How Are U.S. Forces Preparing For Withdrawal From Iraq?
Is the situation in Iraq becoming increasingly unstable as the time for American withdrawal approaches? And, what are U.S. officials doing to reach out to Iraqis here and abroad? We talk to representatives from the Department of State who are visiting San Diego, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, and to the Director of Strategic Effects for United States Forces in Iraq.
Michael Corbin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for Iraq Issues
Ambassador Peter Bodde, Assistant Chief of Mission for Assistance Transition in Iraq
Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, Director of Strategic Effects for United States Forces in Iraq
David J. Ranz, Spokesman for Public Diplomacy for the Embassy of the United States of America in Baghdad, Iraq
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Could Iraqis in San Diego help influence stability in Iraq? We will ask two US diplomats. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. Coming upon These Days, two State Department officials are in town to reach out to San Diego's Iraqi Chaldean community. We will hear how ethnic communities could strengthen an emerging Iraq. We will also speak to US officials in Iraq about recent reports of violent attacks. And then a local blog called the bleeding heart libertarian is getting national attention as it tries to meld political mindsets. That is all ahead this hour on These Days. First the news. I am Maureen Cavanaugh, you are listening to These Days on KPBS. Iraq has been back in the headlines lately, masked gunmen took over a government building near Tikrit this week killing 15 Iraqis. American forces responded to the attack and a standoff between Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq had local officials very worried. Both incidents have raised questions about terror attacks and ethnic rivalries may undermine the Iraqi government after US troops leave at the end of this year. This is also a question very much on my mind the members of the State Department to the diplomats are in town this week on to members of Iraq's minorities who have relocated to San Diego it's a pleasure to welcome my guests Michael Corbin is a Secretary of State in the Bureau of near Eastern affairs for Iraq issues. Mr. Corbin good morning, thanks for coming in.
MICHAEL CORBIN: Good morning, Maureen, it's a pleasure to be here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Ambassador Peter Bodde is assistant Chief of Mission for assistance in transition. It's a pleasure to have you here, Ambassador.
AMB. PETER BODDE: I'm glad to be here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me start with you Mr. Corbin and let me ask you to expand on the reasons you are here in San Diego.
MICHAEL CORBIN: As the US government in Iraq working government work in partnership to see the troops come home and a civilian stick over in Iraq with the State Department leading other civilian agencies we are working with Iraqi communities both inside Iraq but also outside and there is a large committee here is your listeners know so we are hearing their concerns about their populations in Iraq particularly the minority communities who have very vulnerable and threatened by terrorist attacks. So we are here to hear their concerns and also talk also with recent refugees who have come here and here their concerns about their experiences in the US. But this is all about the transition from a military relationship in Iraq to a civilian client relationship.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ambassador Bodde, why was it important to attend the Chaldean conference here in San Diego?
AMB. PETER BODDE: It's very important that we show our support for the minority communities in Iraq produces a strong part of our policy. The minority communities have been in Iraq for hundreds if not thousands of years and I thought it was important that I is the Ambassador responsible for that area in Iraq come back here and show the communities on the ground that we are there, we are looking after their brethren are and here think what they think we can better do. It's actually a twofold issue and I also came back to enlist their help. Iraq is changing. We did have the terrible violence incident yesterday we are looking for committees of the Chaldean community here in San Diego. They have done very well here they've take advantage of the American dream they are hard-working successful people there looking as possible and if interested how we can ask them to come back in western Iraq and help the committees there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see so there is a sense that the Iraqi committee in the US can play a role in easing the ethnic tensions in Iraq itself, is that right Mr. Corbin?
MICHAEL CORBIN: Yes absolutely and as we persevere and as the Iraqis were together moving away from sectarian warfare that we saw in 2006 and 2007 two elections where the different ethnic groups and components of Iraqi society are participating we are working with Iraqis to preserve that social fabric which has Chaldeans who have been in Iraq for centuries, they are the original inhabitants of Iraq and we want to work with them as they have been threatened by terrorist and many have fled the country we are working to create the conditions economic political and security to help those communities remain and when our troops leave Iraq it doesn't mean that we as the State Department and civilian agencies are leaving. We have a broad partnership of traditional development and training assistance and other programs that we are working with the Iraqi government and the communities in Iraq.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering Ambassador, what do the Chaldean committee here in San Diego tell you?
AMB. PETER BODDE: They were very frank in their exchange for this express their concerns with what has been happening to communities that have been there for many years. Obviously security is a primary concern but when you look at this issue and really get into his security is one aspect of it has Corbin said, but the other issue is how do we create the economic environment, the economic situation for these communities that they have a future there. This is something they are concerned about we are concerned about that's why I'm particularly interested if they are willing to come back and invest because at the end of the day people will stay only if they think there is a future for their children that they are secured in the economic interests exist in the long-term. This is not an easy process. We have been working hard on it and it's not something we can do by ourselves, government programs alone can't do that but we are looking at ways to do this than by talking about them and their experiences here the expertise they've developed we think it could be very helpful ally in this regard.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did they speak to you about what they are hearing from their relatives in Iraq?
AMB. PETER BODDE: They hear great concerns from their families and friends of Iraq and as we go from the critical transition from a military led to civilian led dynamic in Iraq we are in partnership with the Iraqi government that nowadays I have a reason in having two sets of elections and having people freely and fairly electing a government there are still enormous challenges and principally it's not the violence. It is applicable underpinnings and the economics that is the major concern and we are working with this government that is going along way but faces its own protests which are very different from the protests we've seen in other parts of the Arab world is this government tries to work to be accountable and provide the services and the responsibility that the people in Iraq have entrusted them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering in this particular outreach mission that you're here in San Diego did you also speak specifically to the Kurdish community here in San Diego.
AMB. PETER BODDE: We have not at this particular time. This particular trip was focused on the Chaldean. But there's another point that I do want to add is that I wanted the community here to know that we have people on the ground like myself that their community members in Iraq have concerns we are available for them. Our embassy works very closely with forces there but also with Iraqi security forces to see that they are given the security they need and deal with specific issues they have. The other point that is critical we wanted to make is we are there as a facilitator. If people want to invest for business or anything else we have here to help them out and get that done.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Go ahead. I'm sorry, Mr. Corbin.
MICHAEL CORBIN: I just wanted to add that when I talk about the issues the Arab Kurdish issues are one of the greatest challenges facing Iraq and we are very engaged with Arabs and Kurds to work on historical issues that require intense compromise and negotiation and we are engaged. I've spoken with Kurdish representatives all over this country as they express their concerns which are slightly different than the rest of Iraq and as they work with the central government to address long-held concerns and what we see now is a period of compromise and negotiation rather than the awful violence that existed under Saddam Hussein. We just passed the anniversary of the (Halabja) attack where Saddam Hussein used gas on innocent women and children so the State Department is working together with the UN and others on the ground in Iraq is working to address the Kurdish issues which are very important for the future of Iraq.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You two gentlemen have to leave for another engagement we have to do military official in the State Department official in Iraq we are going to be speaking with right after this conversation and I'm going to be asking them this question as well. Let me ask Amb. Bodde, do ethnic tensions in Iraq threatened the stability of the Iraqi government?
AMB. PETER BODDE: Overall I would say no. This is an area we are very concerned about. We've put a lot of focus on and it's an area you can never take for granted but it is something that the government itself is working very hard to work on. The new government is the most inclusive government I think in Iraq's history directors all the different communities there and I think they are working very hard to make sure that doesn't happen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you, Mr. Corbin?
MICHAEL CORBIN: Yes the importance we see is that we have a partnership with the government of Iraq produces an early stages as Iraq works for having a representative government. He has one of the freest media is in the Middle East. It has an NGO committee that is active and vibrant print that these are all under threat whether they are from the extremists that we see clearly losing influence of the long-held historical animosity in society but we see the Iraqis coming together to address this and has reduced military to civilian transition the State Department is going to remain in Iraq. We are not leaving. We are building a partnership that becomes more important that you look at and events in the region that we look to work with Iraqis as they can go through an experience that we think leads to a better opportunity for the future of the Middle East as a whole.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well as I said you both have another engagement to get to so I want to thank you very much Amb. Bodde and Michael Corbin, thanks very much for speaking with us today.
AMB. PETER BODDE: Thank you for the opportunity to do so.
MICHAEL CORBIN: It was a great pleasure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You are listening to KPBS. We move this conversation from outreach here in San Diego to the situation on the ground in Iraq. On the phone from Iraq are our guests Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Buchanan, Director of strategic affects US forces in Iraq and Gen. Buchanan, good morning.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: Good morning, thanks for having us on your program today.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's a pleasure, thank you. My second guest is US Embassy spokesman in Baghdad, David Ranz, good morning.
DAVID RANZ: Good morning. It's wonderful to be here today.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gen. Buchanan let me start with you and just so our listeners know right off the bat how many US military troops are still stationed in Iraq?
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: Well, we have, since we changed from operation Iraqi freedom two new dawn in September of last year we've Slightly less than 50,000 troops here, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Last week we were down to between 46 and 47,000. The number goes up and down slightly depending on units coming in and out but that is a good number for you to get a perspective. Compared to where we were at the height of the surge we had far more than 150,000 troops are.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: According to the current plan US troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, but recently there have been threats of violence and care about. The actual violence in Tikrit. I wonder have however the US troops responded to these events.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: We are determined to, we've got a lot of work to do still through this year and we are determined to get as much done as we possibly can. Our three major efforts include advising training assisting and equipping the Iraq since Iraqi security forces, conducting counterterrorism operations in supporting and protecting the civilian missions that come in Iraq as they work to build civil capacity throughout the country so we've got a lot of work to do in each of these areas but we are determined to get as much done as we possibly can.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gen. Buchanan what is the biggest military threat to stability in Iraq right now in your eyes. Is it the insurgent Al Qaeda kind of threat or is it sort of the ethnic threat from let's say the Pashmurga or the Kurdish army?
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: I don't see a threat from the Pashmurga or Kurds in fact they are part of the solution may have come together with all of the Iraqis as we look at the long process of government formation that we saw over the last several months in particular of 2010 it required a significant amount of compromise on all parties part. But also based on that of all components of the Iraqi society were included in government and nobody was excluded. The number of groups different ethnicities, religious backgrounds have all decided or have worked to influence things through politics rather than violence so, to the extent that they are able to keep doing so, obviously that plays very well for the security situation. But your question was what do I see as the greatest threat. And it is a number of terrorist groups and organizations from what the prime minister calls illegal militias who are aligned with certain religious sects to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. None of these groups have laid down their arms. Nor have they changed their philosophy of trying to drive a wedge between the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government and their tactics as we have seen as recently as this week in Tikrit just highlight how murderous attack here.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mr. David Ramz, as a US Embassy spokesman perhaps I should put the political question to you. There was certainly an incident, and ongoing incident in northern Iraq around Kirkuk where there was a standoff between the Arab government and the Kashmir Kurdish forces and no actual clashes but there were some tense moments and I'm wondering what you think is the biggest political threat to stability in Iraq right now? Is it ethnic tensions?
DAVID RAMZ: First of all I think the important thing to underscore with respect to things that happened around her cook is that the issue was resolved and it was resolved peacefully and this demonstrates the degree to which various groups in Iraq are solving the problems through discussions, through negotiations and not through violence. So while the issue has certainly created some tension, and in the resolution occurred without violence and to everyone's satisfaction. I heard the question he posed to Amb. Bodde and Mr. Corbin earlier about the issue of ethnic tension and I thought the way that they addressed it was outstanding and I would only add that the period during which the very split up parties are negotiating to form a government which many observers expressed concern about because they took a very long time, at the same time it demonstrated a new commitment to these various ethnic groups various religious groups working through their differences in a political mechanism and not in a violent way. And although the process could clearly took longer than everyone had hoped for in the end it was an Iraqi solution and frankly a victory for the Iraqi people that they were able to come to the creation of a government that was inclusive, that involved all of the major ethnic and religious groups and that was the important issue because the key to national reconciliation for Iraq is a sense that all of the major groups have a stake in the society, have a stake in the government, have a voice in the government and the fact that the groups were able to come together and put together the national partnership government needs that has been achieved and it will be that is a very important step to ensure that the ethnic tensions are addressed in the future.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My guest is David Ramz, US Embassy spoke to spokesman in Baghdad and my other guest is Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Buchanan. Gen. Buchanan, I'm hearing what you are saying and I'm hearing what Mr. Rams as saying that when there are these incidents and reporters go and speak to local officials in Tikrit or Kirkuk, what they say to reporters as we hope that the US troops to leave as quickly as they say we will because we are afraid this is going to happen again. Do you hear things like that and what is your response to that?
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: We have heard some things like that from a number of different groups, but obviously this is an issue for the government of Iraq. As you know our two countries signed in a security agreement in 2008 but gave the authority of US forces in Iraq to continue operating past 1 January, which was the end of the UN Security Council resolution. So we operate here at the invitation of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people. But that mission has a limited time and article 24 of that agreement mandates that US forces in Iraq are complete its transition to a civilian led organization by the end of 2011. At the same time that our two countries signed a security agreement they also signed a strategic framework agreement which establishes conditions for cooperation for an enduring partnership between the United States and Iraq and cooperation in a wide variety of areas, everything from economic development, agriculture, education, science and technology as well as science defense and security cooperation. We are determined from the US government perspective to continue to partner with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government. It's just not going to be led by the military. It will be led by Amb. Jeffrey and integrates civilian workers we have here at the embassy.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Please go ahead.
DAVID RAMZ: If I could just add to what Jeff just said as Michael Corbin said earlier in your other interview, the departure of US troops does in no way mean that departure of the US or our commitment here in Iraq. We are going to have an enduring presence in close partnership which will include for example in during presence posts in the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. So we will continue to have strong diplomatic engagement and we are fully committed to working with all of the ethnic groups to help them work through these differences even after the US troops withdraw the end of this year.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will there be any US security forces in those enduring posts that you were talking about?
DAVID RAMZ: Under the security agreement all US troops will depart from Iraq by the end of 2011. There will be continued his security cooperation under the auspices of the US ambassador and the embassy. That will take place in several forms that I will just give you two examples. The first is that US forces have been implementing a security police training program for number of years which has been a very important element in helping the Iraqis develop the capacity to provide for internal security. The program will involve the transition over to civilian control over the course of this year under the State Department's Bureau of international narcotics and Law enforcement and we will continue to provide that security was police trainers that have a substantial amount of expertise conducting this kind of training throughout the world. In addition we intend to open an office for security cooperation which will involve the presence of military officers and other personnel under the auspices of the civilian leadership of the US embassy and ambassador. And they will continue with the primary responsibilities of training and equipping as we provide military sales to the Iraqi government.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gen. Buchanan, do you think that there is a likelihood that the Prime Minister Al Malki might ask American troops to stay longer than the end of this year?
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: I can't speculate what the Prime Minister might do, but that I know of nobody in the Iraqi government has asked for any sort of continued US troop presence.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And from your standpoint, General, the Iraqi forces are ready or will be by December of this year ready to take over security of Iraq?
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: You know, I've been working with these forces every year since 2003 and two Cedar growth in both quantity but more importantly quality has been very inspirational. It's been motivating to be a part of it. And to see the development of their forces over the years. They have in my judgment the best counterinsurgency force in the entire region. They still have room for improvement. And I will just highlight a couple areas that we are determined this year to continue to work with them to help them improve. One is in their ability to collect, analyze, disseminate and share intelligence and especially from one agency to the next, administrative interior working with the Ministry of Defense for example. Another area that they have some room for improvement is on their ability to sustain themselves, provide logistical support for all the great equipment that they have. So they have enough in the past committed what we think are sufficient resources to sustaining and maintaining their equipment and we are working with the bureaucracies in both the Ministry of Defense and Interior to help them improve their systems so that they can better care for the great equipment that they have. And then lastly, both of those really apply to internal threats as well as external threats. But the other thing that we are working with them on this year is helping to build a foundational training capability that deals with the more common offensive and defensive tasks that are focused on more conventional threats rather than just an insurgency, the insurgency tactics and what we are trying to do is help them develop the building blocks so that they can develop more and more of an external defense capability into the future.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Buchanan and David Ramz, I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us today.
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.
DAVID RAMZ: And thanks for having us on your program.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's been our pleasure, thank you. KPBS.org/These Days is the place to go if you would like to comment about what you hear on this program and we are going to move on now. Coming up do libertarians have hearts? That question and more as These Days continues here on KPBS.