General David H. Petraeus assumed command of the United States Central Command (Centcom) in October 2008, after serving for over 19 months as the Commanding General of Multi-National Force-Iraq. Image Credit: Rex Features

Dubai: General David Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command (Centcom), told Gulf News that the rate of reduction of US troops in Iraq beyond August is still to be determined, though initial planning has been done. The future presence of US troops and other issues will also depend on agreements reached with the new Iraqi government once it takes over, he added.

Asked what will happen after the last US soldier leaves Iraq, General Petraeus said: "Iraqis will applaud, Americans will applaud, and Iraqis will continue the work of building a new country in an ancient land."

GULF NEWS: Iraq has just completed a very important democratic process which you have called Iraq-racy (Democracy Iraqi style). You have always said that you wish for people to shout and not shoot, which is what we are seeing in Iraq today. How do you feel about the political process in Iraq today?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS: I feel hopeful. The Iraqi people have had an opportunity to exercise their right to vote. And they did so in substantial numbers, from all elements of Iraqi society. And, now, understandably, they hope to see a government formed that is representative of all of the ‘Shabil Iraqi' [people of Iraq] and is responsive to all the people as well, a government whose leaders focus on the needs of Iraq and the Iraqis first and foremost.

The Iraqi elections had a good and healthy turnout; however, no single political group will be able to put together the new government alone. No doubt this will leave the door open for Iran and other forces to interfere. What is your take about this?

The Iraqi people want leaders who will keep Iraqi interests foremost in their minds and in all their actions. Certainly, those leaders need to foster constructive, productive relationships with their neighbours and with the major countries of the world. And the Iraqi people have reminded the major parties of that in recent weeks.

Do you see Iran hijacking the Iraqi elections? And will the upcoming US troop withdrawal leave a void that might be filled by Iran?

In fact, attempts by other countries to interfere in domestic Iraqi politics are likely to be, as ambassador Crocker used to observe, "self-limiting".

With respect to the drawdown of US forces to 50,000 by the end of August: the Iraqi Security Forces now number nearly 700,000. Their training and equipping have improved steadily since the start of the surge. They have steadily been assuming the lead in security tasks throughout Iraq over the past year, and they have performed competently and courageously against tough resilient extremist elements, including Al Qaida-Iraq and militia groups. Security gains have continued throughout that time, although there obviously have continued to be horrific attacks periodically. Those periodic attacks notwithstanding, the levels of daily attacks, violent civilian deaths, and high-profile attacks have all been reduced by over 90 per cent from the heights in the first half of 2007. And that has allowed considerable progress in the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, commencement of major new projects, increases in electricity and oil production, general economic growth, and so on. Moreover, the potential for the future is extraordinary.

The US troops will start withdrawing next August, if things go as scheduled. General Raymond Odierno will be leaving his post in Iraq and another US army commander will take his place. Will the withdrawal process be gradual? How many troops will stay behind in Iraq? Will there be a US army presence in the northern part of the country to assist the Kurds?

General Odierno, who has done such a great job in Iraq for over four years will, indeed, leave later this year. His replacement, General Austin, was fittingly, also General Odierno's replacement as the commander of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq in early 2008, the second half of the surge. This will be his third tour in Iraq, too, and he will do a magnificent job. The trajectory of the reduction beyond August is still to be determined, though initial planning has been conducted. Needless to say, however, future presence and other issues will be the result of agreements developed with the new Iraqi government, once it is established. But, it should be clear that the US forces that remain beyond August, as we draw down to the end of 2011, will perform "advise and assist" missions, not combat missions.

With Al Qaida Iraq operations dropping dramatically in comparison to 2007, and a better understanding between Iraqi political blocs to carry out the political process in the country, how do you regard the security environment in Iraq today? Do you see a clear picture with hope for a better future, or is it still shaky?

There undoubtedly will be security challenges ahead, although the Iraqi Security Forces, intelligence services, and other governmental elements have responded to the latest attacks in an impressive manner. Nonetheless, there are still extremist elements in Iraq and the security forces know that and are aggressively pursuing them, even as the political process plays out in a manner that the Iraqi people hope will complement the security initiatives.

I read the following in a US publication: As the commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus used to ask his soldiers a question before they did anything. "Will this operation take more bad guys off the street than it creates by the way it is conducted?" If the answer was no, it was time to re-evaluate. In the light of the past seven years, what was the biggest mistake committed in the country?

There obviously were numerous missteps and mistakes along the way. And I listed several pages of them in my submission to the Senate Armed Services Committee in January 2007. In general, there were actions that, though often well-intentioned, resulted in [pain for] substantial numbers of Iraqis who not only didn't have a stake in the success of the new Iraq, they had a stake in its failure. Beyond that, there were incidents like Abu Ghraib, cases in which we didn't "live our values," as the admonition in my counter-insurgency guidance stated. And they obviously created enormous problems. At the end of the day, however, I believe we learned from our mistakes, made adjustments, and found the right approach, together with our coalition and Iraqi partners.

Do you think the US fulfilled its obligations towards Iraq?

Yes.

If you could turn back time, would you have done things differently, and how would that be?

You can't turn back time, as you know! But asking the question you just quoted as we contemplated each decision and action would have been wise.

What is the single greatest achievement in Iraq in your view?

Liberation of Iraq from Saddam's regime — and, as the Iraqi people hope will happen, establishment of a democratically-elected government that is representative of and responsive to all the Iraqi people.

What in your view will happen when the last US soldier leaves and the tanks roll out?

Iraqis will applaud, Americans will applaud, and Iraqis will continue the work of building a new country in an ancient land.

How close is the Iraqi experience to the Afghan one?

There are obviously some similarities, but also enormous differences. And we have to be very careful, in applying lessons from Iraq, to keep that in mind.

In Iraq, you ordered the surge, sat with the tribal heads that were fed up with Al Qaida in Iraq's deadly ways and reached a deal. Can you see anything similar happening in Afghanistan?

Some of that is not only possible, it has already happened. But it has to be conducted together with our Afghan partners.

Full-spectrum strategy’s author

General David H. Petraeus assumed command of the United States Central Command (Centcom) in October 2008, after serving for over 19 months as the Commanding General of Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Prior to his duties as Multinational Forces–Iraq Commander, he commanded the US Army Combined Arms Centre and Fort Leavenworth. Before that assignment, he was the first commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq, which he led from June 2004 to September 2005, and the Nato Training Mission-Iraq, which he commanded from October 2004 to September 2005.

That deployment to Iraq followed his command of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), during which he led the “Screaming Eagles” in combat throughout the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Almost every Iraqi has a special recollection about Gen Petraeus. The common denominator of these recollections stems from a fondness rarely felt towards a foreign commander in an invading army.

Mosul was the General’s first post in Iraq, as he served there as the 101st Airborne Division Commander. The “Muslawi” Iraqis are known for their patriotism and national feelings.

However, Gen Petraeus was called the “king” in Mosul by its people for many reasons, the foremost of which was his total devotion to preserve the historical identity of the governorate and work with its people to bring stability and rebuild the city. He was so highly trusted and respected that the Al Tai tribe trusted no one other than Gen Petraeus with Gen Sultan Hashim, the former Minister of Defence, to hand him over to the US authorities in Baghdad. Gen Petraeus accompanied Gen Hashim, taking him to Baghdad in his private helicopter to ensure his safety.

Gen Petraeus was also one of the few brave men who opposed the dismantling of the Iraqi army, and he considered the step as marking the start of the insurgency in Iraq on a large scale. Gen Petraeus had to leave Mosul, and sure enough, the city that was safe and prospering under his guidance soon became another Iraqi hot spot.

As highlighted in the March Vanity Fair edition, Gen Petraeus went to work drawing up a new set of doctrinal manuals for the modern military in 2005 — he called it “Full Spectrum Operations” — which posited that all future military efforts would be a mix of offence, defence, and stability and support operations.

He and the school commandants under him called for new curricula and new reading lists at army training centres, emphasising cultural awareness, people-friendly tactics, and a broader range of tools.

Mark Bowden, the author of the article, elaborated that Petraeus recruited a team of unprecedented diversity to draft a new field manual on counter-insurgency, inviting not just scholars and soldier-scholars but human rights activists, journalists and diplomats.
In addition to emphasising population protection and civic rebuilding efforts, the new manual underscored the importance of earning trust through transparency. It stressed telling the truth even when the news was bad, bending over backward to avoid arresting and killing the wrong people, and persuading those among the enemy who were reconcilable to abandon the fight in return for concessions, incentives and opportunity.
Gen Petraeus says, “The idea is to go to bed every night with fewer enemies than you had in the morning.”
 

Timeline of US troop surges and withdrawals

  • March 19, 2003: War begins, the campaign is known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  • May 1: President George W. Bush declares “Mission Accomplished”
  • December 13: Saddam Hussain is captured.
  • December 31, 2006: Saddam hanged.
  • January 10, 2007: President George W. Bush announced plans for a 20,000 soldier troop surge, US troop levels in Iraq will exceeded to 160,000.
  • May 10, 2007: Iraqi Parliamentary lawmakers signed onto a legislative petition calling on the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal.
  • January 1, 2009: U.S. officially gives Iraq control of Green Zone.
  • January 5: US opens new embassy in Iraq, in hopes of normalising relations between the two countries.
  • February 27: President Barack Obama outlined the withdrawal schedule of US troops in Iraq mostly combat troops by the end of August 2010, and removing all US forces by year end 2011.
  • June 29: The withdrawal of US forces began, with 38 bases handed over to Iraqi forces.
  • Jan 1, 2010: Under the security agreement between the United States and Iraq, all US forces are supposed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
     

Total US Military Fatalities - 4,382

Iraqi civilians died, estimated Iraqi Civilian Fatalities, by Year

  • 2003 - 7,300
  • 2004 - 16,800
  • 2005 - 20,200
  • 2006 - 34,500
  • 2007 - 23,600
  • 2008 - 6,400
  • 2009 - 2,800
  • 2010 (from January 1 to April 23) - 378
  • Iraqi military and police killed from June 2003 through to February 25, 2010: 9,400
  • A look at recent major attacks:
  • April 23: A series blasts mainly targeting Shiite worshippers kill at least 69 people in Baghdad and Ramadi, west of the capital.
  • April 6: Bombs rip through apartment buildings and a market in Baghdad, killing at least 50 people.
  • April 4: Suicide attackers detonate car bombs near embassies in Baghdad, killing 42.
  • April 2: Gunmen kill 24 villagers execution-style in a Sunni area south of Baghdad.
  • March 26: Twin bombings strike a restaurant in Khalis, north of Baghdad, killing 57.
  • March 7: Series of bombings and rocket and mortar attacks kill 36 in Baghdad on Election Day.
  • March 3: Suicide bombers strike in quick succession in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, killing 32.
  • Feb. 18: Suicide car bomb explodes outside the main government compound in Ramadi, killing 13.
  • Feb. 5: Coordinated blasts targeting Shiites in Karbala kill 40.
  • Feb. 1: Female suicide bomber strikes Shiite visitors in Baghdad, killing 54.
  • Jan. 26: Suicide car bomber strikes a police crime lab in Baghdad, killing 22.
  • Jan. 25: Suicide attacks hit several Baghdad hotels in well-planned assaults that kill 37.
  • Dec. 8, 2009: Coordinated attacks strike Baghdad, killing at least 127.
  • Oct. 25, 2009: Two powerful car bombs explode near government buildings in central Baghdad, killing at least 155.
  • Aug. 19, 2009: Suicide bombers hit the Finance and Foreign ministries, killing more than 100 people.

Source: Gulf News Archive