17 June 2012. Add date of Chon's last Baghdad report and Roger Simon cite.
16 June 2012
Brett McGurk Blogs About Iraq 2006-07
Four blog posts, one from Washington DC and three from Baghdad,
Iraq, from April 10, 2006 to January 12, 2007. Not all internal links
are archived at Archive.org.
Cryptome Rumination: Rupert Murdoch acquired The Wall Street Journal
in August 2007. Gina Chon was a Journal reporter in Baghdad according
to her WSJ Blogs from
2009. (Chon's 42
blog posts. Her last Baghdad report appears to be December 14, 2009.)
During this period Murdoch's British newspapers were deep into hacking telephones
and emails of a wide range of personal and political targets.
appear to have been no reports connecting A
report on June 13, 20121 mentions a possible link of the McGurk-Chon
with the Murdoch newspapers' hacking policy, and a swipe by
Simon on June 17, 20122. Still, the full revelation of the
British hacking was slow in coming, with a prolonged campaign of denial.
Lax communications systems security in Iraq is established by the McGurk-Chon
emails but it is not clear if systems were hacked, and if so, by whom. Chon
wrote in an email that she had several roommates in Baghdad, some of them
unidentified journalists. It is likely that additional emails will surface.
1 "Dow Jones is a News Corporation company. Yes, the same News Corp owned
by media mogul Rupert Murdoch that's involved in the largest news paper
phone-hacking scandals in Britain's history."
2 "But getting rid of Chon may have been a little harsh considering her reporting
was not affected. She could have been suspended for a time, instead. Though
I can see why the owner of The Wall Street Journal would insist on extreme
dignity, absolute propriety and utter decorum. He's Rupert Murdoch, after
Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you
can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White
the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White
Director for Iraq
National Security Council
| April 10,
Good afternoon. Thanks for you interest in the situation in Iraq and our
ongoing strategy for success. I see a number of questions have already come
in, so lets get started.
Bryan, from Doughty writes:
I always hear our president and vice-president speaking about the "strategy'
in Iraq, but I don't ever hear any details. What is our strategy?
Bryan, the President in November released the 35-page
Strategy for Victory in Iraq. If you read this document and I
strongly encourage you to read the whole thing you will understand
all that your government is doing to achieve a lasting victory in Iraq. As
the document explains in detail, we are helping the Iraqi people build a
new Iraq with a constitutional, representative government that respects civil
rights and has security forces sufficient to maintain domestic order and
keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. To achieve this end,
we are pursuing an integrated strategy along three tracks political,
economic, and security which together incorporate the efforts of the
Iraqi government, the Coalition, cooperative countries in the region, the
international community, and the United Nations.
Each of the three tracks is vital to success, and gains or losses in one
area, affect our efforts in other areas. Along the political track, we are
working to forge a broadly supported national compact for democratic governance
by (a) isolating the enemies of a democratic Iraq by expanding participation
and demonstrating to all Iraqis that they have a stake in the process; (b)
engaging those outside the process and inviting them in; and (c) building
stable, pluralistic, and effective national institutions that can protect
the rights of all Iraqis. Along the economic track, we are helping the Iraqis
establish the foundations for a sound economy by (a) restoring Iraqs
neglected infrastructure, (b) reforming Iraqs economy, which has been
shaped by decades of war and dictatorship, and (c) building the capacity
of Iraqi institutions to deliver essential services to all parts of the country.
And along the security track, we are working to develop the Iraqis
capacity to secure their country while also carrying out a campaign to defeat
the insurgency. To achieve this objective, we are helping the Iraqis (a)
clear areas of insurgent control, (b) hold those areas with an adequate Coalition
and Iraqi security force presence, and (c) build security forces and the
capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law,
and nurture civil society at the local level.
Any strategy of course is just that, a strategy. Implementation requires
resources, tactical decisions, and what we call lines of action
to effect meaningful change on the ground. And here at the NSC we work everyday
to ensure that our strategy is advancing along each of the three tracks and
that our military and civilian teams in country have the resources they need
to succeed. The final ten pages or so of the National Strategy addresses
implementation measures and describes the 8 strategic pillars
that outline how the United States is organized as a government to win the
war. Each of these pillars has an inter-agency working group that meets every
week and is linked up with teams in Iraq to constantly assess the situation
there. When it is determined that tactical refinements are needed to advance
the mission, we make them. Below the strategic pillars and lines of action
discussed in this unclassified document, of course, are scores of classified
missions that are ongoing constantly.
This is a long answer to your very short question. But I think it is essential
for us to correct the false impression that the United States lacks a strategy
for winning the war in Iraq. You can also read on the State Departments
website the details on how the United States is working to ensure that our
people in the field have all the resources they need to ensure success along
all three strategic tracks (political, economic, security).
Daniel, from Harrisburg,Pennsylvania writes:
Exactly what progress is being made in Iraq?
Daniel, There is a great deal of progress everyday in Iraq. There is also
a great deal left to do. And there are setbacks and course corrections as
in any war. As the President said today, "[w]e have learned from our mistakes,
and adjusted our approach to meet the changing circumstances on the ground
and the actions of the enemy." By following a clear and flexible strategy,
we are seeing real progress in the critical long-term trend areas: expansion
of the political process; further isolation of Zarqawi and his cohorts; more
and more volunteers for the Iraqi Security Forces and the steady, impressive
performance of those forces. You can get a sense of this "bigger picture"
in the many reports provided to Congress by the State Department and Defense
Department, both individually and jointly. These reports are comprehensive
and you should read them. All are accessible online. The most recent is the
1227 Report which State provided to Congress last week.
Let me discuss political progress, because that is the hot topic right now.
The news at the moment is the Iraqi prime minister contest and when the new
government will finally be formed. The President has been very clear: the
Iraqi people have risked their lives to vote and it is now time for the elected
leaders to form a government. Our Ambassador is working with the Iraqis every
day to ensure this is done as soon as possible. The current situation is
indeed difficult and tense. But does it show lack of progress?
Absolutely not. The amount of political progress over the past six to eight
months has been remarkable and something most critics said could never happen.
As late as last fall there was a real question whether Sunnis would participate
in the political process at all. And even if they did participate there was
a real question whether they would accept an electoral result that showed
Sunnis to be a minority in Iraq (many Sunnis, thanks to the decades of
dictatorship under Saddam, do not believe they are a minority). Throughout
2005, we worked intensely diplomatically and militarily to
create the conditions that led to the huge Sunni turnout in the December
elections. The next step was ensuring the Sunnis and all other groups
accepted the result as free and fair.
That is what happened for about six weeks after the December 15 vote. The
Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) released preliminary results
shortly before the New Year. Between then and early February, the IECI and
an independent panel of Iraqi judges reviewed scores of challenges to those
results. The Iraqis followed a process set forth in their electoral laws
to ensure that all challenges were fully reviewed and adjudicated. This was
tedious and took time but it was also required under Iraqi law and
helped ensure full confidence in the outcome. The United Nations also played
an important role and helped facilitate visits to Iraq by an international
advisory team to review the vote tallying and complaint adjudication process.
This team, which included representatives from the Arab League and the EU,
found the Iraqi electoral process to meet international standards
a finding that helped encourage all Iraqi leaders to come together and accept
It was not until February 10th that an independent panel of Iraqi judges
dismissed final challenges to the vote and formally certified the results.
Only then did government formation talks begin in earnest. And since then,
elected leaders from all constituencies have been negotiating to form a national
unity government. Although they have yet to agree on the prime minister and
other top posts, they will soon do so, and those leaders will have the consent
of all major constituencies in Iraq. The Iraqis have already agreed to the
basic elements of a unity government, including a 32-point unity government
platform, which the President discussed in his remarks today. This is significant
In sum, while the day-to-day coverage on the prime minister contest may suggest
a lack of progress on the political front, projecting outward and looking
at the full picture shows remarkable and sustained progress over the course
of many months.
Jason, from Oklahoma writes:
I am an adult student working on my B.S. Degree in Criminal Justice, An
instructor of mine has a different view of the War in Iraq and I wonder if
you would be willing to shed some light on a very long disscussion that we
have been having? He says "As of yet I must admit that I have seen no great
improvement in life in Iraq for the average citizen. The internal strife
seems to be going on as always. Saddam is gone but the issues of the region
remain." I reminded him that the Iraqi people are now free to vote and free
of oppression as well as many other topics...yet he contends that there has
been little improvement.
Thanks Jason. Look at what the Iraqis themselves are saying. A recent poll
of economic attitudes found the Iraqi people (and the Afghan people,
incidentally) among the most optimistic in the world when it comes to their
economic future. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4641396.stm Another
poll conducted by the BBC and ABC News found that 71% of Iraqis described
the quality of their lives as very good or quite good.
Take opinion polls with a grain of salt, but these results serve as a corrective
to the dominant images most Americans see of Iraq.
The best indicator of Iraqi attitudes is the increasing participation in
the political process. If your professor doubts that Iraqis want to live
in a free democracy, consider the three elections that took place last year.
In January, roughly 8.5 million Iraqis voted for a transitional government.
In October, roughly 9.8 million Iraqis voted in a nationwide constitutional
referendum. And in December, nearly 12 million Iraqis -- almost 75% of eligible
voters nationwide voted for a new government under the new Iraqi
constitution. That turnout is higher than any American presidential election
since 1896. I dont know if your professor has ever been to Iraq or
spoken with Iraqis who lived under Saddam Hussein. But this massive expression
of a universal right after three decades of a horrific tyranny is truly
remarkable and should end any debate on whether the Iraqis want to live in
a free democracy. The overwhelming mass of the Iraqi people surely do
and they have defied terrorist threats and suicide bombers to let the world
know it. It is now up to the international community -- and all free nations
-- to stand with them as they take on the difficult work of building democratic
institutions and the structures of effective governance.
Your professor says "Saddam is gone but the issues of the region remain."
Surely he has a longer view of history than that. In the years after World
War II many were asking whether we won a war to create an even more dangerous
and unpredictable world. Communism was on a global march and within five
years we were in another conflict on the Korean peninsula. What did we do?
In the face of uncertainty, the United States set out on an extraordinarily
bold course of action: we would pacify a militaristic Japan and Germany,
make them our allies, and integrate them into a peaceful, international economic
structure, while standing up to an expansionist Soviet Union and containing
its rise until it ultimately collapsed from within. Simple . . . right? Surely
not from the perspective of the late 1940s, when leaders like George Kennan
and Harry Truman had to make the tough decisions that ultimately led to a
The President has explained his vision for winning the war on terror: expanding
the opportunities of freedom and democracy to the greater Middle East which
for generations has fueled the radicalism that spawned transitional terrorism
and ultimately led to 9/11. Iraq is now the central front in this war, and
its development as a decent, responsible, democracy, as difficult as it may
seem at the present moment, will open new possibilities for hundreds of millions
in this vital region. The stakes could not be higher and we must not
lose our will based on the grind of the daily news cycle or a snapshot of
current events. You can read more about the Presidents global vision
Security Strategy. Print an extra copy for your professor.
Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:
How is the progress of the Iraqi Army? Is the Iraqi Army able to plan and
carry out the majority of it's missions now?
Jeff, there are now more than 250,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces
and we are projected to reach the end-state of more than 325,000 members
in December of this year. Over the past five months, Iraqi Security Forces
and Coalition Forces have conducted more than 8,300 company-level and above
operations averaging more than 65 operations a day across Iraq to
keep constant pressure on the insurgency. Nearly 30 percent of these are
independent Iraqi Security Force operations. For more information on the
training and progress of the Iraqi Security Forces, you should read the
Department of Defense's recent report to Congress
Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq.
As this report explains in great detail, we are holding the Iraqi forces
to a very high standard. There has been some cheap talk in the commentary
about the number of units at "Level 1" a number that has fluctuated
from three battalions to zero battalions in recent months. But it is rarely
noted that a Level 1 unit is a unit that requires no Coalition assistance
whatsoever (meaning no assistance with logistical capacity, ministerial support,
intelligence structures, command and control, and so on). Some NATO units
could not meet this standard when deployed with our forces in a war zone.
The critical achievement mark for an Iraqi unit is Level 2
meaning the Iraqi unit is "in the lead" and capable of controlling their
own areas of responsibility. When an Iraqi unit can control its own area
of responsibility, Coalition units can focus elsewhere, such as hunting down
high level terrorists like Zarqawi. There are now 62 Iraqi Army and Special
Operations battalions "in the lead" and this number continues to grow. As
the President noted in his speech today, Iraqi units have assumed primary
responsibility for more than 30,000 square miles of Iraq an increase
of roughly 20,000 square miles since the beginning of the year.
Numbers of course do not tell the real story. Brave Iraqis are volunteering
everyday to serve their country and many have given their lives in the battle
for a free Iraq. They are our allies in this fight serving along side
our own troops and we need to support them as they develop, mature,
and begin to take the fight to the enemy on their own.
Roger, from Hagaman, New York writes:
Why is it President Bush can't send a message to the Iraqi People. They who
the bad guys are. They want a free country. Turn in the bad guys.
No message from the President is required, Roger. The Iraqis are already
turning in the bad guys. Actionable intelligence tips received from Iraqis
increased from around 300 a month one year ago, to roughly 4,000 a month
today. These tips are a sign of both increasing confidence and trust in the
Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces as well as the universal disgust of an
enemy that has increasingly turned its attacks on innocent Iraqi civilians.
Iraqi citizens are helping us decimate even the most deeply rooted terrorist
networks. In the city of Mosul, Coalition Forces, in cooperation with Iraqi
Security Forces and local residents helped eradicate one of Zarqawis
most notorious cells. This past week, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq
(CCCI) sentenced Mohammed Khalaf Shakara (also known as Abu Talha) to death
under the Iraqi penal code for planning, coordinating, and conducting deadly
attacks against Iraqi citizens in Mosul and Baghdad. When he was captured
nine months ago, Talha was known as the Emir of Mosul and had been
Zarqawis most trusted agent in all of Iraq. Now he is on death row
in an Iraqi jail cell.
There are many other stories like this. A few weeks ago, the CCCI sentenced
to life imprisonment five terrorists who were arrested holding the Australian
hostage Doug Wood. That rescue operation was the result of tips by Iraqi
civilians and solid intelligence work by Iraqi and Coalition Forces. The
leader of this terrorist cell, Chiad Al Jeboury, was tied directly to Zarqawi.
He will now spend the rest of his life in an Iraqi prison. In the past week,
we confirmed the capture of one of Iraq's most wanted terrorist leaders
Abu Ayman. Ayman was the prime suspect in several high profile kidnappings
and executions as well as some of the most lethal bombings on Iraqi citizens
and security forces since the fall of Saddam. He will soon face justice in
an Iraqi court.
These are not ordinary criminals most are terrorists with global ambitious
that directly threaten our own national security. To those who argue the
Iraqi people support the terrorist we are fighting look at what the
terrorist are doing in Iraq. Do they move freely and control Iraqi towns
with consent of the townspeople? No. They rule with ruthless intimidation:
killing patients in local hospitals, beheading hostages, killing young children
and then booby trapping the body to kill a father who comes to claim his
slain son. One American officer involved in the recent operations around
Tal Afar was quoted in the press, saying: "I know people at home will roll
their eyes, but [we] cleansed this place of something genuinely evil." That
is true. This is a heroic and noble fight. And the Iraqi people are on our
morris, from brooklyn writes:
Hi Brett,I have always wondered why the Administration never thought of dividing
iraq into three distinct states. One for the sunnis, one for the Kurds, and
one for the Shiites.
Morris, the United States is committed to the vision for Iraq's future
established in UN Security Council Resolution 1546. (One of a series of unanimous
Security Council Resolutions enacted since the fall of Saddam.) Resolution
1546 directs the international community to support the Iraqis as they build
a new Iraq that is "federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified." This
is another way of saying an Iraq that is united within an institutional framework
that allows a rich mix of cultures, religions, and ethnicities to live together
in a free and prosperous state. The Iraqis themselves in their new constitution
endorsed this same approach and I am aware of no Iraqi leader over the past
three years who has favored anything radically different.
Note that the Iraqi constitution permits a number of different arrangements
for Iraqi federalism and it will be up to the new parliament to fill in the
details. This will take time but the Iraqi constitution establishes procedures
for resolving all of the questions related to federalism in Iraq. Some have
said the constitution is inadequate because it fails to definitively decide
the precise division of power between the central government in Baghdad,
provincial governments, and regional governments (provinces bound together
as semi-autonomous units). If you are familiar with American federalism,
however, you will know that we are still debating the precise division of
authority between the states and the federal government more than two centuries
after our constitution was ratified. The Supreme Court every few years seems
to issue an important decision in this area the scope of Congressional
power under the Commerce Clause, for example. We have a 220-year head start
on the Iraqis so some patience is warranted as the Iraqis work to
define their own institutional arrangements.
Marja, from Finland writes:
Hello Mr. McGurk Ive tried to participate to "ask the white house" earlier
too, mostly to the Iraq-related subjects, but I havent "got my question in"
yet. So Ill try once again.
How do you see the progress in Iraq, mainly considering the hopes of getting
an active independent Iraqi regime at work there? I know there has been
discussing of this already but I would still like to ask this: It seems that
it might be almost impossible for the different (Iraqi) tribes to work together
in peace and for peace. theyve been the opposites for so long and it feels
like there is way too much "bad blood" between them. So Id like to know whats
your opinion; are they able to put the differences and the violent past behind
them and work together creatively to make things better for the whole nation?
Thank you Marja
Congratulations, Marja! Your question popped up on my screen and is being
answered! Thank you for your interest. Finland has assisted the in Iraq's
reconstruction by pledging more than $6.5 million for reconstruction programs
and forgiving 80% of Saddam-era debt owed to Finland. Such contributions
make a real difference and are helping to open new possibilities in the Middle
East, which in turn will make all free nations more secure. As the President
said today, the success of a free Iraq is in the interest of all free nations
and none can afford to sit on the sidelines.
To your question, and whether the Iraqis can come together and heal their
divisions: again, the answer requires projecting outward from day-to-day
events and looking at Iraq in historical perspective. One of my favorite
books on American History is a biography of our great Chief Justice John
Marshall. Marshall fought in the revolutionary war and suffered badly. But
after winning the war, he found a country hopelessly and violently divided.
He then dedicated his life to establish institutions that would help forge
a sense of nationhood. Marshall understood that any democracy at its core
required well-designed institutions led by individuals with consent of the
governed. And overtime, such institutions, led by such individuals, could
bridge divisions and move even the most fractious society forward.
There is no direct analogy to the American and Iraqi experience, obviously.
But what you are seeing in Iraq at this very moment are elected leaders from
all areas of the country debating and horse trading through an institutional
framework set forth in Iraqs national constitution. This is something
that is completely new and cannot be taken for granted. No political party
or electoral list enjoys an absolutely majority in the new 275-member parliament
and the constitution requires a 2/3 consensus (186 votes) for key appointments.
This ensures that all groups have a say in who governs them but it
also requires that all sides make compromises to make the system work. Sunnis
and Kurds need to recognize that the Shi'a won the most seats in the new
parliament, and the Shia need to recognize that they cannot govern
effectively without support from all major lists. Discussions are continuous
and ongoing and bargains are being struck. The Iraqis will meet this challenge,
as they have met every challenge put before them since the fall of Saddam.
The important point is to see Iraq in its full context: see where it has
been and where it is going; understand why some are so violently opposed
to a free Iraq; and support the Iraqi people in this difficult but noble
undertaking. Your question was asked about Germany, Japan, India, South Africa,
and many other fledgling democracies at various points in modern history.
As these countries have shown, the imperative of human dignity can transcend
all cultures and all nations. The Iraqi people want and deserve to live in
freedom. They want and deserve to replace the alienation of Saddams
tyranny with the hope and optimism that stems from democracy and the chance
to shape one's own future. The framework is in place for them to do so
but we need to be patient.
Aaron, from Portland, OR writes:
Hi I am 14 and just had a question for you about the current war in Iraq.
How do you plan to beat the insurgency since it is an idea and not an army?
Also, how will i recieve my answer from this?
Thanks, Aaron. This is a very sophisticated question. Have you considered
a career in journalism? You actually hit on one the major weaknesses in the
Iraqi insurgency: the lack of any positive vision for the Iraqi people. The
disparate elements of the insurgency are united by the same operational goal:
to convince the Iraqi public through acts of terrorism, intimidation, and
coercion, that a democratic government cannot function and will soon be abandoned
by a Coalition that lacks the will to win. Their strategy, in short, is to
intimidate, terrorize, and tear down a strategy with short-term
advantages, because it is easier to tear down than to build up. But this
strategy is not sustainable in the long term because it is rejected by the
overwhelming mass of the Iraqi population. The way to defeat this insurgency
is by sticking to our three-track strategy and opening new avenues for the
Iraqi people politically by ensuring the right to choose their own
leaders and hold them accountable; economically by restoring ruined
infrastructure and opening up a static economy; and security-wise through
the development of effective Iraqi forces answerable to legitimate institutions
and bound by the rule of law. This is a long-term effort but we have the
right strategy and the right people in place to ensure success.
We are also of course working to overcome the sectarian divisions that the
insurgency is seeking to foment. The formation of a national unity government
will be a major step in overcoming these divisions. But there will be work
to do even after the new government is formed. As the President discussed
in his recent speeches, Saddam ruled Iraq for almost three decades by dividing
Iraqis and instilling fear and distrust between all communities the
insurgency is now playing on these fears and trying to spark widespread violence.
They have failed thus far thanks to the steady leadership of Iraqi politicians
and religions figures. We will be working over the coming year to help the
Iraqis stand up effective government institutions that will allow alliances
to emerge over time based on issues rather than sect or identify. This cannot
happen overnight, however.
Christine, from Minnesota writes:
How much longer will the American troops have to stay in Iraq and when will
the Iraq people select who they want to be their leader?
Christine, I'll tackle your second question first "when will the Iraqi
people select who they want to be their leader?" I addressed this a bit in
response to Marja from Finland. The Iraqi people have chosen a 275 member
parliament, and these elected representatives (mainly the leaders of the
four or five largest electoral blocs) need to come together and agree on
the top leadership posts. They have already put in place the structures and
program for a national unity government.
But Iraqis voted in the millions for a new government and we expect those
bestowed with the peoples trust to work day and night until a government
is sworn in. This is what Iraq's leaders are doing now. The United Iraqi
Coalition (the main Shi'a list) met throughout the day today to discuss the
Prime Minister issue. Our position is very clear: we want a prime minister
who can meet the constitutional requirements and form a national unity
government. But it is up to the Iraqis to decide who that individual will
be. The leader to emerge from this process will have the consent of all major
lists, which is precisely what the constitution was designed to ensure.
Ambassador Khalilzad has said he is hopeful that the prime minister issue
will be resolved in the coming days.
On how long American troops will stay in Iraq: as the President has said
repeatedly and consistently -- as long as our commanders in the field say
they are needed. Our strategy in Iraq is "conditions based" and that means
it is based on the conditions in Iraq. Period.
To implement a conditions-based strategy, we are constantly adjusting our
posture and approaches as conditions evolve and Iraqi capabilities grow.
You can get a sense of how these assessments are made and what we hope to
achieve in the coming year with respect to our military posture in the
Victory Strategy document (at page 12), the
State Departments recent 1227 Report (19-20), and
Defense Departments 9010 Report (at pages
Robert, from Norfolk, VA writes:
At what point in the post-Iraq war era did the administration fully realize
that our coalition forces were not just fighting remnents of Sadam's former
organizations and Baath's elements, but a panoply of insurgents rising from
within Iraq, itself and from outside the country? Could you name some of
these entities and your understanding of why they are in Iraq fighting us?
I cannot address precisely when we got a bead on the diffuse nature of the
enemy in Iraq but we have certainly had one since I arrived at NSC. You should
start at the National Victory Strategy which sets forth the three man components
of the enemy and what we must do to defeat each one. The President also discussed
this in a series of speeches in December. I can provide a brief overview
The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists, and terrorists
affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida. Rejectionists are the largest
group. They are largely Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from
Saddams Iraq to a democratically governed state. From our experience
in Iraq, however, we judge that many in this group will support a democratic
Iraq provided that the federal government protects the legitimate interests
of all communities. Saddamists harbor dreams of reestablishing a
Baathist dictatorship and play a leading role in fomenting the sectarian
strife you see on the evening news. This group will never support a democratic
Iraq but we assess that they can be marginalized and ultimately defeated
by the Iraqi Security Forces. Terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al
Qaida are the smallest enemy group but they are the most lethal and pose
the most immediate threat to a peaceful and secure Iraq. They are responsible
for the most dramatic atrocities which kill the most people and they openly
espouse the extreme goals of Osama Bin Laden. This group cannot be won over
and must be defeated killed or captured through sustained
Our three-track strategy (political, economic, security) is designed to defeat
each enemy element and we are seeing real results in particular with
respect to isolation of the terrorist element from the larger pool of
rejectionists. The intelligence tips mentioned earlier are one indication
of this success, as is the massive Sunni Arab turnout in the most recent
election. Regional and Arab League support for Sunni participation in the
political process is also helping to drive a wedge between Sunnis who desire
political participation and those who reject the political process. Sunni
Arabs in overwhelming numbers are rejecting the terrorist vision for
David, from Clearwater, Florida writes:
What is being done about the private militias in Iraq which are battling
each other and undoubtedly threatening the progress of forming a government?
The long-term solution to the militia issue is an inclusive, democratic political
process that brings in all legitimate elements of the Iraqi population. The
Iraqi government needs to demonstrate that it can and will protect Iraqis
from terrorists and criminals alike. I can assure you that your entire government
from the President on down is engaged daily in this government formation
effort. On militias in particular, Secretary Rice recently reiterated that
the state must have a monopoly on power in Iraq armed groups outside
legitimate government structures are not acceptable. A positive sign is that
the Iraqis fully understand this problem and they are setting in place the
mechanisms that will address it in a comprehensive way. The Iraqi constitution
makes clear that militias are illegal and the new government platform pledges
to demobilize militias as one of its principal goals. These are big steps
forward. The Coalition Provisional Authority also established a legal framework
for the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of militias into a
legitimate security framework, and Iraq's newly elected leaders have pledged
to follow its dictates. I think you will see progress on militias once the
permanent Iraqi government is up and running. The temporary nature of the
post-Saddam governments (whether the coalition authority, the Iraqi interim
government, or the Iraqi transitional government) have made permanent solutions
difficult to implement.
Brian, from Mont writes:
How do you view Iraq's current constitution? I remember that in order to
garner enough votes, promises where made to leave sticking points open to
further amendments. Given the current political stalemate, is it reasonable
to expect an amendment process or are the Iraqis stuck with what was widely
viewed as a flawed document?
Brian, I must take exception to your characterization of the Iraqi constitution.
I have debated this issue quite a bit and found that most of the criticisms
are themselves flawed or based on misunderstandings. Take any issue
federalism, religion, oil revenues, de-bathification and the
constitution provides a process for resolution that should help secure the
buy-in of all major groups. Is the constitution perfect? No. But neither
is our own. As I noted above, we are still interpreting the precise meaning
of our constitution, which was ratified in 1787. You can't hold the Iraqis
to a different standard. What is important is that the constitution puts
in place institutional mechanisms that will allow Iraq's elected leaders
to resolve the most difficult issues facing their new democracy through an
organized, legitimate, and non-violent process. One interesting shift we
have seen in recent months is Sunni leaders who vehemently opposed the
constitution now appearing on Arab networks discussing their "constitutional
rights" in the government formation process. There is something in the
constitution for all communities in Iraq and this is how it should
On constitutional review, what we hope to see over the next year is work
toward a real national compact, as the Iraqis begin to tackle the issues
mentioned above. This can be done through a constitutional review process
or it can be done through the legislative process, because the constitution
requires roughly 50 pieces of legislation to fully implement its many provisions.
The Iraqis will need to make this decision and determine which process (or
a combination of the two) is best of them. It is entirely up to them. The
United Nations has a team of experts on the ground to assist with some of
these issues, and it will be an important topic to watch as the year
Jonathan, from Concord, NH writes:
Hi Brett, I have always wanted to make a difference in the world. I am single,
recently graduated from college and I am in the position to offer my efforts
to help rebuild a place in such need as Iraq or Afghanistan. Unfortunately
I am only able to find positions available to current military or non-military
federal workers. Is there any resource or contact that I could utilize as
a civilian to find contract work overseas?
Jonathan, Yours is one of a number of questions asking what fellow citizens
can do to help with the effort in Iraq. I know the feeling. I was in private
practice when the opportunity arose to travel to Iraq and work with the Coalition
Provisional Authority. It was not an easy decision and was especially hard
on loved ones. But serving in Iraq was one of the most challenging and rewarding
experiences of my life. I am still inspired everyday by the Iraqis I got
to know who are struggling so bravely to secure a new democracy after so
many years of pain and terror. I am also inspired by the American soldiers
I met who are serving their country and risking their lives to bring freedom
to millions and make America and the world safer for future generations.
I would recommend starting at the
State Department's Iraq page. This should provide some contacts
for you to pursue and I am sure we can help match your talents to current
needs. The Iraqi Reconstruction and Management Office (IRMO) is also looking
for motivated private citizens to join the mission. You can find information
If you do choose to serve, you will be making a difference in one of the
most important issues of our time and youll work with remarkable
people. I wish you all the best.
For the many others who have written to ask how they can support our troops
overseas, the best resource is
There is a link to the left that directs you to the thousands of ways to
show your support for our people in the field.
Marcus, from Princeton, New Jersey writes:
What, if anything, are we doing to educate women about newfound rights and
important roles in a democratic Iraq that were previously unavailable to
Marcus, we are doing a great deal to promote women's rights in Iraq and to
ensure that the rights enshrined in Iraq's constitution have meaning in fact.
The plight of women under Saddam's Iraq was horrific. As the State Department
has documented, Women were routinely subject to rape, beheading, and torture
by Saddam's secret police.
Today, approximately 25% of Iraq's new parliament is made of women members
-- fulfilling a constitutional mandate, and making the proportion of women
in Iraq's new parliament among the largest in the world. There are real
challenges ahead, such as the elimination of private militias that purport
to enforce religious law through illegal courts. Our Provincial Reconstruction
Team initiatives and institutional capacity building programs are dedicated
to overcoming these challenges and ensuring that the Iraqi government lives
up to its own obligations under international law and its national constitution.
Thank you for your very good questions. I hope this discussion has shed light
on the situation in Iraq from a broader perspective than you usually see.
There is so much more to say and I wish I had time to answer additional
questions. Perhaps I can join you again in a future session. Brett
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| May 22,
Hello again, this time from Baghdad. I have been here for a couple weeks
and on Saturday witnessed the first full and peaceful transition of power
from one elected government to another in the history of this remarkable
country. There is still a great deal to do, but a promising new chapter has
opened in Iraq. I am happy to take your questions about all that is happening.
Charles, from Winter Park, FL writes:
What is the state of the Iraqi media? Are Iraqis reading newspapers written
by and watching television programs produced by their fellow citizens?
A good question to start with. I am doing this chat from the Public Affairs
section of the U.S. Embassy here in Baghdad. In front of me is a wall of
television screens tuned to Iraqi and regional television stations. The Iraqi
stations are extremely well produced. (Perhaps C-SPAN could play a few of
its shows, Americans would get a very different picture of Iraq.)
On Iraqiya and Al Sharqiya, two of the leading Iraqi channels, you would
see "talking head" interview shows with leading Iraqi politicians facing
tough questioning from interviewers. That is no big deal in many countries
but it is a sea change in this part of the world. I have also noticed that
televisions in Iraqi government buildings and the offices of political leaders
are now tuned to Iraqi channels. This is much different from when I was last
here in the fall of 2004 when televisions were tuned mostly to Al Jazeera
or other regional satellite channels.
In total, since Saddam was removed from power three years ago (remember Baghdad
Bob?), over 100 radio and TV stations have been licensed and nearly 200
newspapers are available. Al Iraqiya actually has a program in which a woman
anchor highlights and reads different stories from the many newspapers available
Even with this progress, however, we must recognize that editors, writers,
and distributors face significant danger here, including abduction and
assassination. A popular television journalist for Al Arabiya was recently
kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists. I sometimes ask those who
oppose the mission here to think for a minute and to think seriously about
what is at stake.
The press story is a good example: on one side are brave Iraqis learning
and plying a new trade, pursuing the universal values of free speech and
expression in what three years ago was among the darkest corners on earth.
On the other side are terrorists and murderers targeting journalists for
reporting the truth or expressing an opinion.
Some say the struggle here has a taint of moral ambiguity. That could not
be more wrong.
Anthony, from Tempe, Arizona writes:
How many mass graves have been found since we have liberated Iraq from their
horrendous dictator? More importantly, how many estimated bodies were found
in those graves, and how many of those bodies do you estimate deserved their
Further, answering as objectively as possible, would you say the people of
Iraq are better off, worse off, or the same, without Saddam (the Butcher
The forensic teams here at the Embassy estimate that there are approximately
180 mass graves in Iraq. Some range over large areas and have contained tens
of thousands of women and children (refugees with all of their clothes in
bags, or wearing multiple layers of clothing). No accurate account is possible,
but the best estimate is that up to 300,000 victims are buried in mass graves
around the country. Some will never be fully excavated because the local
populace has simply dug up their relatives or erected makeshift memorials
over the sites that bar further excavation.
A friend working with the Iraqi tribunal now trying Saddam relayed a story
from a recent visit to a mass grave site. What struck him the most, aside
from the stench, and the shock of seeing people lined in a ditch, comprised
mainly of women holding children in a cowering position (to protect them
from automatic gunfire), was a man who had just been told the remains of
his wife and two children had been found. Rather than crying or screaming,
the man started to hug everyone around the sight and thanked the Americans
present for making the moment possible. We cannot hope to understand what
this man had endured, but we know that he can now pay his closest loved ones
We also know that he can see justice being done to those responsible for
his loss. I went to see Saddam Hussein on trial last week. Americans are
not getting a full sense of what this trial is like. Saddam's rants are an
irrelevant sideshow. Everyday, in hours of dry and tedious testimony, the
case against him has been building and victims are having their say.
Saddam Hussein is in the dock: a defendant on trial, facing charges under
Iraqi law. The day I was there, the panel of Iraqi judges formally read charges
against Saddam for ordering a massacre in the town of Al-Dujayl. This was
a significant moment in the case because it demonstrated that the evidence
met the standards for conviction and sentencing. Saddam protested that he
remains the President of Iraq. The chief judge said, no, you are a defendant.
Saddam sat down and was quiet for the rest of the day.
Joel, from Superior, WI writes:
Mr. McGurk, Do you think that the new Iraqi prime minister is going to be
able to better stop the violence in Iraq, compared to the previous prime
The violence in Iraq will not disappear overnight. But Prime Minister Maliki
has a number of elements in his favor that were not available to the previous,
transitional governments. Let me discuss three of them:
First, this is a true unity government that represents all Iraqi
communities. This removes a major (albeit false) pretext for violence that
has existed until now; namely, the perceived lack of space in the new Iraq
for its Sunni Arab community.
The new speaker of parliament, Mahmoud Mashhadani, is a tough talking Sunni
hard-liner who shortly after taking office went on national television to
call on all Iraqis to put down arms and stop fighting. He explained that
Iraq is now being governed under a "common vision" and differences must be
resolved through the political process. These may seem like mere words to
some, but they are not words we were hearing as of even six months ago.
On Saturday, during the swearing in ceremony, Mashhadani graciously congratulated
Maliki and the new cabinet and then went one-by-one to shake hands with each
of the new ministers. This was a powerfully symbolic gesture. And considering
that only six months ago it was unclear whether Sunnis would ever truly
participate in the political process, it was a testament to our strategy,
which has sought to create the conditions for the Sunni Arab community to
accept and then fully join a democratic political process.
Second, the Prime Minister clearly understands the situation and what
needs to be done. He explained during a press conference yesterday: "We believe
that facing [the security challenge] won't only be with the use of force
-- we're going to use a lot of force in facing terrorists and killers that
are killing Iraqis everyday -- but we have, in addition to the use of force,
we have to have reconciliation, national reconciliation, an initiative of
reconciliation, and to bridge the differences and to build confidence between
all different parts of Iraqi society."
These are not mere words. We have heard few Shi'a Arab leaders speaking this
way until now, speaking about reconciliation and bridging divides. This is
understandable. There has been tremendous fear and mistrust in this country,
fostered by three decades of rule by Saddam Hussein and a history of violent
betrayals, often at the expense of Shi'a Arabs. Iraq's Shi'a leaders deserve
a great deal of credit for the steady leadership they have shown since the
fall of Saddam Hussein, in the face of horrendous atrocities. We have stood
with them, the Kurds have stood with them, and now the Sunni Arabs are vocally
standing with them as well.
Maliki understands that true reconciliation will require give and take from
all sides and Shi'a leaders must act decisively to rein in party militias,
which the Iraqi constitution declares illegal. In short, with all communities
inside the political process, the fundamentals are now in place to establish
a true and lasting peace in this country. This will take time, patience,
and tremendous effort from all sides, but we are here to assist, as is the
United Nations, the Arab League, and other international partners and
Third, Iraq now has a full-term government (empowered to rule for
up to 4 years) that will be able to focus on core issues and implement long-term
solutions. The Iraqi Interim Government, led by Iyad Allawi, was focused
on setting the conditions for Iraq's first nationwide election in January
2005. The Iraqi Transitional Government, led by Ibrahim Ja'afari, was focused
on drafting and approving a new constitution in a national referendum. This
government is focused on governing and meeting the many challenges that now
Maliki understands this, and he is emerging as a determined, focused, and
hard-nosed leader. I have seen this with my own eyes. He is focused initially
on the fundamental issues of security and services. This is the right approach.
On Thursday, he will be meeting with his national security team to review
a plan for increasing security in Baghdad, which the terrorists have made
their focal point. We are prepared to help him meet these challenges. The
Iraqis of course must themselves rise up to defeat the terrorists and secure
their infrastructure. But thus far we are very impressed with this new team.
I have not mentioned the growth and sophistication of the Iraqi Security
Forces, which now number more than 263,000 trained and equipped. I described
the training of the Iraqi forces in more detail in my last chat here on
the White House on April 10.
This is a real success story that is paying dividends everyday. One example
I heard about last week: A Coalition patrol was attacked on Tuesday in a
drive-by shooting in the al Mansour district of Baghdad. The attackers fled
and were seen taking shelter inside a mosque. Iraqi soldiers took the lead,
surrounded the mosque, negotiated with the Imam, conducted a thorough search,
and detained eleven males hiding inside. The Iraqi soldiers discovered a
large weapons cache, including bomb-making materials, a machine gun, a sniper
rifle, and explosives. Local leaders thanked the Iraqi soldiers and confirmed
that the mosque sustained no damage or disrespect.
This is one small example of the work being done everyday by Iraqi forces
-- work that demands local knowledge and sensitivities. Prime Minister Maliki
will have these forces at his disposal to work in cooperation with us as
he takes on the truly irredeemable elements of the insurgency.
Rod, from California writes:
What are we doing to locate, and neutalize AL Ziqawi, and the other foreign
arabs in Iraq ?
The first step in neutralizing Zarqawi is expanding the political process
to include the Sunni Arab community. Zarqawi understands the danger of this
expansion which is why he threatened anyone who participates in the process
(including women, children, and the elderly) with death. Zarqawi has lost
this fight. Badly. Sunnis are now fully invested in the political process,
and the result is an ever increasing number of tips leading to the capture
and death of Zarqawi cohorts.
I spoke about the different elements of the insurgency in my last Ask the
White House chat and I noted the importance of tips as a leading indicator
in the Iraqi public's disgust with those elements, the terrorists and Saddamists
in particular. During my short stay here in Baghdad I've seen the results
of this up close.
Two weeks into this month, we are on track to meet or exceed the number of
regional and national tips received in April -- the highest on record. Since
January of this year, the Baghdad Joint Coordination Center (a combined effort
of Iraqi and Coalition Forces) has fielded 6,657 tips -- an average of 51
per day. Sixty-nine percent of these tips were effective, meaning the action
taken as a result of the tip provided a tangible result to Coalition and
Iraqi forces. Last week, for the second week in a row, a tip hotline set
up by the Iraqi Police received more than 400 calls. Last week's total was
the highest total it has ever received and 99 percent were actionable.
This in short is how an insurgency is defeated: expand the political process,
drive wedges into insurgent fault lines, gather intelligence, and empower
security forces to destroy insurgent networks from within. This is hard,
tedious, work -- with results that are not apparent overnight.
My counterinsurgency friends sometimes discuss the "3 P's" of counterinsurgency:
presence, patience, and persistence. The middle one may be the most difficult.
But from the ground here in Iraq I can report impressive strides against
the nucleus of the insurgency and it is only a matter of time before the
Iraqis bring Zarqawi to justice for his crimes. Maliki is pulling no punches.
He has pledged to bring maximum force against Zarqawi and we are here to
help. With patience and persistence, Rod, the job will be done.
Anthony, from Albuquerque, NM writes:
How does the government evaluate the success of its programs? What measures
for progress in Iraq do you use and trust? What as a citizen can I use as
a gauge of progress? Casualties? Police trained? Elections held? What
quantitative indicators will mean the job is done? Every indicator seems
to be subjective and I cannot discern the trends in Iraq progress from the
media or govt. press statements. Right now my main personal indicator is
the number of friends doing repeat military tours overseas.
We track scores of indicators to track our progress here on the ground. You
can get a good sense of this by reading the many reports put out by the State
and Defense Departments. See for example the
Departments 9010 Report and the
Departments recent 1227 Report. DoD will be coming out with an
updated 9010 report in the coming weeks. I would also recommend reading our
Victory Strategy document which contains more detail and links to additional
sources for your review.
Curtis, from Boston writes:
Brett,We saw great news this weekend out of Iraq about the unity government
being formed; only proving the critics wrong that a functioning, agreeable
democracy is possible in Iraq. Like I tell those that think we should leave
and pull all the troops out now, "Rome wasn't built in a day, great things
Roughly three years since the war began, we have accomplished quite a bit
in a rather short amount of time compared to other major postwar rebuilding
efforts (like Europe and Korea). My question is, given the good news this
weekend; do you think that Iraq has turned the corner and that it will deal
a significant blow to those opposing freedom and democracy in Iraq?
Of course, Iraq will not have turned a corner until the government proves
it can meet the needs of the Iraqi people. This will take time. But as I
explained above, the fundamentals are in place, and as Ambassador Khalilzad
explained over the weekend -- with all communities now inside the political
process -- Iraq strategically is heading in the right direction. There is
no question about this. We have opened a new and promising chapter here.
I have seen some commentary dismiss what happened this weekend by pointing
to elections and other benchmarks and then saying nothing has really changed
on the ground. Let me explain why that is wrong. I was here in the spring
of 2004 when the Iraqi Governing Council enacted an interim constitution,
the Transitional Administrative Law. I was also here later that year when
the Coalition Provisional Authority dissolved and the Iraqi Interim Government
formally took power. And I was here when the Iraqis began to prepare for
the first round of national elections in January 2005. Those were important
and hopeful moments but they were only the building blocks to what is now
getting underway. The interim constitution set in place a roadmap -- elections,
drafting a constitution, holding a national referendum, and then holding
national elections under the constitution -- that some dismissed as unrealistic
for Iraq. Iraq will never be able to hold national elections. The Sunnis
will never accept a democratic system of governance. The Kurds will never
fully support a unified Iraq. This was conventional wisdom at the time and
we and the Iraqis had to prove that conventional wisdom wrong.
Each benchmark -- from the interim constitution, through elections, to the
constitution, to the constitutional referendum, and then the December elections
-- was carefully designed to build momentum for the political process, to
isolate the terrorists, and to bring all communities together to chart a
common path forward. That has now happened. The new Iraqi parliament is vocal,
balanced, and diverse, with 275 elected members (including 75 women) from
all parts of the country, representing all communities. That parliament on
Saturday approved a 34-point unity government program, which pledges to the
Iraqi people that the government will work together to tackle the primary
challenges facing Iraq. These include the issues of security, militias,
electricity, in addition to protecting womens rights and "rejecting
autocracy, dictatorship, sectarianism, and racism in all its forms." This
is a revolutionary document for this country and the people have the power
to hold their government to account if it fails to deliver.
In sum, I do not want to say Iraq has yet turned a corner but it has reached
an unprecedented moment of opportunity and promise. We and the international
community need to stand behind the Iraqi people as they work in the coming
weeks and months to consolidate their democratic gains and develop the
institutions and traditions of free governance that will endure here for
Ryan, from Chicago writes:
How is this new government that was recently formed, different from the interim
governments that were in place after June of 2004? What is different now
as opposed to before?
Thanks, Ryan. I think my previous answers address your question. What is
most important is that this government is empowered to serve a full four-year
term under a permanent constitution. This changes the focus and seriousness
of the reform efforts that are underway and allows the Iraqis to implement
lasting, long-term solutions. The government also enjoys the support of all
major communities in Iraq -- nearly 85% of the parliament is formally a part
of the unity government announced on Saturday. Iraq has never seen anything
like this before (nor have many countries in this region, I might add).
Earlier today I attended a joint press conference with Prime Minister Tony
Blair and Iraqs new Prime Minister Maliki. The two prime ministers
put out a joint 3-page statement that should be available on the internet
later today. It is worth reading. One important element this full-term government
should have in its favor is enhanced international cooperation and support.
Tony Blair explained in the press conference, for example, that the full-term
nature of this government should facilitate Iraqs integration into
the global economy and acceptance as a full member of the international
community. The joint statement discussed a new compact with the
international community, with a key role for the United Nations and the World
Bank. This compact will widen the circle of countries that support
Iraq and offer Iraq an opportunity to apply targeted assistance to critical
areas of need. Iraq in return will become more attractive for long term
investment by implementing necessary economic reforms, practicing budget
discipline, and fighting corruption, among other measures. The United States
is prepared to fully support such initiatives -- one of many that give meaning
and substance to the new chapter that has opened
Samantha, from Indianapoils, Indiana writes:
Although lots of time has passed since the war started, it seems as if the
same events are being replayed over and over again. I was just wondering
if we have a stratagie or if the us military is just flying by the seat of
their pants at this point? As a marines wife it would be so nice to knwo
that you are doing everything you can to bring all of our men and women home
safe and sound.
Samantha, I want to assure you that everyone involved in this effort -- from
the President on down -- is doing everything he or she can to ensure a lasting
victory in Iraq and to bring your husband home safely. The President is fully
engaged everyday on what is happening here and we have often adjusted our
strategy to adapt to the changing conditions on the ground. I tried to explain
in my earlier answers how what is happening now is far different than the
other benchmarks you may be referencing in your question.
It is sometimes hard to see how daily news -- of what our military is doing,
for example -- fits into a larger picture. But every action is coordinated
along the three tracks of our strategy (security, political, and economic).
The Marines late last summer and into the fall, for example, carried out
a series of operations along the Syrian border and in towns within the Euphrates
River Valley. Those operations at the time may have seen as isolated events
but they were creating the conditions for a massive Sunni turnout in the
December elections which in turn led to the formation this past weekend of
a unity government. These towns at the time were in the grip of terrorists
who were beheading anyone who opposed their rule, or sought to participate
in the political process. By December, the terrorists had been cleared out,
and people stood in line for hours to exercise their right to vote for the
first time in their lives. The result was a balanced parliament, full Sunni
participation in a constitutional government, and the further isolation of
Zarqawi and anyone who still supports him. Look at the voter turnout in Anbar
province. In January 2005, it was 2%. In December 2005, it was above 75%.
This would not have happened without your husband and his fellow Marines.
Your husband, Samantha, is the part of something huge and important. Ambassador
Khalilzad said this morning that this is the defining challenge of
our time in the same way that the Soviet Union was the defining challenge
of the previous period. The stakes here are enormous for Iraq, for
the region, and for the world. I cannot begin to know how difficult it must
be for you at home. But you should be very proud. I wish you all the best.
And I wish your husband a successful mission and a safe journey
Venus, from China writes:
What's your perception of the leadership of the new unity government in Iraq?
Venus, My impression from the ground is that the top posts of this new government
are filled with strong, tough, and determined leaders. They are authentic
leaders who can speak for their communities. And they are focused on addressing
the many challenges now facing Iraq. Ambassador Khalilzad is quite impressed,
for example, with the way Prime Minister Maliki handled these difficult weeks
of cabinet formation. Maliki was at the table the entire time, negotiating
and compromising with the leaders of other political blocs. The President
has also been impressed in his initial phone conversations with the Prime
Minister. There is some ways to go, obviously, but the government is off
to a very good start and there are good people in place to deliver real results
for the Iraqi people.
I mentioned Speaker Mashhadani earlier. This is an individual who is new
to the political process and has no experience running any large institution,
let alone a large and raucous body like the Iraqi parliament. He had some
missteps in the initial parliament sessions. But I saw him in action on Saturday
and was quite impressed. With the eyes of the world on his assembly, Mashhadani
proved to be a very effective leader, calling members to order and moving
the agenda steadily forward. It was an impressive performance and bodes well
for the future of this important institution.
The Iraqi parliament will play a vital role in the next four years. It needs
to enact critical pieces of legislation and it enjoys strong oversight power
under the Iraqi constitution to ensure ministries and other institutions
are acting within their lawful authorities. I have spent only a few days
this week in the parliament building and I can assure you that this independent
branch of the Iraqi government will not be afraid to assert itself! The
parliamentarians I have met (men and women) are devoted to the principles
of democracy and many have risked their lives to prove it. Nor are they are
afraid to tell you what they think. Iraqis are naturally animated, vibrant,
and vocal; they now have a political system that gives these expressions
form and substance.
R.D., from Furman University writes:
Is it true that the head positions of interior, defense, and the national
security advisor have yet to be filled in Iraq? Does this concern you?
We would have liked to have seen these positions filled as of Saturday. But
we are not concerned about the slight delay. Remember that Prime Minister
Maliki has put some very demanding conditions on who can fill these posts.
They must be unifiers; they have to be non-partisan without sectarian loyalties;
they cannot have ties to any militia; and they have to be broadly accepted
by all the major lists in parliament. These individuals must enjoy broad
support among the Iraqi people to build confidence in the Iraqi Security
Force among all communities. It is important that Maliki gets this done right
rather than done immediately. So if they need a few more days, and Maliki
has said another week, to find the right people for these important jobs,
I dont think it is all that important. Remember that these ministers
may serve for up to four years.
That is unfortunately all the time I have this evening. Thank you again for
all your questions. I tried to select a representative sample and address
them in detail. I hope I offered a sense of what we are seeing here on the
ground during this historic week.
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| July 27,
Hello again. We just finished a series of meetings between Prime Minister
Maliki, President Bush, and other top U.S. officials. I'm happy to talk about
the visit as well as other issues pertaining to Iraq. So let's get started.
Janet, from Vermont writes:
Thank you for taking the time to answer questions from ordinary people like
me. I was wondering why Prime Minister Maliki chose this time, when the people
of Baghdad are experiencing a high level of violence and many, many deaths,
to leave Iraq and visit the U.S.?
Janet, during the Presidents visit to Baghdad six weeks ago (June 13,
2006), the Prime Minister set forth his agenda and explained specifically
what he planned to do to improve the economic and security situation in his
The President offered ways in which the United States is prepared to help.
Appropriate and effective U.S. assistance was also the topic of the Camp
David meetings the President hosted with his national security team and cabinet
members before flying to Baghdad. You can review the
sheet that we released after those meetings to get a sense of where we
are directive our efforts, and how the entire U.S. government is working
to support the mission.
Since the Presidents visit, the Prime Minister has announced a series
of initiatives, including his Reconciliation and National Dialogue Plan and
an ambitious and far-reaching economic agenda. Both leaders thought this
would be an appropriate time for more face-to-face discussions on the progress
that is being made, the principal challenges ahead, and how the United States
and Iraq can work together to overcome them.
The purpose of the meeting, therefore, was for the two leaders to roll up
their sleeves, assess what is working and is not working, and review the
tactical adjustments being made. And this is precisely what happened. The
President and the Prime Minister met for a closed one-on-one session for
70 minutes. Nobody else was in the Oval Office just the President,
the Prime Minister, and a translator. The session had been scheduled for
30 minutes, but both leaders chose to spend the additional time alone, in
what was clearly a detailed discussion about the way forward. The President
and Prime Minister were then joined by an expanded group, including the Iraqi
Ministers of Trade, Oil, Electricity, Human Rights, and the Foreign Minister.
The ministers discussed the work of their ministries, the progress that is
being made, and the challenges ahead.
These discussions are summarized in a
sheet released after the visit. A fact sheet, however, cannot fully capture
what is most important: that these are two leaders who recognize the tremendous
challenges before them, are resolute and committed to overcoming them, and
have pledged to work together to do so.
It was clear from a lunch held in the Old Family Dining Room that the President
and the Prime Minister have developed a strong, personal relationship. They
are deadly serious about what needs to be accomplished, and able to discuss
the multi-dimensional nature of the issues in depth and with candor. This
is precisely the sort of relationship one would want them to have at this
historical moment. So, the visit was important for strengthening this personal
working relationship and ensuring that we are making the right tactical
adjustments together to improve the situation in Iraq.
On the recent violence which is primarily sectarian-driven, tit-for-tat
violence centered on Baghdad the President and Prime Minister spent
considerable time talking through the way forward, including adjustments
to the Baghdad security plan. The discussions were particularly timely and
useful in this regard.
Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Brett, Pres. Bush discussed the re-distribution of U.S. troops with more
troops being stationed in Iraq at this time. Has the insurgency grown in
numbers or in the severity of its attacks? Are the attacks Sunni against
Shiite or are they purely motivated to cause civil unrest? Thank You
Kim, there is no question that the security situation in recent months has
grown in complexity, with an increase in sectarian-driven violence. It is
important to understand, first, what is driving this increase; and second,
what we think the solution will be over the short, medium, and long term.
The drivers for the sectarian violence are twofold. First, as Ambassador
Khalilzad explained recently in his
testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
terrorists have adapted to expanding participation in the political process
by exploiting Iraq's sectarian fault lines with focused mass-casualty and
The most notable of these attacks was the bombing of the Askariya Shrine
in Samarra this past February. The destruction of this holy site greatly
impacted the psyche of Iraq's Shi'a community, and the attack has been followed
by mass casualty bombings in Shi'a areas of Iraq.
Second, some radical Shi'a and Sunni groups have recently turned on
one another, causing a further escalation of violence, particularly in and
around the capital. In his last public statement before his death, Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi condemned the Jaysh al-Mahdi, a Shi'a militia group which claims
loyalty to Moqtada al-Sadr. Zarqawi had earlier carved Jaysh al-Mahdi out
of his calls for "all out war" against Iraqi Shi'a. Shortly after this reversal
by Zarqawi, major car bombings occurred in the Sadr City area of Baghdad,
and the Jaysh al-Mahdi has responded with reprisal attacks.
The result has been a cycle of violence which is suffocating many parts of
the capital. Since Zarqawi's death, we have made strides in breaking down
the Al Qaeda network in Iraq but we have also found evidence of a
highly sophisticated terrorist operation in and around Baghdad.
The short term solution to this problem lies in adjustments to the Baghdad
security plan, and an increase in operational tempo against the death squads
(Sunni, Shi'a, and regular criminal elements) now terrorizing certain
The President and the Prime Minister discussed these adjustments and spoke
about them generally during their joint press availability. I will not get
into operational details, but generally speaking we will be repositioning
forces (Iraqi and Coalition) into Baghdad and changing the operational concept
of the security plan to focus on securing individual neighborhoods and gradually
expanding a security zone.
This will be difficult work and we will not see results overnight. But commanders
in the field believe this is the model best suited to the present environment
and they will be measuring indicators in the coming weeks and months to make
further adjustments as warranted.
You can get a sense of the operational changes particularly increasing
offense operations against death squads by reading the
transcript of a briefing Major General Caldwell gave in
Baghdad earlier this week. I recommend reading it in full and reviewing
the attached video and slides to see the heroic and noble efforts our troops
are undertaking in Baghdad. Targeted operations area also ongoing in Ramadi
which has remained a terrorists haven, but is being returned (slowly
and deliberately) to Iraqi government control.
The longer term solution to sectarian conflict requires political compromise,
and the Iraqis are working very hard in the political sphere to build an
enduring consensus on several issues (such as federalism, de-Ba'athification,
and natural revenue allocation). I recommend reviewing Ambassador Khalilzad's
Senate testimony for an more in-depth overview of these
Desiree, from Worcester, MA writes:
Dear Brett, I watched the press conference with the President and Iraqi PM
this morning. I noticed the Iraqi PM doesn't smile, didn't seem happy or
express gratitude for all the wonderful work and security our troops are
providing. He should be thanking the President for his courage and leadership
and steadfastness. I hear the Iraqi PM will be attending an event with our
troops in Virginia on Wednesday, but today was a formal press conference,
and I expected to see the Iraqi PM express his thanks to the President and
troops and be grateful. Where's his manners ? Thanks for all you do. Regards,
Your question just popped up on my screen, but I see you wrote it before
the Prime Minsters public events yesterday. I think he did everything
Let me first say a word about the Prime Minister. I traveled to Iraq shortly
before his formal nomination and I worked closely with members of his staff.
He was uniformly described as a "no-nonsense" man of action who hated
pomp. He wants to solve problems and get things done. Period. This assessment
has proven right. Perhaps you sensed this seriousness in demeanor during
the joint press conference, but you should not be left with the impression
that he does not recognize and profoundly appreciate the opportunity America
has given him and the people of Iraq.
The Prime Minister himself made this clear yesterday during his remarks to
a Joint Session of Congress and in his
to American troops during a visit to Fort Belvoir, Virgina. These remarks
have not received the attention they deserve. His message to our troops and
their families was profound and moving:
"When I stand here in front of you and I salute you, I would like to
appreciate what you have done and what you have achieved.
I appreciate your colleagues who offered their lives on the land of Iraq,
and I tell you that Iraqis will never forget these sacrifices because they
have really participated in ridding Iraq of dictatorship, one of the ugliest
regimes that the region has known. And we are happy to be partners in this
holy task of fighting terrorism and establishing democracy.
Iraq, because of what you have offered, because of what your sons have offered,
your families have offered, has now moved from dictatorship to democracy;
from oppression, torture chambers, chemical weapons, and now into a state
of freedom, liberty and partnership; from depravation and absolute poverty,
into the condition where we now are looking forward to economic prosperity,
because Iraq is a rich country, and the previous regime has wasted all the
wealth of Iraq in his adventures.
I sympathize with those who made sacrifices, and I sympathize with the families
who have lost some loved ones. And I appreciate this sacrifice and this
suffering, because I am one of the people who sacrificed and suffered in
Iraq. The previous regime had sentenced me to death, and actually has executed
67 members of my family, relatives. And I can feel the bitterness of the
loss when someone loses a dear member of his family, a son, or a spouse.
When blood mixes together in the field, aiming to achieve one goal, this
blood will help in establishing a long-lasting relationship between us. Our
relationship will stay forever."
He closed his remarks by saying "on behalf of myself and on behalf of the
Iraqi people, I would like to thank you and thank your families. I would
to appreciate your losses, your sacrifice, appreciate the bitterness of those
who have lost loved ones
. And we feel pain and sorry for every drop
of blood that falls in Iraq. But once again, we give you all the salute
we salute you and we thank you very much for all that youve offered
I often see quotes emphasized in news articles and by some politicians trying
to paint a picture of an Iraq that is not appreciative of America and all
that we are doing to help the Iraqis build a democracy after a generation
of tyranny and terror. It is true that opinion in Iraq is mixed as
it is in any free society. But I would take the Prime Minister here at his
word. He represents perhaps the broadest political coalition of any democracy,
and he is expressing the sentiment of the vast majority of Iraqis.
The Prime Minister is also staking out his ground as a strong Muslim leader
in the war on terrorism. In his address to Congress he eloquently quoted
the Koran to shame those who falsely claim a pretext of Islam to take innocent
life, saying: "The fact of the matter is that terrorism has no religion,
as our religion tells us that 'whoever killed a human being, except as punishment
for murder or other wicked crimes, should be looked upon as though he had
killed all mankind.'" I hope you will read his speech in full.
The Prime Minister left the United States last night to travel to Jordan
where he will confer with King Abdullah, another strong leader in this common
struggle. There was loose talk from some quarters during the early portion
of the Prime Minister's visit about his not being committed to the fight
on account of his call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. The President
and the Prime Minister discussed the Lebanon situation and they both agreed
on the urgency of alleviating humanitarian distress in Lebanon and the importance
of strengthening the Lebanese government and supporting the Lebanese people.
They did not agree about everything but world leaders rarely do. In
terms of the broader struggle agaisnt terrorism, Maliki before Congress left
no doubt on where he and his country stands:
"Wherever humankind suffers a loss at the hands of terrorists, it is
a loss of all humanity. It is your duty and our duty to defaet this terror.
Iraq is the front line in this struggle, and history will prove that the
sacrifices of Iraqis for freedom will not be in vail. Iraqis are your allies
in the war on terror."
Nicholas, from New York writes:
Director McGurk, I am constantly amazed at the progress the Iraqi people
are making on a day-to-day basis. However, could you elaborate on the kind
of progress that has been made in regards to brining Sunnis, Shites and Kurds
Nicholas, there is progress in this critical areas but much more to
do. In describing the overall situation in Iraq, Ambassador Khalilzad said
recently that Americans should be "tactically patient, but strategically
I would echo that sentiment. Iraq for the first time has a political process
that includes all major communities in Iraq. This was a result of the December
elections, and the broad turnout in all parts of the country, which has resulted
in authentic leaders from all communities coming together in Baghdad to debate
and negotiate a common path forward.
There has been a fundamental shift in particular among Sunni Arabs
who a year ago stood outside the political process and were hostile to the
United States. Sunni Arabs are now full participants in the political process,
with representation proportional to their share of the population and they
have largely come to see the Untied States as a force for good in the new
Iraq. This is a major strategic shift and it sets the foundation for all
sides to negotiate a durable and democratic compact, further isolate extremists,
and allow the central government to expand its power and influence.
Having all sides engaged, however, is obviously not enough. Politicians need
to make tough decisions and deliver, and that is what the Prime Minister
is working to do. The President and the Prime Minister discussed the Prime
Minister's national reconciliation initiative in detail. The initiative was
formally announced about a month ago, but it took its first tangible steps
only this past Saturday when Prime Minister Maliki announced the formation
of a National Council to lead the implementation effort. The National Council
is made up of 30 religious, political, tribal, and civil society leaders;
they have the respect of their communities, and they have a big challenge
ahead of them.
The need for tactical patience and strategic optimism is embodied
in this reconciliation initiative. It identifies the right issues and structures
a process for building compromises, but it will take time and patience to
implement in a manner that brings durable results. The issues to be confronted
Reforming the de-ba'athification process so that only those guilty of actual
crimes are barred from full participation in Iraqs political life.
Ensuring that Iraqi Security Forces protect the Iraqi people but also protect
their human rights and operate under the rule of law.
Pursuing some form of amnesty for Iraqis who have been opposed to the political
process, perhaps violently opposed, but now wish to join in.
Reining in militias and illegal armed groups to ensure that civilian authorities
have a monopoly on force and can further the rule of law.
The process for resolving such issues will be non-linear, and they will not
be resolved overnight. But a unity government for the first time offers Iraqis
the chance to craft a national consensus on these and other issues. We will
be working with the Iraqis in the coming months (as will the United Nations,
the Arab League, the European Community, and others) to provide support and
assistance as the reconciliation process unfolds.
Iraqis are optimistic that this process can deliver results; in a recent
poll, an overwhelming majority -- 89%, said the new unity government is extremely
important to Iraqs future. Iraq's leaders now must work diligently
to fulfill the confidence the Iraqi people have given them. Ambassador Khalilzad
and our team in Baghdad will be working with the Iraqis everyday to move
this process forward in a constructive way.
Erin, from Santa Rosa, CA writes:
Do you feel the Iraqi Dinar is ready for the international market?
Thanks, Erin. This is the first economic-related issues Ive received
and Id like to use it to broaden the discussion. On the Dinar,
specifically, the news is fairly good. Since the introduction of a unified
currency and foreign exchange auctions, Iraqs exchange rate has been
relatively stable and this has allowed the Central Bank of Iraq to better
manage inflationary pressures. Inflation is still a potential problem in
Iraq, but that the Central Bank is working closely with IMF experts to combat
The Prime Minister and the President did not discuss the Dinar specifically,
but they did discuss the Prime Ministers economic agenda. It is fair
to say that in only two months in office, we have seen a level of activity
that surpasses action taken by the previous government over an entire year.
Most economic indicators are in positive territory. Iraq has realized its
highest oil production and export levels since before the war. Electricity
hours of power jumped from 4 or 5 hours per day in Baghdad in April and May
to on average 8 hours per day in June and July. Maliki and his new Minister
of Electricity has been particular successful in improving security and repair
response times, and they discussed these efforts with the President.
On July 12, Maliki presented a far-reaching economic speech to the Council
of Representatives. The speech was one of the most reformist offered by an
Arab leader in decades and put him on record for change in key areas of the
economy. Maliki laid out his plans for new investment laws, anti-corruption
measures, restored financial relationships with Gulf States, and initiatives
to restore essential services through investment and reform. And he is following
up. Maliki has directed each cabinet member to establish a comptroller and
submit ethics and financial disclosure agreements. He has submitted an investment
law to parliament which should be enacted before the end of this month. Fuel
import liberalization laws are also pending in parliament and have been passed
by the Council of Ministers. (This is a key initiative to facilitate private
enterprise, undermine the black market, and improve the fuel supply.) The
government has kept to IMF SBA schedules by increasing non-gasoline fuel
prices on June 17, meeting an IMF benchmark.
This is in addition to Maliki reaching out to the international community
to make Iraq a reliable economic partner. He has visited Saudi Arabia, the
UAE, and Kuwiat to encourage them to invest in Iraq. And Iraq and the UN
today announced the formal launch of the International Compact with Iraq.
This Compact, jointly shared by the Government of Iraq and the Untied Nations,
with the support of the World Bank, will, over the next five years, bring
together the international community and multilateral organizations to help
Iraq implement key reforms and grow fully integrated into the international
economic community. You can read the
UN's press release about this important initiative.
We are assisting the Iraqis in the economic area. Secretary Guitierrez and
Secretary Bodman recently traveled to Baghdad to meet with their Iraqi
counterparts, and more such visits will follow in the coming weeks. These
efforts are all part of our integrated political, economic, security
strategy for success in Iraq.
We understand, of course, that the security situation must stabilize for
Iraq to truly flourish economically. There is also hard work to do on important
piece of legislation, particularly in the petroleum area. But the Prime Minister
is identifying the right priorities and moving forward with necessary reforms.
During the lunch following the Oval Office meetings, the President heard
from a number of Iraqi ministers on their ambitious agendas for increasing
investment in Iraq, reforming Iraqs massive subsidy programs, and bringing
targeted job creation opportunities to lagging areas of the country (in
particular Anbar Province where young men are prone to recruitment by terrorists
and insurgent groups). Remember that unlike the transitional governments
of the past three years, this new government may serve until 2010
so the new ministers have both short and long term strategic goals.
Vance, from Topeka, KS writes:
Mr. McGurk, Was there any discussion about a time table for gradual withdraw
of troops. I know our fine troops help train the Iraqis' so that they may
have their own security forces, but it seems like they should be close to
doing it themselves. Am I wrong in my assessment?
You raise a very good question, which gets to the heart of what we think
about everyday. We are always assessing how much the Iraqis are able to take
on we push them to do as much as possible, but failure, especially
in key strategic cities like Baghdad is not an option.
That is why we are adjusting our posture in Baghdad. Lt. General Martin Dempsey,
who is in charge of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq,
recently gave a briefing in which he spells out some of the
latest thinking on the training and transition effort.
The Iraqi Army is a real success story, but we still have challenges with
the Iraqi police and the new government in particular the new Minister
of Interior is working through those challenges with Lt. Gen. Dempsey
and Gen. Casey.
The President and the Prime Minister also discussed these challenges. The
Prime Minister understands that the only legitimate source of power, authority,
and weaponry can be the Iraqi government and security forces loyal to official
authorities. He has a strategy to make sure this is the case in Iraq and
we are working closely with him to do this. From the Demspey briefing, you
can get a fuller sense of the success and challenges in this area.
I am doing this chat today sandwiched between meetings and I am sorry
I couldn't get to all of your questions. However, I tried to pick a
representative sample. There is obviously much more to say on Prime Minister
Maliki's visit. The bottom line is that his visit allowed for serious meetings
between two determined leaders who understand the challenges ahead and are
adjusting tactics to overcome them. The Prime Minister is a strong partner
for the United States and I hope all Americans can support him as
he pursues national reconciliation and takes on the terrorists and death
squads in the coming weeks and months.