Iraqi Leader Disavows Timetable Report
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - U.S. and Iraqi forces on Wednesday raided Sadr City, the stronghold of the feared Shiite militia led by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed the operation, saying he had not been consulted and insisting "that it will not be repeated."
The defiant al-Maliki also slammed the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq for saying Iraq needed to set a timetable to curb violence ravaging the country.
"I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it," al-Maliki said at a news conference.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday that al-Maliki had agreed to the plan, announced at a rare joint appearance with Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who said he would not hesitate to ask for more troops if he felt they were necessary.
2006 ambassador speeches
Transcript Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey during Joint Press Conference
October 24, 2006
:AMB. KHALILZAD Hello, everyone. George Casey and I called this press conference today to explain our strategy and plans for success in Iraq, despite the challenging environment in which we operate. Our goal is to enable Iraqis to develop a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian representative democracy after decades of tyranny.
Who is really calling the shots here. Khalilzad is holding general Casey's hand whenever there is anything to say about military decisions in Iraq. Is this really supposed to be the role of the ambassador?
Question from National Public Broadcasting
Q Mr. Ambassador and General Casey, Anne Garrels from NPR. Following on about about the militias, you talk about a timeline. To what degree at this point, though, do you hold Muqtada Sadr responsible for the actions of people saying he -- they are his militia men? We've seen in Amarah, we've seen in Diwaniyah, we've seen it in Baghdad. To what degree do you hold him responsible, even if those elements may be renegade?
And just last week, General Casey, one of your -- I mean, American units arrested -- along with Iraqis -- arrested a man based on very good intelligence, according to the U.S. was one of Sadr's aides, and Prime Minister Maliki had him immediately released. What is your response to that?
AMB. KHALILZAD: On the militias, we support the proposition that these militias have to come under control. There are death squads associated with the militias, including the Jaish al-Mahdi. Muqtada al-Sadr has said that they do not represent him, that those who carry weapons without government permission need to be dealt with and yet express support of for the government. Now, the government needs to move forward with a plan, enforce the unauthorized people not being allowed to carry weapons. The prime minister has an announcement on this issue. I think he has made it already, and the key issue is that security institutions that exist need to be capable and credible and non-authorized -- unauthorized security forces need to be brought down, whether it's the insurgents or that it's the militias, and there is a need for a program to move forward. And the government, as I said, the leaders have committed themselves to it, including Muqtada al-Sadr, from what the prime minister said, and we need to test whether that is true by moving forward on the plan.
GEN. CASEY: Going back to Sheikh Mazen for a minute, to your question, I did that at the request of the prime minister, and it had directly to do with the militia strategy that Zal was talking about and you're asking about. The prime minister was going down for his first meeting with Muqtada Sadr in some time to discuss precisely this issue.
We just happened to pick this guy up. After checking to make sure we had no information that he had anything to do with attacking coalition forces, I made the call in support of the prime minister, and my assessment was operational risk was far exceeded by potential strategic payoff
Question from CBS News
Q Lara Logan, CBS News. Ambassador Khalilzad, if I can ask you, please, has Muqtada al-Sadr actually agreed to any of the plans that you've outlined here? Has there been any direct contact between him and U.S. representatives? Because him and all of his ministers who control key ministries, like the Ministry of Health, say that they refuse still to have any direct contact with the U.S. And if that is the case, then how are we expected to believe that they will support this plan in any way?
AMB. KHALILZAD: With regard to your question on Muqtada al-Sadr, I am relying on the prime minister for what I said, which is that he has agreed to getting rid of the militias; that those who are unauthorized to carry weapons need to be dealt with; that he supports the government and the political process. And we just need to test that with implementation.
You're right that our contacts with -- we don't have direct contacts with Muqtada al-Sadr. We do interact with some of his representatives in the Assembly and beyond, but we do not have direct contacts.
And to General Casey, can I ask you, please, can we have an honest assessment of the Iraqi security forces? Because when we're on the ground with your commanders, they tell us that when they try and order up an operation and ask for the Iraqi battalion or the Iraqi brigade, they're lucky if they get 40, 50 percent of the guys who are actually there. They have soldiers and policemen who are coming in collecting their pay checks and not showing up. The special inspector general of Iraq says there is no mechanism in place, and hasn't been for three years, to determine what forces show up, what don't, what the levels of attrition are, who is actually operationally capable. So the numbers really are a lie, and we want the truth, and your soldiers on the ground want the truth out there.
GEN. CASEY: Well, the numbers aren't a lie, and the numbers are prepared by the soldiers in the field and their Iraqi counterparts on a monthly basis. And, frankly, we have pretty good resolution between the numbers we have here and the numbers that I see when I go out to the divisions in the field. Now, what's the problem? The problem is, on one part, undermanning. And the second part is the leave policy of the Iraqi armed forces that puts about a quarter of the unit on leave at any one time. We've recognized this. The Minister of Defense has put in place, several months ago, a policy that will increase the manning in Iraqi units to 110 percent, so when they take the people off for leave, there's still a credible enough force to get on -- to put in the field.
But it's not a lie, and it's something that is recognized and been addressed by our leadership and by the Iraqi leadership.
STAFF: This will be the last question.
AMB. KHALILZAD: No, please.
GEN. CASEY: We have one Iraqi question.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Yes, we will get an Iraqi question after --
Q Thanks. Ellen Knickmeyer with The Washington Post. General Casey has repeatedly said resolving the militia issue will take a military and political approach. But Prime Minister Maliki has made clear that he doesn't want any kind of U.S. military action against the militias. He said that specifically, and he's blocked you from entering Sadr City. So when the question comes to it's up to the Iraqi government to show resolve against the militias, they've already made clear that they're not going to take a tough approach like the U.S. wants. And Muqtada al-Sadr has already said that his militia is not a militia per se, and that he is not going to disband it. So, absent any kind of military force against these militias and these death squads, who are the main component of violence right now, how are you going to solve the militias?
AMB. KHALILZAD: I don't agree with your characterization. I believe that the prime minister has said to me and to George (Casey) that he believes in an integrated approach -- political, yes, that's the best approach if you can convince those that control militias to cooperate with the decommissioning, demobilization and reintegration plan. But he has said that he does not rule out the use of force. And we will see what happens. But I believe right now we are in the phase of developing a plan for how to move forward with a demobilization, and decommissioning and reintegration plan. Our people, both from the military and civilian side, are working with a team that has been designated by the prime minister to develop such a program.
And I believe that the prime minister, in order for this country to succeed, will have to do whatever is necessary to, on the one hand, increase the credibility and capability of the Iraqi forces, which he's anxious to do, and for Iraq to assume increasing responsibility, which he's anxious to do, in the security domain, but also to deal with the unauthorized military formations problem.
GEN. CASEY: Yeah. Just -- first, I don't think anybody should leave here thinking that we're not doing anything against death squads.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Right.
GEN. CASEY: We and the Iraqi security forces are actively tracking, targeting, detaining people who are operating in death squads, and their leadership, who are breaking the law.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Yeah. Right.
GEN. CASEY: And that's different than the militia issue itself.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Right.
GEN. CASEY: Secondly, what has to happen here, as we and the Iraqi government address the militias, is that the Iraqi security forces emerge from this struggle as the dominant security forces in Iraq. And I believe that that can happen, and I think it will happen. And it may happen with some -- with our support. But we'll work that with the Iraqi government.
STAFF: This is the final question.
AMB. KHALILZAD: Hurra.
(Inaudible) -- an Iraqi question. Yeah.
Q (Through interpreter.) From Al Hurra. Excellency, you have talked about a new strategy and the next phase. Do you think that the defect is in the new forces that have come about, come on the political Iraqi scene? Is it the sectarian violence or the increase in the -- one question for General Casey. You have spoken about the desire to bring additional forces for Baghdad and the hot spots. Is that -- does that mean outside -- from outside of Iraq? Is that for security? And there are -- the security reports say that they want to bomb one of the Shi'a sacred places. How are you going to respond to that?
AMB. KHALILZAD: With regard to the first question on -- which was whether the violence that we see is a result of the failure of the political leaders or political groups, I believe that there -- as George described, there are several different kinds of violence, sources of violence: terrorists, Sunni insurgents, sectarian violence, and then you get the Shi'a-on-Shi'a violence of militias in the south and the criminals and the external elements; that a part of this is particularly subject to and can be influenced by the political leadership, and that is if they come to an understanding with each other on the big political issues that divide the Iraqis. And so therefore it's their responsibility to make that national compact that I -- that we have described.
And two, there are some militias and some forces that are involved in violence, and they are influenced and controlled by the political leaders. They need to bring that under control.
Now, because of the pressure from the Iraqi people and our engagement, their own determination to succeed, they have committed themselves to a timeline for making some of those decisions that I described and the benchmarks that they have committed themselves to. And we'll work with them as closely as possible that they do meet those benchmarks.
GEN. CASEY: I think the question, I understood, is if we required more forces from -- for Baghdad, where would they come from? Is that -- was that the question? Could come from a variety of places. Could come from additional Iraqi --