Deadline Nears for Iraqi Request, Mullen Says

MOSUL, Iraq, Aug. 1, 2011 — If Iraq wants Amer­i­can forces to remain to train and assist Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces after Dec. 31, Iraqi lead­ers need to make the request soon, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

The point is we’re at a dead­line, and we need an answer,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said to reporters trav­el­ing with him.

Iraqi lead­ers under­stand their secu­ri­ty forces do not have all the capa­bil­i­ties need­ed to defend the coun­try from insur­gents or from out­side nations, Mullen said, and they need to make a deci­sion about accept­ing fur­ther help from U.S. forces. Under a secu­ri­ty agree­ment between Iraq and the Unit­ed States, all U.S. troops are to be out of the coun­try by Dec. 31.

Mullen will meet with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, and with ser­vice mem­bers with the 1st Cav­al­ry Division’s 4th Advise and Assist Brigade here. He then will trav­el to Bagh­dad, where he is sched­uled to meet with Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki and Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­ibani.

The chair­man said it has been about a year since he vis­it­ed Mosul.

I want to have dis­cus­sions about how it is going in the north,” he said aboard his plane en route here. “I get assess­ments all the time, but with the tran­si­tion, we’re mak­ing sub­stan­tial changes there on how we’re doing assist­ing and advis­ing. I’m very anx­ious to under­stand from a ground per­spec­tive what’s going on.”

More broad­ly, Mullen added, he also wants to meet the Amer­i­can lead­ers and see how engage­ment with Iraqi coun­ter­parts is going and what the future holds.

It’s pret­ty clear that we’ve said to the Iraqi lead­er­ship that now’s the time — we have to know [if they are going to request a con­tin­u­ing U.S. pres­ence],” he said. Rough­ly 48,000 U.S. per­son­nel are work­ing to train, advise and assist Iraqi army and police units. The logis­tics need­ed to get that num­ber of per­son­nel out by the dead­line along with mil­lions of pieces of equip­ment means the Iraqis need to make the deci­sion soon, the chair­man explained.

From the Amer­i­can stand­point, an Iraqi request would start nego­ti­a­tions. Any U.S. deci­sion would have to con­sid­er the secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment in the coun­try, what capa­bil­i­ties the Iraqis need and what the legal sta­tus of Amer­i­can forces would be, as well as the abil­i­ty to pro­tect U.S. ser­vice mem­bers. These con­sid­er­a­tions add to the urgency for a deci­sion.

The major issues in Iraq are polit­i­cal,” Mullen said. “They have to get togeth­er, and that doesn’t hap­pen overnight.”

June was a bad month for U.S. per­son­nel in Iraq, with 15 killed, most­ly by Iran­ian-sup­plied weapons that include road­side bombs designed to pierce armored vehi­cles and impro­vised rock­et-assist­ed muni­tions.

You’ve seen in the last three weeks a dra­mat­ic reduc­tion in attacks on U.S. per­son­nel,” Mullen said. “The key to me is that reduc­tion has to be sus­tained. There are sev­er­al pieces to this reduc­tion which include our oper­a­tions, the [Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces] oper­a­tions and oper­a­tions with them or in sup­port of them, and the polit­i­cal piece of this, which has been very strong­ly expressed. There very clear­ly have been oper­a­tions, and there are ongo­ing oper­a­tions.”

Iran remains a prob­lem for Iraqi and Amer­i­can forces in the coun­try. U.S. offi­cials traced explo­sives killing Amer­i­can forces in June direct­ly to Iran.

It’s clear from the U.S. per­spec­tive that what­ev­er Iraq’s deci­sion, there’s a com­mit­ment on the part of the Unit­ed States to a long-term com­mit­ment to sus­tain a sta­ble, grow­ing, healthy Iraq,” the chair­man said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)