Iraq Drawdown Continues as Partnership Takes Shape

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12, 2011 — With 100,000 U.S. forces already gone from from Iraq since Jan­u­ary 2009 and more to fol­low, the Defense Depart­ment is work­ing to ensure a suc­cess­ful tran­si­tion to a State Depart­ment-led U.S. pres­ence there, senior DOD offi­cials told Con­gress today.

Alexan­der Ver­sh­bow, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty affairs, and Alan F. Estevez, assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for logis­tics and materiel readi­ness, report­ed on the tran­si­tion dur­ing a House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Reform sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing.

They joined Ambas­sador Patrick Kennedy, under­sec­re­tary of state for man­age­ment, in out­lin­ing two crit­i­cal aspects of the tran­si­tion.

This involves the with­draw­al of U.S. forces by Dec. 31, in accor­dance with the 2008 U.S.-Iraq secu­ri­ty agree­ment, and the standup of the Office of Secu­ri­ty Coop­er­a­tion Iraq that will form the cor­ner­stone of the U.S.-Iraqi strate­gic secu­ri­ty part­ner­ship.

Ver­sh­bow and Estevez empha­sized in their pre­pared remarks the impor­tance that Iraq emerge from Oper­a­tion New Dawn as a sov­er­eign, sta­ble and self-reliant nation and strate­gic part­ner to the Unit­ed States.

“We believe that an endur­ing part­ner­ship with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment and peo­ple is in America’s inter­est,” they said. “At a time of unprece­dent­ed change in the Mid­dle East, we must stay focused on Iraq in order to advance our broad­er region­al objec­tives of peace, pros­per­i­ty and secu­ri­ty.”

A rela­tion­ship with the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces will be an impor­tant part of that part­ner­ship, they said.

The Iraqi polit­i­cal lead­er­ship has expressed inter­est in an ongo­ing, post-2011 train­ing rela­tion­ship with the Unit­ed States, Ver­sh­bow and Estevez report­ed.

Dis­cus­sions are under way with the Iraqi gov­ern­ment about the nature and scope of that rela­tion­ship, but “no final deci­sions have been made,” they said.

Part of the dis­cus­sion involves the Iraqi leadership’s view, stat­ed Oct. 4, that they see “no need to grant immu­ni­ty to train­ers.”

“We are talk­ing to the Iraqis about what this means specif­i­cal­ly in terms of our secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion under the strate­gic frame­work agree­ment,” Ver­sh­bow and Estevez told the pan­el.

As dis­cus­sions con­tin­ue, the Unit­ed States is hon­or­ing its com­mit­ments under the 2008 secu­ri­ty agree­ment by draw­ing down its forces in a “care­ful and respon­si­ble” way, they report­ed.

This approach “has allowed the Iraqis to build up their secu­ri­ty forces and improve their capac­i­ty,” they said.

As of Oct. 1, rough­ly 43,500 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers remain in Iraq, Ver­sh­bow and Estevez told the pan­el. That’s down from 144,000 in Jan­u­ary 2009.

Mean­while, the logis­ti­cal draw­down is on track, and in some cas­es, ahead of sched­ule, they report­ed.

A senior exec­u­tive steer­ing com­mit­tee is work­ing with the U.S. Embassy in Bagh­dad, U.S. Forces Iraq and key play­ers in Wash­ing­ton to coor­di­nate and syn­chro­nize the materiel and sup­port aspects of the tran­si­tion.

“Although there has been excel­lent progress in both draw­ing down U.S. forces in Iraq and pro­vid­ing sup­port to the Depart­ment of State, chal­lenges exist and more still needs to be done,” Ver­sh­bow and Estevez said.

“We will con­tin­ue to coor­di­nate close­ly with the State Depart­ment to address these chal­lenges and any oth­er issues that might arise over the com­ing months as we con­tin­ue to draw down forces respon­si­bly, real­lo­cate or rede­ploy equip­ment and dis­pose of mate­r­i­al appro­pri­ate­ly,” they said.

Cen­tral to all tran­si­tion plans is the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing tremen­dous U.S. invest­ments in blood and mon­ey already made in Iraq, they said.

“We are now at the point where the strate­gic div­i­dends of our sac­ri­fice are with­in reach, as long as we take the prop­er steps to con­sol­i­date them,” Ver­sh­bow and Estevez told the pan­el.

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