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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

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 October 2007 to February 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. There appear to have been no reports connecting A Digital Journal report on June 13, 20121 mentions a possible link of the McGurk-Chon emails with the Murdoch newspapers' hacking policy, and a swipe by Roger 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 all."

Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Brett McGurk

Director for Iraq
National Security Council

April 10, 2006
Brett McGurk
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 let’s 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?

Brett McGurk
Bryan, the President in November released the 35-page National 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 Iraq’s neglected infrastructure, (b) reforming Iraq’s 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 Department’s 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?

Brett McGurk
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 the results.

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 step forward.

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.

Brett McGurk
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. 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 don’t 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 lasting peace.

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 President’s global vision in the National 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?

Brett McGurk
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.

Brett McGurk
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 Zarqawi’s 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 Zarqawi’s 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 side.

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.

Brett McGurk
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

Brett McGurk
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 Iraq’s 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 Shi’a 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 Saddam’s 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?

Brett McGurk
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?

Brett McGurk
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 people’s 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 National Victory Strategy document (at page 12), the State Department’s recent 1227 Report (19-20), and the Defense Department’s 9010 Report (at pages 55-56).

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?

Brett McGurk
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 here.

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 Saddam’s 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 Ba’athist 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 counterterrorism operations.

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 Iraq.

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?

Brett McGurk
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?

Brett McGurk
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-ba’thification – 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 be.

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 unfolds.

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?

Brett McGurk
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 here:

If you do choose to serve, you will be making a difference in one of the most important issues of our time – and you’ll 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 them?

Brett McGurk
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.

Brett McGurk
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 (Takes a while to load.)
May 22, 2006
Brett McGurk
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?

Brett McGurk
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 around Baghdad.

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 fate?

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 of Baghdad)?

Brett McGurk
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 proper respect.

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 minister?

Brett McGurk
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 organizations.

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 confront Iraq.

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 Ask 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 ?

Brett McGurk
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.

Brett McGurk
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 Defense Department’s 9010 Report and the State Department’s recent 1227 Report. DoD will be coming out with an updated 9010 report in the coming weeks. I would also recommend reading our National 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 take time."

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?

Brett McGurk
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 women’s 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 generations.

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?

Brett McGurk
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 Iraq’s 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 Iraq’s 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 here.

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.

Brett McGurk
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 home.

Venus, from China writes:
What's your perception of the leadership of the new unity government in Iraq? Thank you.

Brett McGurk
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?

Brett McGurk
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 don’t think it is all that important. Remember that these ministers may serve for up to four years.

Brett McGurk
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. (Takes a while to load.)

July 27, 2006
Brett McGurk
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.?

Brett McGurk
Janet, during the President’s 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 country.

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 information 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 President’s 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 fact 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

Brett McGurk
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 highly-symbolic attacks.

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 neighborhoods.

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 efforts.

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, Desiree

Brett McGurk
Your question just popped up on my screen, but I see you wrote it before the Prime Minster’s public events yesterday. I think he did everything you recommend.

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 remarks 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 you’ve offered in Iraq."

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 together?

Brett McGurk
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 optimistic."

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 are large:

  • Reforming the de-ba'athification process so that only those guilty of actual crimes are barred from full participation in Iraq’s 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 Iraq’s 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?

Brett McGurk
Thanks, Erin. This is the first economic-related issues I’ve received – and I’d 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, Iraq’s 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 these pressures.

The Prime Minister and the President did not discuss the Dinar specifically, but they did discuss the Prime Minister’s 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 Iraq’s 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?

Brett McGurk
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.

Brett McGurk
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.

January 12, 2007
Brett McGurk
Good afternoon. The President’s address on Wednesday night marked the culmination of a comprehensive review of our Iraq strategy. I hope to offer some insight into why certain decisions were made, and certain options not pursued. There is a lot to talk about – so let’s get started.

Marcus writes:
New Mexico Rep Heather Wilson wrote to President Bush saying, "The American military should only be used to protect America's vital national interests." What is the President going to say to remind Americans that the operations in Iraq are of utmost importance to national interests?

Brett McGurk
Thanks, Marcus. We would agree with Ms. Wilson. I’ll use her statement to cut to the key question: how does our new strategy advance the fundamental national security interest of the United States? And what are the alternatives?

Everyone who has looked seriously at the Iraq situation reaches two conclusions: (1) failure would carry disastrous consequences for the United States; and (2) there is no magic formula for guaranteeing success; every option involves trade-offs and risks.

The consequences of failure are clear. As the President said: “Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven to launch attacks on the American people.”

The Baker-Hamilton Commission said precisely the same thing: “If the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, the consequences could be severe for Iraq, the United States, the region, and the world.” Their report explained that failure in Iraq could radicalize the region -- with a strengthened and hegemonic Iran on a path to producing nuclear weapons – create terrorist sanctuaries and accelerate the global al Qaeda movement.

So America must succeed in Iraq. We can all agree on this point. The question is what to do. In the course of our own strategic review process, we sought to first diagnose the core problem and then analyze different solutions. It was clear that the present course was not succeeding and that fundamental assumptions underlying our strategy had to change. (You can see some of these changed assumptions on Page 7 of the summary materials we released on Wednesday.)

A key assumption until now has been that political progress would help decrease levels of violence, strengthen the Iraqi government, and bring follow on economic and security gains. The levels of violence in 2006, however, sparked by the bombing in Samarra in February, undermined that key assumption. Without a baseline level of security, political and economic progress will not take root. And Iraqi Security Forces, though improving, need our assistance to “hold” areas cleared of terrorists and insurgents.

The most urgent priority is Baghdad. Eighty percent of Iraq’s sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capital. And the situation in Baghdad permeates outward, spurring recruitment of terrorists and extremists, and threatening the viability of Iraqi institutions, including the security institutions. Any sound strategy for success must account for the Baghdad situation – and offer a realistic plan to address it.

As the President explained on Wednesday night, our earlier efforts in Baghdad failed for two reasons: 1) there were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods, and 2) there were too many restrictions on the troops that were available. The new strategy specifically addresses these defects, and by gradually bringing more stability to the capital, Iraqi and American forces will provide breathing space for the political reconciliation process to advance – which is the key to long term success.

I noted that Senator Carl Levin during Secretary Gates’ testimony today said: “Increasing the number of U.S. forces in Iraq is a flawed strategy because it is based on a flawed premise that there is a military solution to the violence and instability in Iraq, when what is needed is a political solution among the Iraqi leaders and factions.”

We agree with Senator Levin on the bottom line point: there is no military solution in Iraq and long-term success demands political solutions. However, our experience in Iraq shows clearly that at the present levels of violence, particularly in Baghdad, Iraqi leaders naturally hedge their bets, and ordinary Iraqis look for protection from insurgents and militias. Security in Baghdad must be addressed to enable the success we all want.

Sam, from Cincinnati, OH writes:
What specifically is new about the President's plan of action, short of adding more troops? How do we know this new strategy is going to succeed?

Brett McGurk
Thanks, Sam. The strategy discussed by the President on Wednesday offers a fundamental restructuring of our engagement in Iraq. The additional resources -- military and civilian -- are needed to carry out the strategy effectively and maximize our chances for success. It is not true that "more troops" is the strategy, as some have suggested. And when one considers the strategy as a whole, as I think people will start to do, they will see how it all fits together. The changes are comprehensive, and focus primarily on changing our posture to become more flexible and decentralized with civilian and military efforts fully integrated.

On the civilian side alone, for example:

  • Civilian Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) will be included with every U.S. combat brigade.

  • Existing PRTs will be augmented and PRT leaders, together with their brigade commander counterpart, will have new resources and authorities to effect changes locally.

  • In total, we will nearly double the number of PRTs.

  • Whereas we now have 2 PRTs in Baghdad, we will soon have 6.

  • Whereas we now have 1 PRT in Anbar, we will soon have 3.

The expanded civilian and PRT initiative will serve as force multipliers to Iraqi and Coalition force – helping to improve the rule of law and provide targeted assistance to local communities. These efforts have proven to have the most success in providing space for moderates and ordinary Iraqis to make a stand, strengthening civil institutions, and growing local economies. So we are replicating them in a big way throughout the theater.

On the security side:

  • We are changing the primary security focus from transition to helping the Iraqis better secure their population (which will help facilitate an accelerated transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqis).

  • We are bolstering Iraqi forces with triple the number of Coalition embeds – and one U.S. brigade embedded with every Iraqi Army Division.

  • We and the Iraqis have agreed to significantly enhance the effectiveness and equipping of Iraqi forces, and increase the end strength of the Iraqi Army.

  • We are augmenting our efforts in Anbar to build on successes and support Iraqis willing to stand and fight al Qaeda.

  • The President has authorized an additional 4,000 U.S. Marines to Anbar; which together with Iraqi forces will provide a strategic presence from al Qaim near the Syrian border, through Ramadi, and into Baghdad - thereby closing the primary ratline for foreign fighters.

These are just some of the highlights, and I would urge you to read the summary of our strategic review (particularly pages 9-11). All of these changes build on successes and correct for failures of our past efforts– and reflect more classic counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, as encapsulated in the new COIN Manual developed by General Petraeus who has been nominated to take command of the Multi-National-Force-Iraq (MNF-I). You can access the COIN manual here:

Travis, from La Canada, CA writes:
Why does this new strategy have a better chance of succeeding than the previous one?

Brett McGurk
Thanks, Travis. As I noted just above, the new approach specifically adjusts for what has not worked in Iraq – and builds on what has. The integrated civilian-military efforts, for example, have had real successes in the areas of Mosul and Tal Afar, which you may have heard about. When I first flew into Iraq in January 2004, Mosul was described as one of the most unstable and most dangerous areas of the country. There is still a lot of work to do -- but Mosul and Tal Afar (which had been a terrorist sanctuary) are now stabilizing with civil society coming back to life and the al Qaeda networks decimated. The new strategy is designed to replicate some of these efforts in other areas. We also have new commitments from the Iraqi government to carry out necessary reforms and fulfill its promises to the Iraqi people on reconciliation initiatives. The President noted some of the key benchmarks: a new oil law so all Iraqis can share in Iraq’s natural wealth; de-Ba’athification reform, so more Iraqis can fully participate in civil society; local elections, so local leaders can be held more accountable to the people they serve; and constitutional review, so more Iraqis can feel vested in their fundamental charter. We will be looking for progress in these areas soon – particularly the oil law, which is near completion.

Some have noted that the Iraqis said they would do some of these things before, and failed to deliver. That is true. But one of the problems has been the security situation, and another has been Iraqi capacity to deliver on promises. The new strategy accounts for these issues – and focuses on building Iraqi capacity to deliver on areas that are central to success. Some say that our presence is self-defeating because it creates too much dependence and delays Iraqi self-reliance. This is partially true, although a willingness to assume responsibility means nothing in the area of capacity to carry out that responsibility (something we have seen up close in Baghdad in the past six months).

The new strategy is designed to strike the right balance between focused capacity assistance, and accelerated transition – giving the Iraqis all the tools they need to succeed. Do they need to start using those tools and deliver for their own people? Yes. The President was very clear on that the other night. It is time for decisive action in Baghdad.

john, from texas writes:
It's obvious that a military escalation will only bide time until we get our diplomatic efforts back on track. What are our traditional allies doing to help us diplomatically to resolve this situation? Is the Arab League helping us?

Brett McGurk
Thanks, John. This is a good question. Bolstering regional support for Iraq is a cornerstone of our effort -- and the new strategy includes intensified diplomatic efforts to improve the regional situation, counter Iran's and Syria's support for militant sub-state actors, including in Iraq, and to better integrate our efforts inside Iraq with a broader regional approach. Secretary Rice left today for an important visit to the region where many of these issues will be discussed. Our allies in the region overall have been helpful. Some have undertaken efforts to encourage Sunni Arabs in Iraq to abandon violence and join the political process, while the Arab League has launched a national reconciliation effort to help Iraqis of all sects and ethnicities resolve their differences. A number of our Gulf allies have participated in efforts to establish the International Compact with Iraq, and have provided important pledges of financial assistance. But there is much more work to be done. We are encouraging the Arab states who have not yet done so to send ambassadors to Baghdad and begin the work of developing full bilateral relations with Iraq. We are encouraging the wealthier Arab states to forgive Iraqi debt and support the International Compact both politically and financially. We are urging all Arab states to support Iraq moderates and help isolate extremists within Iraq and in the region. The regional dynamic has changed considerably in the past 18 months and it presents both new challenges and new opportunities for positive change.

I mentioned the International Compact, which is an important initiative that commentars often ignore. The Compact seeks to secure a new international consensus on support and engagement with Iraq over a benchmarked 5-year timeframe. Chaired by the Iraqi government and by the United Nations, it will serve a similar function as the many "contact group" proposals which have been floated for different ways forward in Iraq. The Compact recognizes that good governance and resolution of security and political challenges must be addressed at the same time as economic reforms. A priority of the Compact will be to secure additional debt relief from Iraq’s major creditors, including from the estimated $45 billion owed to Gulf Arab states. We expect the final Compact signing conference to be held in the early part of this year.

Victoria writes:
Can we review the Supplemental budget numbers for provincial reconstruction? I have 350 million for DoD provincial reconstruction teams, 114 million for State development teams and 400 million for quick response (is that State or Defense money?) any details on balancing oversight with "quick response" needs, and what will qualify for quick response funding? You've talked about increasing US embeds with Iraqi units to improve their performance--any thoughts on reverse embeds with Iraqis joining US units to accelerate training, and would that reverse structure be helpful for the provincial reconstruction teams?

Brett McGurk
Thanks, Victoria. Do you work for OMB? Some of the funds you cite are related to our PRT initaitives, and the shift to a more flexible, agile, posture throughout Iraq. The State Department will request around $400 million to support the creation of eight new PRTs, including five in Baghdad, two in Anbar and one in Salah ad Din, as well as augment personnel at existing PRTs. The expanded program will enable PRTs to provide a greater range of civilian capabilities in the provinces to support counterinsurgency operations.

State will also request funds to provide PRT leaders with authority to fund programs through targeted assistance projects that create jobs, provide services to meet community needs, and develop the capacity to govern in an effective, sustained way. These authoriteis would be similar to the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) in the Defense Department. Under CERP, brigade and battalion commanders can employ Iraqis in short-term jobs at the local level to improve education, health care, electricity, water and security. The CERP and its civilian equivalent will work in tandem to fund projects that quickly improve the quality of life of local Iraqis and provide the foundation for longer-term stability -- particularly in the most volatile areas of Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din, and Diyala.

This all sounds like dry stuff. But the changes are significant and will greatly increase our ability to work with local Iraqis and effect change where it is most needed. The strategic review process enabled the State and Defense Departments to come together with new joint programs for synchronizing the civilian and military effort; this is what is needed to prevail in any counterinsurgency type operation, and the strategy announced by the President on Wednesday marks a real advance in this area. You will be able to see the line-item breakdown when our budget is submitted to Congress on February 5th.

Daniel, from Lakeville, CT writes:
Will our troops and the Iraqi government dismantle the militias? And, what are the metrics for success in our "New Way Forward"? Thanks.

Brett McGurk
Daniel, We saw the militia issue worsen over 2006 as the security situation worsened. Without adequate security, people look to self help, and militias operating outside the rule of law fill the void. So one thing we must do is support the Iraqi government in its efforts to provide population security to its people, particularly in Baghdad. At the same time, we must work with the Iraqi government to prepare a comprehensive Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR) program -- and we have a dedicated team in Baghdad working on this issue 24/7. The Prime Minister has also been working to set the political conditions for DDR although much of this work is done behind the scenes. In the view of many outside experts with whom we spoke in the course of our review, some diminution in violence needs to precede comprehensive DDR. I tend to agree with that assessment.

On metrics, there are many -- but your primarily focus is probably Baghdad. New operations to secure Baghdad will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies will make every effort to ensure that American television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet over time, we can expect to see fewer brazen acts of terror, with perpetrators brought to justice, and more trust and cooperation from Baghdad’s residents. General Odierno, the commander who will oversee implementation of the plan in Baghdad, has said he hopes to secure these positive trends and then pull U.S. forces to the periphery of Baghdad by the end of this summer.

Brett McGurk
I'm told time is up. Please read the documents available on the website to get a better sense of the holistic nature of the strategy announced by the President this week. We welcome a public debate on its many elements and, as the President said, it is fair to hold our views up to scrutiny. But all involved in this vital debate also have a responsibility to explain how the path they propose would be more likely to succeed. I hope to join you again soon.