U.S. Transition in Iraq
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
MR. TONER: Good afternoon, everyone. Very pleased to introduce Near Eastern and North African Affairs Bureau Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq Michael Corbin and Defense Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Middle East Affairs Colin Kahl. They’re here to talk about the next phase in America’s relationship with Iraq and focusing on the transition from military to civilian-led partnership.
MR. CORBIN: Yes, thank you very much. My name is Michael Corbin and what I think we’ll do is I’ll introduce myself, then Colin will introduce himself, then I’ll make some opening remarks about the transition, Colin will do the same, and then we’ll be happy to field your questions.
First of all, I’m the Deputy Assistant Secretary responsible for Iraq in the Near East Asia Bureau. I have been that position since last July and my focus is Iraq and a large part is the transition. But before that, I was responsible for the political-military section in the Embassy from August of 2008 until July of 2009. So what I hope to be able to give you today is some context on how we’ve been working on this transition from a military-led, security-dominated relationship to a civilian-led, broader, more traditional bilateral relationship. So I want to try and give you some context today and hope that our answers will provide some information for you.
MR. KAHL: Great. Well, I’m Colin Kahl. I’m the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, which the Pentagon defines as the 14 countries and territories stretching from Egypt through Iran, so Iraq falls within my portfolio. In practice, that means I’m the day-to-day Pentagon policy guy overseeing the responsible drawdown in Iraq and the future of our strategic partnership with Iraq. So that’s who I am.
Prior to coming into government, I was an associate professor at Georgetown in the School of Foreign Service; I still am. I’ll go back there. My responsible drawdown back to Georgetown perfectly coincides with the end of the security agreement in Iraq. And I was also a senior fellow for Michele Flournoy’s think tank, The Center for a New American Security, before I came into government. I know some of you, but not others. So, that’s basically who I am.
I’m going to let Michael do a large amount of the talking, but after he gives his statement, I’ll have a brief statement as well that’ll talk a little bit about the security dimensions and the current security environment in Iraq. And then I hope that we’ll have lots of time for your questions.
So, thanks for coming today.
MR. CORBIN: Great. And to sort of kick it off, I met Colin for the first time in Baghdad in May of last year when he came out to – as part of one of the first teams that came to visit Iraq for this transition. And the whole purpose of this team was to look at the areas that we would need to address as we moved forward from a military to a civilian relationship. And it was a wide-ranging visit, and as I could bring the perspective of looking at what the Iraqi military was looking for, what the U.S. military had been doing, and some of the different programs that we needed to start planning for as we planned for this transition. And as the Obama Administration made clear at the beginning of the Administration, we were going to look at this in terms of a regular civilian relationship, in terms of regular budgeting processes, in terms of the programs that we can do in – and that we have done traditionally around the world.
So what I started with was – when I met Colin – was a discussion of what were the principal focuses that we should put on. And at that time, we started with a police training program, which would be led by the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau of the State Department, as we’ve done in many places around the world. And I worked for four years with INL in Venezuela. So we didn’t have a police training program, but we had a lot of similar types of civilian-led programs in Latin America.
The civilian role was going to be based on a number of factors. And one of them was the police training program, but the other was how the Embassy was going to cover the country. At the beginning of the Obama Administration, there were 144,000 U.S. soldiers and troops around Iraq. And the issue was how we were going to cover the country. And one of the first lessons that I shared with my military colleagues is that we weren’t going to do it in any similar way, because the State Department covers countries in different fashions. And the point that we quickly came to discuss is, both in terms of police training and in terms of our provincial presence, how we’re going to be around the country, we’re not going – we weren’t going to have 144,000 Foreign Service officers around the country; we were going to have targeted diplomatic outreach – diplomatic and development outreach – that we’ve done, that we do. And I’m most familiar with the Middle East, but we do in lots of difficult countries around the world.
So that was where our program started in terms of the transition planning. And the police training program, to give you one example, that visit that Colin came on followed a visit that was led by the INL Bureau and the DOD to discuss how – what the Iraqis wanted from a police training program; how did they see they see the transition from a military and a counterinsurgency effort to a more civilian-focused police training program. And they made several points: police primacy, they want police to take the lead in the cities, not the Iraqi military; they wanted more training in community-level policing; they wanted more training in skills that would apply to crime – to solving crimes and to community outreach in terms of human resources, in terms of their personnel systems, in terms of how to combat corruption within their ranks.
There was a great dialogue of give and take on how this police training program would be formed in a way that met Iraqi needs as well as U.S. needs. And for one thing, the Iraqis, in a sense of trying of to centralize things, were pushing a little bit to do things more in Baghdad than out in the provinces. And we said it’s very important that this police training program be throughout the country so that we can have it accessed and see what the lessons learned and see what the experience on the ground was from this police training program. And we went through a negotiation, there were a lot of discussions with the DOD about the existing – about the program then and on how we were going to build a program that would be an example of U.S.-Iraqi cooperation into the future. And that was an extremely important example of how we began this training process, and this was before May of last year.
What I would argue also is that our Embassy had opened, our facility, our building, and Ryan Crocker opened that in January of 2009, which was incredibly important for us in the Foreign Service and for us at the State Department, when we moved out of the Republican Palace and moved into a true diplomatic facility which was built to our standards and which was built to house our programs. All of the civilian programs except USAID were based in this new compound. This is just to underline that this transition has been ongoing for some time.
This was in January of 2009 that new compound – Ryan Crocker raised the flag on the new Embassy. We then started using that as the platform for our programs with the Iraqis. It became – that became the place where the Vice President went to receptions with Iraqi leaders. That became the place where we did meetings with the different political trends when we weren’t going out and seeing them. That became the place we did the July 4th reception. That became – the center of diplomatic engagement in Iraq was an embassy. It’s a large embassy compound, but it is an embassy compound.
In June of 2009, the first – one of the first dates in the security agreement was the withdrawal from the cities, towns, and localities. That was also part of the transition. The U.S. military moved out of Iraqi cities and we dealt with a greater civilian role and a greater cooperative role with the Iraqis in terms of our engagement. This meant that we – in Baghdad, for example, we already had our own civilian security led by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, but we coordinated more with the Iraqis on moving around the city rather than with the U.S. military. And that was true throughout the country. The PRTs that moved around with the U.S. military saw a greater engagement with local officials after that key date, the first date in the security agreement which was the withdrawal from the cities and localities in June of last year.
Our civilian engagement continued and continues today. My boss, Jeff Feltman, is in Iraq right now. The Vice President has continued to visit Iraq to show that there is an important civilian component to our interactions. And we coordinate with the military very closely on all levels of that. But we have something called the Strategic Framework Agreement, which provides – which was signed at the same time as the security agreement, which provides a framework for traditional bilateral cooperation, as we have with many of our partners and allies around the world.
This security framework agreement has a component in it for security. Right now, that security component is being discussed in the security agreement, where we have joint committees and we have working groups led by the U.S. military with the Iraqi security forces. But we envisage, as part of the Strategic Framework Agreement, security will be one of the subjects that we will discuss, as we discuss with all our partners and allies in the region.
Right now, the committees that are formed and are working include education, electricity and – economy and services. There’s a cultural committee that hasn’t met formally at the top, but has had working groups meeting. These types of committees continue to meet even after the elections and they’re an opportunity for our technocrats to get together with Iraqi technocrats and work together on an important concept in this bilateral cooperation. That is, the Iraqis need to present to us, in civilian channels, what their objectives and priorities are, and we have to be able to answer in that forum what – or in those different committees what we’re able to help them, in terms of technical assistance, according to their list of priorities. And this is a part of what we have in a number of traditional bilateral relationships around the region, and we’re just fleshing this out now as we go.
Of course, when we have a government formed, we’ll be able to move forward with the Strategic Framework Agreement, which is a subject we hear a lot about by the Iraqis. And all the different political parties to some degree are very keen on developing this political partnership with the United States. It’s a sign of our commitment, it’s a signed document, it was passed by the Council of Representatives, and it’s very important to the Iraqis.
As we draw down – and one of the important messages as we go forward is that August 31st is an end of the combat mission and a drawdown to 50,000, but it’s a transition period. The transition period isn’t starting now, but we continue to go through this transition period, and this is an opportunity for us to increase the civilian presence in all the areas that we’re working on and to work with the U.S. military as they – and they get to down to 50,000 at the end of this month, but then we re-jigger our provincial presence. And that’s important; how are we going to cover Iraq?
Well, we don’t have very many consulates around the Middle East. I was very disappointed when we closed the consulate in Alexandria in 2003. I believe that consulates are an extremely important platform for U.S. interests. We’re going to have two consulates in Iraq, and the Council of Ministers recently signed off on having two consulates – one in Basra and one in the north, in Erbil. And these consulates provide a recognized important diplomatic platform for all the types of programs that we want to do now and that we’ll want to do in the future. And consulates around the world used to be a very key element of our diplomatic presence. We’ll have two of those consulates. And obviously, one is in the Kurdish region in the north and the other is in Basra, which has enormous economic importance as the – being close to Umm Qasr, the only – Iraq’s only port, being close to the new oil fields, the ones that have been exposed in the latest oil bid rounds. So we’re going to have different interests in these consulates, but they serve as platforms for us to apply all the tools of a diplomatic presence.
Now we’re also – because of this transition from the military to civilians, we’re also going to have two embassy branch offices. These are going to be in Kirkuk and in Mosul, and this is something different. An embassy branch office is a diplomatic term that is recognized as a way diplomats can have presence, but these are going to be temporary presence, as Deputy Secretary Lew has explained. These are a three to five-year presence where we, again, will use all the tools we can in the diplomatic toolkit and in the development toolkit to reach out to Iraqis and to have an opportunity to work with them on all the elements that they face. And we chose the Kurd-Arab fault line, as we like to call it. It’s not what the Iraqis call it, but there are issues in Kirkuk and in Mosul that have not only to do with Arab-Kurd issues, but also Iraq’s minorities; the Yezidis and Christians in particular are in the Ninawa Plain area or in Ninawa Province. And we want to be able to address their issues.
The status of Kirkuk is famous as one of the issues that needs to be resolved between Kurds and Arabs. If you go to Mosul today – I spent four days in Mosul in May – it is still the place with the greatest amount of insurgency, with the greatest amount of terrorist attacks. And it’s something where there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, and that’s what our embassy branch office there is going to be focused on.
The key message of our presence – of our provincial presence, as we call it, the two consulates and the two embassy branch offices – is that we’re not going to be all over the country as the U.S. military was, because we see our mission as being different. It’s going to be in partnership with the U.S. – with the Iraqis, as the PRT program has been over these years. But the element that we’ll be – we will transition out of by October of last year, the PRTs will go away and we’ll have – we’re down to 16 this month and we’ll instead have these provincial presences that will have this – will reach out into the countryside.
The PRTs are still going to be active, and it’s very important the links and the contacts that that program and that – what I think is one of the best examples of the military’s – the U.S. military and State Department civilians working together. This will gradually wind down as we transfer as many functions as possible of those PRTs that close to the Iraqi authorities – budget execution, project design, working with their communities, some of the human resource elements that we’ve helped them with. These will be important programs that we pass to them, but we also have enormous rolodexes of who the key people are in each of these places where the 16 PRTs are and where, when we had a total of 27 and some of the EPRTs getting up to a total of 33, we’re going to build on those contacts that we have around the country so we can continue our outreach and continue to do something that will do everything possible to make sure that the sacrifices and the investment that we’ve put into Iraq over the last seven years can be converted into a traditional, civilian-led diplomatic presence that will have a security component.
I think at this point, to leave time for questions, as I’m sure you have many questions, I’m going to – as I turn it over to my colleague, Colin Kahl.
MR. KAHL: Great. Well, thank you, Michael. As Iraq undergoes its own political transition – you all know we’re on track to meet President Obama’s responsible drawdown timeline by September 1st of this year – this really marks a milestone in the changing nature of U.S. engagement in Iraq. By that date, we will have not only drawn down to a transition force of 50,000 U.S. forces on the ground, but also a change of mission from combat to stability operations.
Moreover, as Michael explained, the U.S. interagency is focused very intensely at the moment on transitioning to a civilian-led mission in Iraq. I think contrary to the perceptions of some, this transition in the nature of U.S. presence in Iraq does not imply strategic disengagement. Instead, it signals a transformation in our bilateral relationship, and in many respects an increase or a deepening of our engagement in a way that’s sustainable over the long term. I’ve traveled to Iraq in three of the four official visits by Vice President Biden and this is something that he makes a point of emphasizing, both in public and in private with Iraqi officials, is that we’re not disengaging from Iraq; our engagement will increase. It’s just the ratio of military versus civilian engagement is changing over time, as it should and as the Iraqis want it to.
At stake during this major transition, both for Iraq and the United States, is not only ensuring that stability in Iraq is enduring and that the Iraqi Government is able to meet the needs of its citizens, but also the consolidation of a long-term strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq that contributes to the region’s peace and security. Given this variety of strategic issues, I want to take a few minutes to discuss the Administration’s policy toward Iraq from a DOD perspective. I think my points will complement Michael’s nicely. My brief remarks will basically skim over the surface of some current security trends, some of the remaining political drivers in our overall approach to dealing with them in – as we continue to draw down and support this transition.
So let me say a few things about where we are on the security front. Iraq’s security situation, I think, is generally positive. The number of violent incidents in Iraq remains at its lowest levels of the war. According to USFI data, the number of security incidents and casualties – that is, Iraqi civilian casualties, Iraqi security force casualties, and U.S. casualties – for the first five months of 2010 are the lowest on record. We should expect to see periodic spikes.
In fact, now that we’re – we’ve entered Ramadan and as insurgent groups and other extremists try to create the false narrative that they somehow drove us out of Iraq, we should expect to experience periodic spikes of violence, whether that be indirect fire on our facilities, whether that be IEDs on the road, these kind of spikes. But I don’t think that should distract from the overall trend lines, which remain very positive in comparison to past years.
One of the reasons for the security trends remaining relatively – fairly positive is that al-Qaida in Iraq is weaker than ever. Over the past 90 days, Iraqi and U.S. forces have detained or killed 34 out of the top 42 al-Qaida in Iraq leaders. In fact, I think one of the things that hasn’t been noted all that much is how much pressure the Iraqis, with our support of putting on the network financially, in terms of its leadership, in terms of weapons caches. And al-Qaida itself has been transformed in Iraq over the last couple years, from an insurgent group that was capable of holding territory, to a cellular terrorist network, which is still capable of conducting high-profile attacks, but is much weaker than it was before.
We also judged that the Shia militia threat has diminished and been transformed. A big part of that is a growing desire by Shia across the political spectrum to stay engaged in the political process. Muqtada al-Sadr decision to disband – formerly disband the Jaish al-Mahdi militia sometime ago was a reflection of his desire to channel most of the activities of his organization through the political and social process. Now, his organization does maintain a small and deadly group called the Promise Day Brigades, which we can talk about if you’re interested in. It’s one of a handful of Shia militia groups which are still active in Iraq. But the overall threat to the stability of Iraq that these groups pose is nothing like it was at the height of violence in the 2005, 2006, 2007 period.
A lot of the credit to improved security goes to the growing capabilities and professionalism in the Iraqi security forces. Iraqi security forces currently number about 660,000, and that includes not just the army, navy, air force, and special operations, but also the police and federal police. Furthermore, according to a USFI polling, 80 percent of the Iraqi public is confident in the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces to protect them against threats. I think that’s also an indication. You also see large numbers of Iraqis feeling fairly confident in their local security conditions, which I think is important.
Maybe most importantly, however, I think we should take note of the fact that a viable political process now exists as the enduring framework in which key questions of the distribution of power and resources can be resolved instead of through violence. In fact, Vice President Biden likes to say that politics has broken out in Iraq. He says this a lot. And as in a lot of democracies, the political process can be heated. There can be fiery rhetoric. Certainly, it’s messy at times. But I think the commitment across the spectrum in Iraq to the political process is real, and it’s one of the best bulwarks against the return to large-scale violence in Iraq.
Violence will still sometimes challenge that process, but we don’t currently see any credible threat to overthrowing the current system, and I think that’s a huge improvement over past days. I think it’s also worth noting that the caretaker government during this lengthy period of government formation – I guess we’re about five and a half months in – has done a very good job of maintaining security and, for the most part, on essential services as well, which, again, I think in contrast to the last time that they went through his process, which was after the December 2005 elections and you had, again, another lengthy period of government formation, we see Iraq’s institutions in a much better place now to kind of maintain stability and services than they were in the early 2006 period.
Of course, there are challenges. I think as we look forward, the principal drivers of instability in Iraq, as judged by the U.S. military command in Iraq, are political in nature. Obviously, we need to get through this period of government formation. Our policy and our principles in this process have been clear. We’re pushing for a representative and inclusive government and we’re hopeful that even though we’ve entered the Ramadan season, that all the parties in Iraq are speaking with one another and that we continue to make progress toward an inclusive government. I think as we look beyond the government formation process, we’ll obviously have to be wary of those things which might contribute to Sunni recidivism or a return to the insurgency. I think falling in that category would be systematic mistreatment of the Sons of Iraq, or if Iraqiya were somehow completely shut out of the government.
The good news is we don’t judge any of those prospects as very high. I think it’s likely that Iraqiya is going to play a prominent role in the government. I think that a lot of the payment problems and some of the other grievances that the Sons of Iraq have had are being addressed, at least to a level that should ensure that large numbers of former insurgents don’t go back to their old ways.
And finally, I’d be remiss, obviously, if I didn’t talk about the potential driver of instability that is the Arab-Kurd dynamic, and Michael referenced that, but issues related to Kirkuk and other disputed areas in the north as well as management of oil and the revenues that come from that are – obviously have been points of contention for some time. Over the last year or so, USFI has worked closely with the central government in Baghdad as well as with the Kurdistan Regional Government to establish what we call the coordinated security mechanisms, which are a series of joint checkpoints, patrols, and other coordination mechanisms all along the Arab-Kurd fault line in a real effort to prevent small-level incidents from leading to a conflict between Arabs and Kurds and miscalculation. And we will continue to support the coordinated security mechanisms, or CSMs in the future, which brings me to where we are on the responsible drawdown.
As you’ll recall in February of 2009, in a speech at Camp Lejeune, the President outlined his plan for the responsible drawdown. The drawdown was specifically designed in a way that would give General Odierno the maximum amount of flexibility that he needed. It identified a point on the calendar that took into account Iraq’s political calendar for a change of mission and a reduction of 50,000 forces, so we were at about 143-, 144,000 forces when the Administration took office. As of today, we’re at 58,000, and by the end of this month, we’ll be at 50K.
The President didn’t say, “General Odierno, Thou shall get down to that 50,000 number through a stair-step or a linear process.” Instead, he allowed General Odierno to pace the drawdown in a way that took into account Iraq’s political calendar, so we had a more modest reduction in 2009. We then had a pause through the elections and for the first 60 days after the elections and the drawdown has been accelerated since then. And I think that nobody knows Iraq from a military security perspective more than General – better than General Odierno. I think by the time he leaves in the change of command at the end of this month, he will have served 55 months in Iraq, something like that. It’s an extraordinary sacrifice for his country, but General Odierno, of anybody, should be in a position to judge whether the drawdown is working out well and whether it’s consistent with continued stability. And he feels very comfortable with where we’re at.
Beyond, so from September 1st to the end of the security agreement at the end of 2011, the mission of the 50,000 transitional forces will be, really, four-fold. First, to continue to provide force protection and support to civilian agencies, including the State Department, as well as international organizations like the NATO Training Mission and the United Nations Mission in Iraq, as they continue their efforts to build the capacity and promote development in Iraq.
The second mission is to continue our efforts to train, equip, advise, and support the Iraqi security forces. Part of this effort has been a long discussion, both here in Washington and in Baghdad, about specifically what requirements the Iraqi security forces need before we depart. I’m happy to talk about that more in the question and answer in terms of their minimum essential capabilities for internal and external defense. So part of it will be getting them in the right shape for the responsible drawdown to conclude at the end of 2011. Part of this effort to support and enable them will also be to continue our support to these combined security mechanisms up in the north.
A third mission will be to continue our support to Iraqi counterterrorism efforts. And finally, the final mission of the military will be to complete the responsible drawdown in accordance with presidential guidance and in compliance with the U.S.-Iraq security agreement.
I think a lot has been made, for all the right reasons, this month of this being a formal change in the mission. I think it’s important to emphasize, however, that really, I think this is a culmination of a transition from counterinsurgency and combat operations to stability operations that’s been ongoing for a long time. And in fact, I think that the key moment was really January 1st of 2009 with the coming into force of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, which put U.S. operations in Iraq in a completely different framework, as well as the June 2009 withdrawal of the U.S. from the cities, which of course gave the Iraqi security forces lead responsibility for the cities. So, we’ve really been in the midst of this transition, so the change of mission is important, but it’s really the culmination of a transition that’s been going on for quite some time.
As we draw down, we’re transitioning important aspects of our activities to the Iraqi Government and the State Department. Michael already talked about the consulates and embassy branch offices, the police development program, there are rule-of-law programs, there are efforts to continue support to the Iraqi security forces. We currently have a $3 billion request before the Congress – $1 billion in FY ’10 supplemental and $2 billion in ISAF money for FY 2011 to support that effort. And then finally, we’ll be standing up a robust office of security cooperation, which will really be the successor organization to the training effort that’s ongoing now. And I’d be happy to talk about that in a little bit more detail as well in the question and answer.
I will conclude basically where I started, which is I think one of the common myths about this organization is that somehow, the President’s only priority in Iraq is to leave. And I think nothing could be further from the truth. I think the number-one priority of the Administration is to complete the drawdown responsibly in accordance with our commitments with Iraq under the security agreement, but also, in doing so, to lay the foundation for a long-term partnership. And the President has been clear about that. The Vice President has been clear about that. My Secretary has been clear about that. Your Secretary has been clear about that. And so it is a top priority for our Administration.
So with that, I’ll conclude and I’ll look forward to your questions.
QUESTION: Hi. Mary Beth Sheridan from The Washington Post. I’m wondering where the talks stand between State and DOD on the possibility of DOD leaving a bunch of the equipment, the helicopters, and so on, on State getting to use the LOGCAP, et cetera – all these issues that have been a subject of negotiation between the two sides.
MR. CORBIN: Well, I’ll start. I mean, this has been a, really, cooperation between DOD and State, and we’ve been discussing this for some time. We see a lot of progress and agreement on various aspects of this. We think that DOD has already made very clear that they’re going to do everything possible to help us with this transition as possible. And we’ve talked about MRAPs, we’ve talked about the LOGCAP, which is very important in terms of logistic support. These issues are just being resolved now and being finalized, but DOD is working very closely, hand-in-glove, with the State Department on how they can support in any number of areas.
QUESTION: They still haven’t been resolved?
MR. KAHL: Well, we’re getting close. I think that we’ve been – we’re basically in constant coordination about this, and DOD recognizes that the transition is challenging for both parties and we’ve really tried to bend over backwards to identify those places where we can be most helpful in facilitating the transition to State, because, after all, what’s important is accomplishing the mission. So if that means us trying to figure out creative ways to help the State Department in transitioning the mission from us to them so that we can complete the mission as a country, that’s what we’re going to try to do.
And I think on the MRAPs issue, for example, we’ve done a pretty good scrub of all of our equipment to see what equipment was excess, either to needs of our forces that will be in Iraq, the forces in Afghanistan, the needs of the forces back here, but then to see whether there were additional equipment that might be transferred to the State Department. And we’re optimistic that we’ve identified several dozen MRAPs. We’re still in final negotiations with State about the configuration of them, et cetera, so I don’t want to go into more detail than that. But that’s one area, for example, where we’ve had a very positive outcome. The LOGCAP issue is one that I’m also hopeful we’ll reach a conclusion in the somewhat near future. But we’ll – it hasn’t been made quite yet.
QUESTION: Yeah. A number of senators and congressmen wrote to the Secretary, according to press reports, urging to speed the resettlement of Iraqis who work for the U.S. troops in Iraq and to airlift those people who are in danger. Did you take action on this?
MR. CORBIN: There’s been a lot of effort taken for those Iraqis who have been working with us. It really – this was an issue – more of an issue last year, and we think we have taken a lot of steps. There’s different programs that have been taken so that those people are given priority. They have come to the United States. I’ve had a chance to go and visit and talk to them in the United States.
I would just say, generally, we’re very supportive of meeting the needs of those refugee populations that have suffered in the Iraqi context. As you know, the economy in the United States is going through enormous difficulties now. And for those refugee populations, which I’ve had a chance to go and talk to, who have come into the United States, it’s been difficult. And we’re looking for ways to support them around the country. But we are very supportive of doing our part, along with other refugee resettlement countries, in taking Iraqis who – after the various stages of violence in Iraq, there are people who have suffered enormously who qualify as refugees. Our primary goal is to get Iraqis to return. And we are partnered with the Iraqi Government on getting Iraqis to go back to help with rebuilding the country. They’ll go back at their own pace; we can’t determine it for them, but we’re working with them.
QUESTION: But they’re asking to airlift those who are in danger before the end of the month.
MR. CORBIN: I think that – and I’m not aware of which airlift you’re talking about – but last year, certainly, we were working on those Iraqis that were working with us. I think now the – as Colin talked about, the security situation and the threats against people who are working with us directly, it seems to us that we have a lot more cooperation with Iraqi security services and with others in Iraq so that there aren’t that many threats to those people who are working with us. It’s still an extremely dangerous issue, but I haven’t heard about an airlift.
QUESTION: Here. I have two quick questions on the PRT. You said that they would continue to be there, but by a different (inaudible). Could you explain that to us? And second, the United Nations has depended a great deal on your support for their movement in the conduct of their operations. How will that be affected?
MR. CORBIN: First on the PRT question, we will have 16 PRTs at the end of this month. And then we are going to be working with the Iraqis, the local authorities that they work with, the provincial councils, the governors, the others – the NGOs and others on what functions can be transferred to the Iraqis and what functions can be covered by one of the consulates or embassy branch offices, or out of our Embassy in Baghdad. We will be going down, as I said, to four presences around the country, two consulates, and two embassy branch offices. The rest of the PRTs will close. They will phase out. They’re not going to suddenly close. They’re going to be – it’s going to be in close partnership with the local authorities.
QUESTION: Will they be called something different?
MR. CORBIN: The PRTs will still be called PRTs until they close. Then they will be called either an embassy branch office or a consulate.
QUESTION: What’s the –
MR. CORBIN: And then on the UN part, one of the missions for the military, which I’ll let Colin address, is to support the UN and other international organizations who are so important to our transition in Iraq, that civilian presence. We’ve been working very closely with the UN. The U.S. military is providing a lot of support. We worked very closely with the Secretary General Special Representative Ad Melkert. And I don’t know, Colin, if you want to address anything more.
MR. KAHN: No, I think that’s exactly right. I mean, one of the primary missions beyond September 1st, as I listed, was supporting not only U.S. Government civilian agencies, but also international organizations, principally the UN and its mission in Iraq. And because USFI identifies the political drivers of instability as the things that we need to focus on the most, obviously the UN’s efforts have been indispensible in addressing Arab-Kurd issues, for example, and our – we will continue to support them on that.
Beyond 2011, I think the UN itself is reviewing what its options are. And I think – I would encourage you to go to them, but they’ll probably have to come to a set of arrangements that has some mix of UN security and local Iraqi security to provide for their movement. But much will depend on what the conditions are and what their mission set is. But I think the UN has signaled consistently that they are committed to the mission in Iraq, and so I assume they’ll figure out a way to make it work moving forward. But over the next year and a half, the U.S. military will continue to support them.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Corbin, this scenario of two consulates and two temporary offices, what extent is that less than what you were hoping for, because I had understood that, at one point, where the State Department was talking about five consulates? And I’m wondering, too, Mr. Kahl mentioned the supplemental, and if that did come through, are you envisioning any other scenario, any growth, any boost to this – two consulates and two temporary offices.
MR. CORBIN: Five consulates would be more than we have in any country, I think including the Russia – the former – which is one of the largest countries that we have. So we weren’t – that would be an enormous diplomatic visit from – presence which would be way out of our traditional types of diplomatic presence. We would have – we were trying to consider the largest possible footprint that we could in order to step in when our military colleagues withdraw. Because of the security concerns, because we have to make our predictions for security on the situation now, even with improvements we can’t make – we can’t continue to speculate into the future because we have to protect our people on the ground. Because the military won’t be providing our security, it’s extremely expensive to do this. And we’ve had to cut back or scale back on the actual presences that we have out there that our facilities, that are more like embassy branch offices, we’re going to, as any embassy does, whether it’s Yemen or Lebanon or some other difficult country or regions in the world, we’re going to reach out and have contacts with people and have programs.
We certainly had a lot of support – I spent a lot of time up on the Hill talking to Congress about this and we had a lot of support, both for our provincial presence and for the police training program as being sensible components of a civilian presence into the future to preserve the gains and the progress that Iraqis have made over the last seven years. So we have had to scale back to a certain degree what we want to do, but we believe that this presence will meet the needs and will be able to show our outreach, our diplomatic outreach, as we do in other hard countries around the world.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) from Tokyo newspaper. Both of you mentioned the situation Mosul. Don’t you have any concern about the future possible separation or independence of Kurdistan?
MR. CORBIN: As Colin said, the Vice President has said that politics is broken out in Iraq and we see the results of the elections, the coalition discussions, the animated discussions that are going on about government formation, the fact that all parties all have said that the new government should be representative and inclusive as a good sign that people are seeking compromise to work for the future of Iraq rather than divisions. And we believe the Kurds are players in these discussions and will be active in any government that’s – in the government that’s formed and will be – and that their requests and priorities will be reflected in that government. We don’t see a move – in fact, we see an improvement through these coalition discussions in the discussion of issues that each of the parties want, not a worsening of that situation.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on that, please? In your discussions with Turkey about the drawdown, are you talking about the possible Turkish military presence in the north of Iraq to ease the concerns of (inaudible) about the PKK?
MR. CORBIN: Colin, I don’t know if you have anything to say. We – our drawdown is based on our – President Obama’s plan for our presence in Iraq and we are, of course, consulting with all our regional neighbors and explaining that, but we don’t – and we do, as – we consider the PKK a terrorist organization and we do work closely with the Iraqi Government and the Turks together and the representatives of the KRG on means to combat PKK terrorism. But we --
QUESTION: Mm-hmm. What about after you leave? I mean, do you think Peshmerga is –
MR. CORBIN: Well, the first thing is we’re not leaving and this type of civilian cooperation, which is led by, for example, in this trilateral process that we have, it’s led by civilians. It’s the ministry of interior from the Turkish side, it’s the Embassy with support from USFI on our side, it’s the Kurdish minister of interior equivalent, and it’s the – it was the Iraqi minister of state for national security affairs who was running this. So this type of cooperation has got to continue and it’s important.
QUESTION: You talked about police training being a major part of what our troops are going to be doing from September 1st until the end of 2011, but we’ve always been doing policy training. What’ s going to be different now going forward?
And my second part to the question is: If the Iraqi Government is, in fact, formed and they do ask for some kind of residual force to be in place after 2011, is this something that you believe the Obama Administration would entertain?
MR. KAHL: Well, the train, equip, advise mission is part of the existing mission, which is why I said that the change of mission is not a sea change in everything that we’re doing, basically, it’s the culmination of what the focus of our activities have been. We’ve been training and advising and supporting the Iraqi security forces since the very beginning of the war, but we were also doing a lot of counterinsurgency and combat operations, many of them unilateral. And over time, that shifted. A big reason for that shift has been the growth and the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, but some of it has also been the terms and conditions of U.S.-Iraq security agreement which got rid of unilateral operations, for example, and the handover Iraq cities and towns and villages to the Iraqi security forces last June. So the training mission, in that context, is not a new mission. But the focus of our activities has shifted to a smaller subset of old missions, is maybe a way to think about it.
The police angle, though, really what we’re aiming for is the handover of the police training mission to the State Department by next fall. And the – but I think as Michael alluded to, the State Department is not going to be doing the same things that the Defense Department has been doing. The Defense Department has really been aimed at trying to build the police from the bottom up, basic training, basic equipment. And our hope is to have that complete by the time the handover goes to the State Department so that INL can focus on the higher end skill set that Michael talked about. So it’s the State Department taking over the broad police training mission but not doing the exact type of training.
QUESTION: But I thought the DynCorp police training contract was always under INL.
MR. CORBIN: INL provided contract trainers to military program for counterinsurgency training and for the type of basic training that Colin is talking about. INL was not running a community outreach program, human resources, the type of higher order police training that we are going to be transitioning into because the Iraqis want us to transition, and because their capabilities are improving to the point where we’re able to do that. This is, after all, all due to what the Iraqis have been able to do themselves.
MR. KAHL: The second question you asked about the post-2011 situation, I mean, it’s a hypothetical so I can’t comment on it because we don’t have an Iraqi Government yet. The terms of the security agreement are clear, though, right? The terms of the security agreement, where were negotiated by the last administration and the Iraqi Government are that remaining U.S. forces will depart by the end of 2011. Any revision to that would have to be initiated by an Iraqi Government. We don’t have a new Iraqi Government yet, and so it’s – and so if we have a new Iraqi Government and they come to us with a specific set of requests – I don’t think we can answer that question.
QUESTION: Can either of you gentlemen speak to the dollars? After the military leaves – when the military leaves and when you ramp up the diplomacy, what’s the plus/minus factor in terms of U.S. tax dollars at work?
MR. CORBIN: It’s very difficult to calculate, but clearly – and Deputy Secretary Lew has talked about something in the order of $15 billion worth of savings – the cost of having a diplomatic presence on the ground is much, much cheaper or much, much less expensive than all the military operational costs of having a combat force on the ground in Iraq. Because of the multiple missions that the military does, because of how they calculate their costs, it’s very difficult for us to put a dollar figure on it. But clearly, the civilian presence will be much cheaper in terms of cost to the taxpayer from that of the U.S. military.
MR. KAHL: But I think an important point to make is that while the civilian costs will be cheaper, the percentage of remaining costs that will need to go to the State Department will go up, okay? So for example, at the height of the war, I believe we were spending between $10 and $12 billion a month on operating expenses for U.S. military in Iraq. Okay? So when you’re talking about requests for a couple of billion dollars in this fiscal environment, those are huge numbers for the State Department. They’re huge numbers. But I think we need to keep them in context of a trillion dollar commitment there that our country has made in this endeavor and all of the sacrifices, obviously, in the 4,300 killed, the thousands wounded. The overall cost to the taxpayer will be coming down pretty dramatically over the next couple of years, but the mission is not complete yet. And that’s why we continue to go to ask the Congress for money, a higher percentage of which will need to go to the State Department. And so I think it’s – we need to keep these numbers in perspective.
MR. CORBIN: Back there, and then here, please. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about, actually, the government formation, since Ambassador Feltman is there. Have you heard anything? Some military generals we spoke to two weeks ago, they expected a government by the end of Ramadan. Is that still the case?
And on Iran, Ambassador Jim Jeffrey was clear at the Congress that Iran wants a weak and Shia-dominated Iraq. How much do you fear now that’s now that scenario? I know you’re being optimistic.
MR. CORBIN: First, on government formation, even now there’s news coming out of Iraq as the coalitions and parties negotiate in what we considered a positive development compared to the situation in 2006, the last time the government was formed in Iraq. We have a caretaker government that is fulfilling its full responsibilities. We have the parties talking about politics, talking about important issues, Iraqi proposals to address balance of powers, checks and balances, how there’s going to be power sharing, what the role of the president of the republic will be, how the Kurdish issues will be addressed in this new government. There’s a lot of politics going on. Assistant Secretary Feltman has – is in Iraq right now, and we are in a position of helping the parties in facilitating these discussions, which is – for us, is an important role that we’ll continue to play.
But it’s Iraqi proposals that are being proposed to each other and discussions that are going on and that we’re supporting this process. We can’t predict when the government will be formed. We said it would take some time. But the fact that the process is going on is a positive element.
On Iran, we can’t predict what the – or say what the Iranians seek in a government in Iraq, but we think that we support Iranian presence in Iraq as long as it supports what the Iraqis want, which is a constructive economic partnership, a trade partnership, cultural, educational. What Iraq seeks is an Iran that doesn't meddle in internal affairs as Iraq seeks to end foreign meddling and interference from all quarters. And we will work to support the Iraqi authorities on forming a government that represents Iraq’s interests, not those interests of foreign countries.
MR. KAHL: Let me say a few things about Iran. I think that General Odierno remains concerned about certain aspects of Iranian meddling in Iraq, principally the continued provision of certain kinds of lethal assistance to Shia militant groups. But I think that Iran has recognized in the last couple of years that its influence in Iraq is somewhat overstated. I think that they clearly – they tried to influence the provincial and national elections not very successfully. They tried to defeat the U.S.-Iraq security agreement not very successfully. And I think that their experience with the militias that they’ve backed is that when they’ve overplayed their hands, they’ve gotten a lot of Iraqi pushback on this.
And I think basically that’s because at the end of the day, there are kind of at least three antidotes to overwhelming Iranian influence in Iraq. The first and most important one is that the Iraqis don’t want Iran to dominate their country. Iraqi nationalism is real, it is powerful, and it’s a much more powerful force than whatever affinity might exist between Iraq and Iran.
The second is the fact that Iran wants good relations with all its neighbors, not just Iran. So it wants good relationships with Iran, but it also wants good relationships with Turkey, it wants good relationships with Saudi Arabia and others, which means that it’s not inclined to have a desire to be firmly in Iran’s camp.
And the last point that I would raise, last but not least, is the vast majority of Iraq’s political parties want a long-term partnership with the United States, which, of course, is not consistent with being dominated by Iran. So I think when you factor all of those things in together, I don’t think we’re at risk of Iraq being dominated by Iran.
MR. CORBIN: We’ll just get this question here and then you can – we’ll go back.
QUESTION: This is a question for Deputy Assistant Secretary Kahl. Iraq does not have an air force. In this period, will the U.S. be protecting air space? And then I guess related, but not really a related question, what’s your assessment right now of the Khazali network? Are they a threat to stability? Are they contained? Was it a good idea to let them out of prison?
MR. KAHL: You’re right about the air sovereignty, what the U.S. military calls the air sovereignty gap. For all the right reasons, we’ve focused on building Iraq’s ground forces to provide for internal security and be able to conduct counterinsurgency operations. We’ve also made a lot of progress in building up their air force, but largely kind of the foundation for a capable force, as opposed to one that can fully exercise and enforce Iraq’s air sovereignty. We can expect that the Iraqis will have requirements for air sovereignty that extend beyond 2011, which is one of the reasons they’ve expressed interest in purchasing a multi-role fighter to provide for their own security. All their neighbors have it, et cetera.
As it relates to AAH, the Khazali network, a lot of the details are classified, but what I can say is that AAH has been active in its reconciliation efforts with the Government of Iraq. Its leadership claims that – its desire to have their activities focused in the political arena. They’re certainly less active than they used to be, and I think that’s representative of the overall decline in the threat that so-called Iranian special groups pose in Iraq today as compared to years past.
MR. CORBIN: But there, I mean, Asaib Ahl al-Haq is an Iraqi nationalist movement that has chosen to participate, to a large degree, in the political process that’s going on. And this is being led by the Iraqi Government that has invited those who will lay their arms down to participate in the governmental process that’s going on. Now, to the extent that there’s elements within that that don’t agree, divisions, to the extent that there are splinter groups, that’s something that we can’t predict. But the general message is that people are participating in the political system and are choosing politics as a way of solving their issues rather than violence.
QUESTION: Can I get one follow-up? Mr. Kahl, can you just clarify what “provide assistance” means in the context of the, I guess, air gap, the air capability? Does that mean that there are U.S. planes hovering about?
MR. KAHL: Well, there are still – there have been for this – for the period since the war, there have been U.S. aircraft inside Iraq. There will continue to be a small number of U.S. aircraft in Iraq to help live up to our commitments under the security agreement to assist in their – and fill in that air sovereignty gap between now and the end of 2011.
QUESTION: So we’ll continue to –
MR. KHAL: There’s a small – there continue to be a small number of aircraft in Iraq that will help Iraq meet its air sovereignty needs.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Yes. Will United States have any agreement to outsource training of Iraqi security forces to a country like Egypt or Turkey, for example?
MR. CORBIN: I’m not sure I would – I like the term “outsource.” I think that we already have the international community pretty actively involved. The NATO training mission, for example, has been very positive. And I think NATO likes the mission, my sense is that the Iraqis like the mission, and I hope that that mission continues.
Egypt, Turkey, and others have expressed an interest in deepening their security cooperation with the Iraqis to include exchanges and training opportunities and things like that, and I think to the degree that the Iraqi Government finds that in its interest, we would encourage those types of connections.
QUESTION: You mean bilateral agreements between Iraqis and other countries --
MR. CORBIN: Yeah, the Iraqis --
QUESTION: -- (inaudible) role here to play?
MR. CORBIN: The Iraqis are taking the lead in discussions with their neighbors and people they choose to have relationships with. Wherever we can play a supportive role, we will certainly support the Iraqis in their efforts to build partnerships, as we have throughout the time we’ve been with – in Iraq.
QUESTION: Well, if they will go to Iran to broaden training, what’s your immediate reaction?
MR. CORBIN: As Colin said earlier, the Iraqis will want a strategy that makes them partners and allies with all their neighbors and all their friends, so I would say that they will do this in terms of their own interests, and I think that it’s very unlikely that they would do something that would cause one party to go against the other. So we don’t see that as an issue that the Iraqis will pursue. Remember, we’ll support the Iraqi efforts.
MR. TONER: We have time for just a couple more questions.
QUESTION: Excuse me, sorry (inaudible).
MR. TONER: Well asserted. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: She’s been holding up rabbit ears. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Would you tell us where the four locations as well as where they place – and the two embassies and the two consulates?
MR. CORBIN: Well, it’s one – the Embassy in Baghdad remains in central Baghdad in the international zone, and then the two consulates will be in Basra, the main city – economic city in the south, and in Irbil, the major city in the Kurdistan Regional Government in the north. And then the two embassy branch offices will be in – one in the city of Kirkuk, which is in the province of Kirkuk, and the other in the governorate of Nineveh in the city of Mosul.
QUESTION: When will those open and how many people will you have, roughly?
MR. TONER: When will they open and how many people?
MR. CORBIN: Basically, we’re looking at September, October of next year when they will be operational. And we’re still working on the staffing gaps. This is one of the issues that we’ve had is in terms of how many people we can have there, given the security concerns of us taking over fully for the security that the military has provided. Consulates are generally bigger because they’re going to be more established, and also the security situation is different in Irbil than it is in Mosul, for example, and Basra has an economic – is an economic center, so we’ll – but we can’t talk about staffing numbers yet.
QUESTION: And how about security? Do you think that security (inaudible)?
MR. CORBIN: As the State Department already does, for example, in Irbil, we have Diplomatic Security, our normal security people, working with contractors who provide security who are completely responsible for the security already in Irbil. And that will be true in the rest of the country also.
QUESTION: So private security?
MR. CORBIN: Yes.
QUESTION: I just want to follow up on the dialogue (inaudible) the Congress, because you say they’re supportive of what you’re doing, and yet they’re not giving you requests that are coming through, particularly, as you mentioned, because the State Department number is getting bigger as the military number is getting smaller. Why do you think that is if they’re supportive of the overall mission, and how are you trying to convince them otherwise?
MR. CORBIN: I wouldn't say they’re not – there were specific things that they didn’t fund in the supplemental, the FY10 supplemental, and the largest thing they didn’t fund was permanent construction of consulates because they said why are we asking for permanent construction of consulates in an emergency supplemental. They would prefer that to be funded through the regular processes that we have with the Hill to fund embassy construction, which, as you know, is a – can be a controversial subject in which the Hill pays close attention to. That was the largest by far chunk of money that they did not fund.
In general, they didn’t – they supported all of the elements of the police training program, all of the elements of our provincial presence. They had questions, as Congress does and should have, on certain aspects of the police training program. For example, when the State Department is going to run helicopters, even though we’ve done it in Latin America, they have questions about how we’re going to manage those helicopters, and that was a part of the police training program. But I’ve been up on the Hill repeatedly and we’ve gotten strong, strong support for a civilian presence in Iraq that permits the military withdrawal to take place on track and that supports the Obama Administration goal of having a partnership with a stable, self-reliant, sovereign Iraq.
MR. TONER: Last question.
QUESTION: One last thing. You mentioned briefly the comparison between the civilian-led force in Iraq is something that you’ve done in Latin America before. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
MR. CORBIN: What I was specifically talking about was a police training program, and we’ve had cooperative training programs with various countries around the world. I served in – our Latin American programs have usually been linked around counternarcotics programs. We’ve had different police training programs in other parts of the world, like the ‘Stans. I’m just saying that INL has a track record of doing civilian police training programs around the world, and some of them, like Colombia, have been large. And so that was the point that I was making there.
MR. KAHL: Thank you. Thank you very much.