi control.
Progress can also be pointed to (sic) other parts of the country. Earlier this week, I accompanied the Iraqi minister of Defense and the national security adviser out west to a conference in Ramadi on security in Al Anbar. Thanks to the work of the Iraqi security forces, linkages with the tribal leaders, and with the great support and operations of the Marines and Army, security across Al Anbar has dramatically improved. The people of Al Anbar are fighting back and winning. They've effectively turned back the tide of al Qaeda, but there will be counterattacks by al Qaeda.
Last week in Ramadi, there were nine attacks total. During the same week a year ago, there were over 84 attacks.
People often ask me what differences the surge is making.
The addition of two Marine battalions in MNF West is allowing us to maintain presence permanently up and down the Central and Western Euphrates River Valley. And in just one week of work in an area they had not been able to go in before, they found 77 small caches of ammunition and arms.
We see promise in the North. Thirty-three U.S. police transition teams were added in the last four months to complement existing teams, building law enforcement capacity. Petroleum products from the Baiji oil refinery have increased 20 percent in the last six weeks due to Iraqi security force efforts to protect distribution tankers. 10 days ago, forces secured five million liters of petroleum products that were delivered to Nineveh province. In the South, Operation Black Eagle in Diwaniyah, conducted by joint Iraqi and coalition forces, uncovered a headquarters of a rogue element of Jaish al-Mahdi, with a major weapons cache including materials for IED-making.
Additionally, as you all reported, there was a demonstration in Najaf calling for the removal of coalition forces. This demonstration took place without incident. It is worth mentioning three points related to this demonstration. First, the government of Iraq allowed the demonstration to take place, unthinkable under the former regime. Second, the demonstrators waved Iraqi flags rather than black flags or pictures of ayatollahs. And third, the demonstrators numbered no more than 15,000, rather than the one million its organizers called for.
As you all know, though, we continue to see indications of Iranian influence in Iraq, including providing arms, training and safe haven to terrorists targeting Iraqis and coalition forces. In the past two weeks, we've found caches with 60-millimeter mortars, RPGs, hand grenades, C4 explosive, 107-millimeter rockets. And in one particular cache, we found over 120 Iranian explosively formed projectiles.
The Iranians continue to attempt to interfere in the situation in Iraq.
Over the last 30 days, Iraqi and coalition forces have captured 57 high-value individuals. The Sunni and Shi'a extremists include known vehicle-borne IED facilitators, insurgent cell leaders, terrorists and IED emplacers.
This week we captured a prominent Jaish al-Mahdi company commander who conducted operations in New Baghdad and Sadr City. We also captured a key leader of the AQIZ network. Both individuals are providing us with more intelligence on extremist leaders and networks that continue to target Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces as well as the coalition.
You all have no doubt heard that the secretary of Defense has announced a policy of 15-month rotations for active duty Army units in Iraq. This policy is needed to ensure that the Army retains the capacity to sustain the deployed force and to have predictability for our soldiers and their families. This policy will ensure 12 months at home station between rotations. There's no doubt that this decision was a difficult one, and I am very aware that it will be hard on soldiers and their families. However, all who serve understand the importance of what we are trying to accomplish here and that the mission will always come first.
Finally, I want to pause and recognize one of our heroes, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Johnson, an Apache pilot in Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. You might remember earlier in the year that extremists attempted to seize the city of Najaf and kill several of the major clerics within Iraq. The Iraqi army fought valiantly and called for air support from coalition forces.
Among them was Chief Johnson, who led his crew to attack and destroy enemy air defense systems despite the risks of daytime operations. Disregarding his own safety during this action where a fellow Apache crew had already been shot down, he expended all of his ammunition on enemy positions. He then flew back, rearmed and immediately rejoined the fight. His undaunted courage in the hostile skies north of Najaf contributed to the success of the Iraqi security forces and Multinational Division Baghdad that day. The complexity of this mission demanded the highest level of leadership as well as technical and tactical skill, which he delivered for all his fellow soldiers and teammates.
He exemplifies the courage and dedication of many of our great soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines here in Iraq.
They are a national treasure, and they always do our country proud. I have the privilege to lead them, and I will never forget it.
I will close by remembering those who've given their lives for their country and who've been seriously injured. They are true patriots who honor us all by the service to their country, and may God bless them and their families.
With that, I'll take your questions.
MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you, general, for that comprehensive overview, and we do have a few questions here and we'll start with Mr. Burns.
Q General, this is Bob Burns with AP. In your description of positive developments, particularly in Baghdad, you said -- you emphasized the importance of, quote, "sustaining progress over the longer term." And I'm wondering what would be your current assessment of whether that will require to keep the higher troop levels there for into 2008?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I'm not sure yet. There's -- I plan on making a first assessment probably some time in the summer, July or August time frame, where I'll give my recommendation to General Petraeus, and then he'll take a look at that and make his recommendation up the chain of command. And we'll make a determination then how long we think that we need to maintain the surge.
I would just say that the reason we want to maintain the surge or at least we have the surge is to continue to do -- provide time and space for the Iraqi government as well as the Iraqi security forces to continue to develop and build capacity, and that's what this is about -- building up capacity so we can move forward. It's also about securing the populace throughout Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. So we'll have to make that assessment some time in the summer, and I think it'll be in the July-August time frame when we make our initial assessment.
MR. WHITMAN: Barbara.
Q General Odierno, Barbara Starr from CNN. You spoke about Iran again. Are you able yet to tell us that there is direct evidence that it is the Iranian government or the leadership of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps or Al-Qods that is directly ordering this interference in Iraq? Are you learning anything from the Al-Qods member -- people you still have in custody? Are you able to carry your evidence any further than just they're out there and they’re causing interference?
GEN. ODIERNO: I would just say right now -- I'm only willing to say that it's clear that the Qods Force is involved in what's going on here by supplying training, money and weapons. We're still working other aspects of it, but I'm not willing to comment on anything along those lines.
I would say, though, it is clear that they continue to interfere, the Qods Force continues to attempt to interfere in Iraqi -- in operations inside of Iraq. We continue to intercept weapons. We know there's money that's flowing in from Iran to certain insurgent groups in Iraq, and we will continue to work through this.
And in fact we're working now to determine whether they are in fact not only providing support to Shi'a groups but also Sunni insurgent groups. We don't have any specific proof of that yet, but there's been some indications that that could in fact be the case.
Q Very briefly, why would the Iranians be supporting Sunni groups?
GEN. ODIERNO: I think it's mainly because they want to continue to create chaos in Iraq. They do not want this government potentially to succeed. But additionally, I think they want to try to tie down coalition forces here. And it's clear that they are attempting to affect what's going on inside of Iraq on a daily basis, and we have to be very aware of that, and we will continue to be aware of that and work it.
MR. WHITMAN: Jim.
Q Bryan -- thank you, Bryan. General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC. Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the parliament bombing yesterday. Is there any indication, any evidence to support that? Is there any indication how the explosives got into the parliament building? Was a personal bodyguard involved? Any details on how they could have penetrated the security there inside the parliament?
GEN. ODIERNO: We -- I wish you I could tell you the answer to that question. We don't -- we simply don't know yet. We simply don't know who was involved. We've also seen the reports that al Qaeda in Iraq have in fact claimed it. My guess is, based on past events, they were probably somewhat involved, but we don't know for sure yet.
Obviously we're still conducting the investigation along with the Iraqi minister of Interior, supporting his efforts. Once we know something, we'll certainly let you know. But we really don't know yet the specifics. We're still working very hard to find those out.
Q (Off mike) -- does it send to have what has up until now been one of the most impenetrable places in Iraq violated in that way that a bomber could make his way into that facility?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think it's like everything else. I mean, it's -- something didn't go right. There's plenty of defenses there, and they should not be able to penetrate it. But either they figured out a way for us not to detect it or simply somebody didn't do their job, and we have to find out what happened. And it's about doing things right when you're there, and we're just going to have to figure it out, and I know the investigation that's conducted will get to the bottom of it.
MR. WHITMAN: Andrew.
Q Hey, general, it's Andrew Gray from Reuters. If I could go back to the duration of the plus-up. You said that you will only have the full forces in place in June; doesn't that mean it's likely, if you want to give the Iraqis the time and space that they need, that really you're going to be looking at least until the end of the year? Because the whole point of the plus-up is to provide some sort of sustainability there, to hold and build as well as clear.
GEN. ODIERNO: Now, that's true. I would say, though, it's not so much the number of force that does that, it's the security and stability that's created. If we're able to create the security and stability within Iraq, that then buys the time. So if we're able to create that stability and security with a less number of forces, then we won't have to maintain the plus-up.
So that's why in July or August we'll have to make that determination. And if we have not yet gotten to the level of security and stability that we think is necessary to buy that time for the capacity-building within the government of Iraq and the security forces, then we will come forward with the appropriate recommendations.
MR. WHITMAN: Joe.
Q Sir, this is Joe Tabat with Al Hurra. Have you received before the last weeks any indications that the parliament would be targeted?
GEN. ODIERNO: I will just say in the threat reporting we get, it's probably a lot like the Capitol in the United States and the White House; you get daily threats on the parliament here in Iraq, you get daily threats on the Green Zone. We get daily threats here at Camp Victory. We take them all very seriously and we run each and every one of them down. So, could you say there was a threat out there that they might try to go after the parliament? Probably, because there's numerous of them quite regularly. And we look very carefully at every one of those and we change our procedures and we look at our procedures, we tighten up our procedures.
MR. WHITMAN: Let's go to Julian.
Q General, the goal of the surge is to provide security, obviously, to the Iraqi people. And those two very public bombings yesterday obviously would undermine the Iraqi people's sense of security. What specific steps have you taken today to try to, you know, counter that and try to reassure the people in the neighborhoods that the U.S. and Iraqi forces can provide security? Is there anything specific today that you are doing?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I would say there's nothing different today than we did yesterday, except for the fact we're clearly looking at how a car bomb got in the middle of a bridge undetected, and how somebody got inside the Green Zone. So clearly, we're looking at both of those things very closely.
What I would say, though, is it's not about one or two single events, it's about an overall feeling of security you get in your neighborhood. And we're tackling this neighborhood by neighborhood. And it's allowing the people to understand that they feel protected inside their neighborhood first, the fact that their kids can go to school, they can go to the hospital, they can go down to the markets. That's what we're working on. We're still not there yet even in those areas. In some areas we are in Baghdad, they do feel comfortable. There's other areas they don't yet. And that's a day-to-day operation.
So this is not about one or two events. Al Qaeda wants to make it about one or two events. They want to try to incite chaos. They want to try to incite the fact that there's a potential of lessened security within Baghdad. But what we have to do is every single day work hard with Iraqi security forces to provide the sense of security neighborhood by neighborhood, and that's what we're trying to do.
Q Twenty-one combat outposts you said in Baghdad. What is your goal overall in order to -- throughout Baghdad? Is it double that or triple that?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, it depends. It's situational dependent. We're really dependent on how well the security is going in certain areas, and if we feel there's an importance to have a joint security station or a combat outpost, we will add them.
As I said, we still have two brigades that are still on its way in here. And so depending on the security situation, we will put them in the places that we believe are necessary. If we decide to put them inside of Baghdad, they will go into combat outposts or joint security stations, so of course we will then increase the number. There are still more that will go in. The exact number, I'm not willing to tell you yet because it will be situational dependent, but there are more that will go in.
With the brigades that come in here now, we are looking at where they go in Baghdad. Or do we put them in the outskirts of Baghdad, where we know where some of the vehicle-borne IEDs and some of the cells of al Qaeda are operating? So do we cut them off outside of Baghdad, or do we provide more security inside? And that's a decision that I make, along with General Petraeus and all the division commanders and brigade commanders. And we go through that very thoroughly, where and how we'll use these incoming brigades.
Q General, Tom Bowman with NPR.
I want to read you a couple comments from Iraqi lawmakers from yesterday. A Shi'ite member said, nowhere is safe. And a Sunni legislator said, quote, "The security plan is dead. If they're able to reach inside the parliament, then we should not talk about the security plan anymore."
What would you say to those lawmakers?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I think it's probably out of frustration. I mean, I think they were very frustrated yesterday. I mean, it's frustrating when something like that's happened, and we all get frustrated.
What I would say to them, though, is, all those statements do are encourage insurgents. They encourage al Qaeda. What we have to do is stick hard together, continue to work side by side, again, to provide security to the people. Overall, we are starting to do that, but we are going to have bad days.
Frankly, yesterday was a bad day, a very bad day, but we're going to come back from that. We're going to continue to work this security; we're going to work it with the Iraqis. I have confidence in the leaders, in the military leaders, in the Iraqi security forces. They're working hard with us everyday, and so what that tells me is there's still hard work ahead. And that's what I would tell them. We have hard work ahead. We need to work together.
And the best way to eject al Qaeda is the citizens of Iraq, along with the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces -- stand up and reject it. Reject their philosophical views; reject what they're trying to do to their country. Work together. Stand up against them, and continue to fight them, both in a lethal and non-lethal way. And I think that's what we have to do.
And that's what I would say to them.
Q A follow-up. Another lawmaker said that the American military should take over security in the parliament building. Does that make sense?
GEN. ODIERNO: I think that what we have to do is, we have to work with the Iraqi security forces and continue to work with them and help them to be able to maintain security of their own parliament. They are capable of doing it. There's no doubt in my mind that they're capable of doing it.
And I think it's very important that the prime minister appointed the minister of Interior to take over the security of the parliament building and that he's going to do that. I think they'll come up with an increased plan, and we'll support them in doing that.
But it doesn't help them for us to provide that security. They have to do that. And I believe -- I have confidence that in fact they can, and they have the capability and capacity to do it.
MR. WHITMAN: Ann.
Q General Odierno, Ann Scott Tyson with The Washington Post. Could you point to the neighborhoods in Baghdad where you believe progress is being made, significant progress in security, and then also those neighborhoods where you think greater work needs to be done?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, really it's almost mahala by mahala, and I don't have that off the top of my head. But I would tell you that the statistics tell you that east of the river right now is progressing a little bit faster than the west of the river. And part of that is -- is that's where we conducted some -- a majority of our initial clearing operations was east of the river. We are now moving towards the west side of the Tigris River and conducting operations there. So I believe we will continue to make progress there.
I would say specifically it's parts of the Rusafa, the Karkh districts are in terms -- statistically safer. Kadhimiya, which was one of the worst places, initially, in Baghdad, after the clearing operations, the number of attacks, sectarian murders are way down there. We still have to do, though, some building in there in order to provide better facilities, working with the Iraqi government, for the people in those areas. So I think that's what I would point -- those areas I'd point out first.
But across every area, every security district in Baghdad, there are areas within each security district where we have -- now believe we have much better security. There are also some areas where we don't, and we continue to work those very hard.
Q Quick follow-up.
On terms, some of the joint chiefs have said that "surge" means a temporary, limited increase, whereas the term "plus-up" means an increase that you are out to sustain indefinitely. I mean, doctrinally is it a surge or a plus-up?
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, I mean, I think all along we defined it as a surge. We defined it that we were going to surge forces for a specific period of time in order to build this time and space for the Iraqi security forces. And I think our initial assessment was, you know, the time necessary would classify it as a surge.
Could that change later on? Maybe. To a plus-up? Maybe. But, you know, that's what we'll have to decide in July or August when we make our determination.
Again, I will tell you we have not even completed our surge yet. I remind you we still have two full brigade combat teams and an aviation brigade that has not yet arrived here in Iraq. Those are three significant organizations yet to even -- to generate the initial surge. So let's get the surge in place first, the full surge, and let us see what the effects of that are for the first months here, through the summer, June, July, August, and then we can make an assessment.
MR. WHITMAN: Unfortunately, I need to bring this to an end despite the many more questions out here. I want to be respectful of your time, though, general, and we have reached the end of the appointed time for this. So let me do turn it back to you, though, just in case you have some closing comments or some additional thoughts that you'd like to impart on us before we do close it.
GEN. ODIERNO: Sure.
I would just like to make a comment back to our families for the sacrifice they're making. And I know the announcement the other day was probably one that surprised them. And I would just say what makes that difficult -- I guess we had to announce it really a little quicker than we wanted to because I guess there was a leak and it was going to come out in the press. So that was unfortunate, because we would have loved to have let our families know first before it was out in the press. And we wish we had the opportunity to do that and also talk to our soldiers first.
So I just want to comment to them that we appreciate everything that they're sacrificing, everything that they're doing. They are the strength behind all these great soldiers that are over here today.
And I just want to finish by telling you how proud again -- as I started this -- how proud I am of the soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors that are over here every single day working as hard as they can to bring security and stability to the Iraqi people.
And that's all I have. Thanks.
MR. WHITMAN: General, thank you and not only thank you for your time, but also for making your subordinate commanders available to us on a regular basis in this format. It is very helpful to us, and we certainly do appreciate it.
GEN. ODIERNO: Well, we will continue to do that because we think it's important also.
So thank you.
MR. WHITMAN: Thank you, general.