USA/Iraq — Mullen Calls for Long-Term Partnership with Iraqi Military

BAGHDAD, July 27, 2010 — The Unit­ed States mil­i­tary is com­mit­ted over the long-term to a pos­i­tive, pro­duc­tive part­ner­ship with Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bids farewell to Iraqi Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Qadir in Bagh­dad, Iraq, July 27, 2010. Mullen’s final stop in Iraq wraps up a 10-day trip around the world to meet with coun­ter­parts and troops engaged in the war on ter­ror­ism.
DoD pho­to by U.S. Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Chad J. McNee­ley
Click to enlarge

The U.S. mil­i­tary draw­down in Iraq is on sched­ule, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen. The draw­down, he added, will reduce the num­bers of U.S. troops in Iraq to less than 50,000 by August 31.

“I see absolute­ly noth­ing to neg­a­tive­ly impact that [draw­down],” Mullen said dur­ing a joint news con­fer­ence with Jacob Lew, deputy sec­re­tary of state for man­age­ment and bud­get. Mullen has been vis­it­ing Iraq since 2004. “I’ve seen things at their worst,” he recalled. “I remem­ber when very few peo­ple had very few hopes for a bet­ter future in Iraq. Today, that hope abounds. It’s near­ly pal­pa­ble.”

Mullen said he is stunned and pleased by the changes in Iraq, but more progress must be made. The U.S.-Iraqi rela­tion­ship will move from main­ly mil­i­tary to one based on “strong, vibrant civil­ian insti­tu­tions and lead­er­ship,” the admi­ral said.

There are just under 65,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers in Iraq today – down more than 100,000 from the height of the surge of forces in 2007. Mullen praised Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no, the com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, and his team for their man­age­ment of the draw­down.

Amer­i­can plan­ners here said they have sent much-need­ed equip­ment to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, pro­vid­ed equip­ment and materiel to Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces, and cleaned up many of the sites to U.S. envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

The U.S. mis­sion will change from Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom to Oper­a­tion New Dawn on Sep­tem­ber 1, and the Amer­i­can forces will switch total­ly to an advise and assist role, Mullen said. U.S. forces, he added, will retain the abil­i­ty to defend them­selves.

Oth­er U.S. forces will con­tin­ue to train and work with the Iraqi army and Iraqi police, Mullen said. Oth­er troops will con­tin­ue to help the Iraqis devel­op logis­tics capa­bil­i­ties for their secu­ri­ty forces, and also devel­op the Iraqi air force and navy.

“We will con­tin­ue to assist in tar­get­ed coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions where nec­es­sary,” the chair­man said. “But it is the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces that must pro­vide for the secu­ri­ty of their own peo­ple.”

Mullen believes the Iraqi secu­ri­ty appa­ra­tus is ready, and said he is pleased with their per­for­mance. Vio­lent acts have declined 50 per­cent since July of last year, Mullen said, and secu­ri­ty inci­dents are at their low­est point since 2003.

What’s more, the Iraqi secu­ri­ty force’s behav­ior dur­ing the recent nation­al elec­tions proved to the Iraq peo­ple that the mil­i­tary is apo­lit­i­cal and loy­al to the Iraqi con­sti­tu­tion. “As I have said to my own mil­i­tary, there are few attrib­ut­es more impor­tant or more vital to a democ­ra­cy than a mil­i­tary that stays out of pol­i­tics and remains sub­servient to civil­ian lead­er­ship,” Mullen said.

The elec­tion left a close­ly divid­ed leg­is­la­ture, and the Iraqi politi­cians have yet to form a new gov­ern­ment. Senior U.S. offi­cials, includ­ing Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, have told the Iraqis that it is impor­tant for them to work togeth­er to form a gov­ern­ment as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. How­ev­er, the delay in form­ing the new Iraqi gov­ern­ment will not affect the U.S. draw­down or many of the devel­op­ment pro­grams already under­way, Mullen and Lew said.

Yet, the weak­ened insur­gents still retain the abil­i­ty to launch attacks, Mullen said. He called yesterday’s attack on the head­quar­ters of al Ara­biyah tele­vi­sion net­work an attempt to muz­zle the press.

“That these crim­i­nals chose to lash out at a respon­si­ble, free and inde­pen­dent media orga­ni­za­tion, speaks vol­umes about the des­per­a­tion of their sit­u­a­tion and their motives,” Mullen said. Insur­gent attempts to squelch the Iraqi press, the admi­ral said, rep­re­sents “noth­ing more than an attempt to hold back the Iraqi peo­ple from the free exchange of ideas and greater aware­ness of the world around them. It is as futile as it is fool­ish.”

The chair­man met today with Iraqi Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­ibani, Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki and for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ayad Allawi. Mullen also met with Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Qadir and Gen. Babakir Zabari, the Iraqi mil­i­tary chief of staff.

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

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