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)