Mullen: Iraq, U.S. Must Discuss Future Military Relationship

BAGHDAD, Dec. 13, 2010 — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed to Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki today that now is the time for the Unit­ed States and Iraq to plan for a nor­mal, long-term mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with Mali­ki at the prime minister’s res­i­dence in down­town Bagh­dad.

Dur­ing the 20-minute meet­ing, the chair­man told reporters trav­el­ing with him, he stressed that the two nations need to build on the strate­gic frame­work agree­ment signed in 2008. The prime min­is­ter agreed that the ongo­ing rela­tion­ship between the two nations has to be dis­cussed long before the last Amer­i­can troops leave Iraq on Dec. 31, 2011.

The chair­man would not spec­u­late on what form the rela­tion­ship might take. “There will be an embassy here, there will be an Office of Defense Coop­er­a­tion, and we’ll sup­port that,” Mullen said.

No sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sions have tak­en place about what a rela­tion­ship would look like because Iraqi politi­cians have been hag­gling since the country’s March 6 elec­tions to form the new gov­ern­ment. Mali­ki now is in the midst of form­ing the gov­ern­ment and has promised that it will include all groups in the coun­try. Mullen said he ful­ly expects the Iraqis to have the new gov­ern­ment in place by the Dec. 25 con­sti­tu­tion­al dead­line.

The chair­man dis­count­ed news reports about a resid­ual U.S. force remain­ing in Iraq after 2011. He said that although he always is con­cerned about the influ­ence that neigh­bor­ing Iran has inside Iraq, he doesn’t believe the Ira­ni­ans have been effec­tive in sway­ing their neigh­bor.

“Iran is still try­ing to exert itself, [but] I haven’t seen it become ter­ri­bly effec­tive through this gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion,” he said. “There were pre­dic­tions that [the Ira­ni­ans] would dra­mat­i­cal­ly influ­ence the government’s out­come. That didn’t hap­pen. My own view is I think they over­played their hand.”

Iran and Iraq fought a bit­ter war from 1980 to 1988. The chair­man said he has secu­ri­ty con­cerns about Iran­ian influ­ence in Iraq, but also has secu­ri­ty con­cerns. How­ev­er, the devel­op­ment of the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces has allayed some of those con­cerns, he said.

“Over­all, I’m encour­aged by what I hear, by what our peo­ple tell us, what lead­ers tell us, what our troops tell us about the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces,” Mullen said. “They are pret­ty good, and they are bet­ter than a lot of peo­ple pre­dict­ed.”

The Iraqi forces are able to pro­vide the inter­nal secu­ri­ty the coun­try needs, Mullen said. “One of the longer-term ques­tions is how do they han­dle the exter­nal secu­ri­ty, and that ques­tion is out there to be answered,” he added.

About 48,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers are in Iraq. Many are work­ing with Iraqi coun­ter­parts to build the secu­ri­ty forces, includ­ing build­ing an army, the police, bor­der guards, a coast guard and an air force. At the same time the secu­ri­ty forces are train­ing, they are run­ning real world mis­sions.

Mil­lions of peo­ple are expect­ed to come to Iraq next month for a reli­gious pil­grim­age. Iraqi forces must pro­tect the pil­grims, but also must find the time to train, Mullen not­ed. “How do we lit­er­al­ly get them off watch so they can train and get bet­ter?” he asked. “There’s tremen­dous empha­sis now to get them the kind of train­ing they need to sus­tain them­selves.”

Mullen said that logis­tics and main­te­nance are among the capa­bil­i­ties that the Iraqis need to work on most. “It’s crit­i­cal and is a great area of focus,” he said. “They need to get to a cer­tain lev­el to sus­tain what they have.”

The chair­man arrived in Bagh­dad today with a USO troupe fea­tur­ing Robin Williams, Lewis Black, Kix Brooks, Lance Arm­strong, Kath­leen Madi­gan and Bob Dip­iero. While the USO per­form­ers went to vis­it troops, the chair­man went for his meet­ings with civil­ian and mil­i­tary lead­ers. Weath­er ground­ed all heli­copter move­ments, so he went down­town and back via ground trans­porta­tion. The route he took – called Route Irish when the Amer­i­cans first arrived –once was con­sid­ered too dan­ger­ous to trav­el.

The chair­man lat­er spoke to the men and women of U.S. Divi­sion Cen­ter at Camp Lib­er­ty. The divi­sion head­quar­ters is built around the 1st Armored Divi­sion, and the sol­diers are soon turn­ing over respon­si­bil­i­ty to the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Divi­sion.

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

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