Panetta Sees Long-term U.S. Relationship With Iraq

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2011 – If the Iraqi government requests U.S. assistance beyond the Dec. 31 deadline for U.S. forces to be out of Iraq, the U.S. government will discuss with Iraqi leaders what kind of assistance is needed and how the United States could provide that help, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here yesterday.

„But the bottom line is, whether it’s diplomatic or whether it’s military, we’ve got a long-term relationship with Iraq,“ Panetta said during a presentation at the National Defense University. „We’ve invested a lot of blood in that country. And regardless of whether you agree or disagree as to how we got into it, the bottom line is that we now have, through a lot of sacrifice, established a … relatively stable democracy that’s trying to work together to lead that country.“

In his first briefing with Pentagon reporters, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today that the recent bombings in Iraq — including some suicide bombings — are deplorable, but the overall trajectory in the country is up.

Little said Panetta had a good discussion today with Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, and that the men had discussed the spate of attacks that killed at least 90 Iraqis and wounded hundreds.

„The secretary and General Austin are concerned about [the attacks],“ Little said. „The operations that the Iraqis and U.S. armed forces are conducting jointly to thwart militants and terrorists in Iraq have yielded very good results.“

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which struck Iraqi cities from Kirkuk to Baghdad to Basra. The largest loss of life was in Kut. The attacks have the earmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, officials in Baghdad said.

„When it comes to the violence, … the fact that there is some increased violence recently is … to be expected,“ Little said, noting that terror groups and militants will launch attacks to create the impression they are driving the Americans from the country, though the withdrawal is a result of a U.S.-Iraq security agreement signed in 2008.

These terrorists want to „claim credit or gain prestige“ for a withdrawal that has been planned and agreed to for three years, Little told reporters.

Meanwhile, the United States is committed to withdrawing all troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, marking the beginning of the next phase of U.S.-Iraqi relations, Little said.

„We’re heavily engaged with the Iraqis in discussing what the future partnership might be,“ he added. „The key point when it comes to Iraq is the United States has made the commitment that we will have a strategic relationship with the country beyond 2011. I don’t want to define precisely what the make-up of that relationship will be. That is an issue that is being worked.“

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