I returned from Iraq a
little over two weeks ago, and trust me, it's great to be in Washington
and in your company today. After nearly 15 months in Iraq--mostly
spent focusing on where we are and where we're going--it's a pleasure
to step back and reflect a bit about where we've been. I'd like to
speak with you about Iraq in 2007, to include the surge, its
implementation, and my assessment of its impact.
Baghdad: Before the Surge
I prepared to depart Fort Hood, Texas, for Baghdad in late November
2006, the Coalition effort in Iraq was at a crossroads. The United
States had just held mid-term elections; a new Secretary of Defense had
been appointed; and the long-awaited recommendations of the Iraq Study
Group were about to be published.
Stories in the press described the situation in Iraq as spiraling out of control. One Los Angeles Times
article discussed the rising level of sectarian violence in Baghdad
and how this violence seemed to feed on itself. Placing his account in
context, the writer mentioned that al-Qaeda had detonated a bomb in
the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City the previous week, killing over 200
people. This was the latest in a steady run of high-profile attacks
since the Golden Mosque bombing of February 2006 in Samarra. And for
at least one Shiite living in Baghdad, it was the last straw.
months of standing apprehensively on the sidelines, the 27-year-old
shopkeeper signed up with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, feeling
obligated to do so for his own family's protection. Illustrating how
violence was increasingly consuming the capital city, the article also
told of a 33-year-old Sunni Arab who decided to join a militia
ostensibly for the same reason, to protect his community. In reality
though, thousands of fighters in Baghdad took an expansive view of
their role as "protectors," and their actions consequently fueled the
cycle of violence.
Taking the offensive against Iraqi civilians
on the other side of the sectarian divide, many launched attacks that
elicited retaliation, which, as the situation deteriorated, only
provided justification for the next round of brutal reprisals. Sunni
and Shia alike tolerated the extremists in their midst because the
Iraqi Army and Police, in some cases, could not be trusted and, in most
cases, lacked the capacity to protect the population.
activities of militias and death squads helped to sustain the cycle of
violence in the capital city, and their continued growth stemmed--most
fundamentally--from an absence of security. With the violence came
fear. Attitudes hardened as survival became the one imperative;
allegiances formed along sectarian lines; and civilian deaths
accumulated. Close to 2,000 Iraqis lost their lives as a result of
ethno-sectarian violence in November 2006 alone, and the count
exceeded this grim benchmark the following month. Corpses were found in
trash heaps and along Baghdad's side streets by the dozens each day.
Al-Anbar: Before the Surge
al-Anbar province, things were actually getting better, but the
positive signs had not yet become evident. Also in late November, The Washington Post
ran a story entitled "Anbar Picture Grows Clearer...and Bleaker." The
article discussed the findings of an assessment that characterized the
province as lost--with al-Qaeda in Iraq exerting control over the daily
lives of Anbaris more so than any other political or military
The Post summarized a Marine intelligence
report, stating "Between AQI's [al-Qaeda in Iraq's] violence, Iran's
influence, and an expected U.S. drawdown, the...situation has
deteriorated to a point that U.S. and Iraqi troops are no longer
capable of...defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar."
the province's tribes had already begun to turn against AQI.
Nonetheless, the broad sentiment among the Sunni was that their worst
fears of being marginalized--even subjugated--in a Shia-dominated Iraq
were coming to fruition. Many commentators at the time used the term
"civil war" to describe the conflict. Given the situation in Baghdad
and Anbar, it was hard to dismiss this as careless exaggeration.
I arrived in Iraq, General George Casey, then the Multinational Force
commander, challenged me to break the cycle of sectarian violence.
Breaking the cycle and reducing the violence required securing the
population and stopping accelerants, our term for those carrying out
the attacks and thus triggering the subsequent reprisals. We had made
efforts in Baghdad along these lines before, but not to the point where
they had yielded any significant or lasting gains.
Establishing Basic Security: Late 2006
forces could concentrate on selected areas and clear them of
extremists. But when these areas transitioned to Iraqi control as our
units moved on to other parts of the city, the Iraqi Security Forces
(ISF) left behind were incapable of "holding" the ground we had won.
The challenges involved with securing the population were simply too
great for the ISF at the time.
In some cases, the ISF itself was
complicit in attacks against the civilians its units were charged to
protect. Another obstacle to solidifying security gains was political
in nature. Then, as now, sustainable security demanded a political
solution, with the chief feature being a government of Iraq (GOI)
commitment to national reconciliation. Still today, we see some GOI
intransigence, but they are making progress.
In late 2006, the
progress we can observe now was unthinkable. In short, we could hardly
expect successful transition or meaningful reconciliation without basic
security. Establishing security for the population was a prerequisite
for further progress. It was essential. And to make a decisive impact,
we needed more combat power and a change in approach.
it is important that I mention one other factor that informed our
planning and decision-making process. On December 19, 2006, we
captured some mid-level al-Qaeda leaders just north of Baghdad. Upon
them was a map that clearly depicted al-Qaeda's strategy for the total
and unyielding dominance of Baghdad, betting that control of Iraq's
capital and its millions of citizens would give them free rein to
export their twisted ideology and terror.
Indeed, al-Qaeda did
operate with impunity in several areas surrounding the capital that we
call the "Baghdad Belts," using these sanctuaries to introduce
accelerants of violence. This strategy was similar to the way in which
Saddam Hussein employed his elite Republican Guard forces to control
the city. It was clear to us that Coalition forces would need to clear
AQI from these belts and deny these enemies safe havens in order to
Offensive Operations: Early 2007
January to June 2007, the surge forces deployed gradually to Iraq, but
we adjusted our strategy even before the first additional Brigade
Combat Team arrived. Implementing the surge involved much more than
throwing extra resources at a problem. It meant committing ourselves to
protecting the Iraqi populace--with a priority to Baghdad--while
exploiting what appeared to be nascent progress against AQI in Anbar.
meant changing our mindset as we secured the people where they worked
and slept and where their children played. It meant developing new
tactics, techniques, and procedures in order to implement this
concept. We began to establish Joint Security Stations and Combat
Outposts throughout Baghdad. We erected protective barriers and
established checkpoints to create "safe neighborhoods" and "safe
markets," improving security for Iraqis as they went about their daily
Changing our approach also meant introducing more balance in our targeting by going after both Sunni and
Shia extremists. I should point out that this modification required the
government of Iraq's cooperation, and it is significant to note that we
got it. Shia militia leaders conducting extra-judicial killings would
no longer get a free pass.
Changing our approach meant
reinvigorating our partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces and
improving their capacity. It meant improving our ability to integrate
our military efforts with the expertise of other government
agencies--largely through Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
Finally, it meant determining where best to employ the surge forces in
and around Baghdad and Anbar and sequencing their employment so that
they had the greatest impact.
Many have discussed how we
implemented this change in strategy - building up forces and
capability through the spring of 2007; launching Phantom Thunder--a
set of simultaneous operations across Baghdad and its surrounding belt
areas; and quickly following up that with Phantom Strike in order to
keep extremists off balance.
Results: A Change in Attack Trends
these offensive operations, we maintained constant focus on job
one--protecting the population. By November, we could claim that
attacks had dropped to their lowest levels since 2004-2005. There were
30 attacks in al-Anbar province during the last week in October. One
year prior, there had been over 300. Today there are under 20 incidents
per week in all of Anbar.
The change in attack trends in Baghdad
was also dramatic; it reflected a marked reduction of nearly 60
percent. In 2006, civilian deaths throughout Iraq were over 3,000 in
the month of December. In less than a year, they had plummeted by 70
percent. In the Baghdad Security Districts specifically,
ethno-sectarian attacks and deaths decreased by 90 percent over the
course of 2007.
Obviously, it's entirely too early to declare
victory and go home, but I think it's safe to say that the surge of
Coalition forces--and how we employed those forces--have broken the
cycle of sectarian violence in Iraq. We are in the process of
exploiting that success.
Explaining the reduction in violence
and its strategic significance has been the subject of much debate.
It's tempting for those of us personally connected to the events to
exaggerate the effects of the surge. By the same token, it's a gross
oversimplification to say, as some commentators have, that the
positive trends we're observing have come about because we paid off the
Sunni insurgents or because Muqtada al-Sadr simply decided to announce
a ceasefire. These assertions ignore the key variable in the
equation--the Coalition's change in strategy and our employment of the
Suggesting that the reduction in violence
resulted merely from bribing our enemies to stop fighting us is
uninformed and an oversimplification. It overlooks our significant
offensive push in the last half of 2007 and our rise in casualties in
May and June as we began to take back neighborhoods. It overlooks the
salient point that many who reconciled with us did so from a position
of weakness, rather than strength. The truth is that the improvement in
security and stability is the result of a number of factors, and what
Coalition forces did throughout 2007 ranks among the most significant.
December 2006, the number of American fighting battalions in the
Baghdad Security Districts was 13. By the following summer, there were
25 conducting operations from dozens of Joint Security Stations and
Combat Outposts in the heart of the city. Throughout Baghdad and the
surrounding belts, Coalition forces were not only attacking the enemy,
they were establishing and maintaining a presence in places that had
long been sanctuaries of al-Qaeda.
At the same time, we were
going after Shia extremists--those responsible for the displacement of
Sunni families, sectarian-motivated executions, and intimidating the
populace in general. We launched precise, targeted raids repeatedly
against the worst offenders. Given additional troops, the Coalition
employed them to protect the population. This commitment to the people
of Iraq made a difference both directly and indirectly.
Successful Partnerships: Police and Citizens
with the Iraqi Security Forces, our operations fragmented what were
once well-established AQI support zones, disrupted the network's
operations, and forced its leaders (those who survived) to shift their
bases elsewhere--in many cases, out of reach of Baghdad. Likewise,
Coalition forces knocked Shia extremists off balance and drove many
away from the capital. I believe our operations injected a healthy dose
of confusion into the Mahdi Army's ranks, caused many intermediate-
and lower-level leaders to overreact, and ultimately prompted Muqtada
al-Sadr to call for a ceasefire to restore order and to recast the
image of his organization as a humanitarian rather than a military one.
No doubt, our efforts to disrupt Mahdi Army leadership figured
significantly in Sadr's decision.
The surge of Coalition forces
also helped bring about a surge in Iraqi Security Force capacity. More
U.S. brigade combat teams meant more partnered units for the Iraqi Army
and National Police. When it comes to developing the ISF, there is
simply no substitute for partnership.
Embracing and enabling the
concept of protecting the population also built momentum for bottom-up
reconciliation, allowing this process to expand beyond Anbar into other
provinces. Enhanced security and persistent Coalition force presence
encouraged Iraqis who wanted to stand up and reject AQI to do so
without fear of retaliation. Joint Security Stations and Combat
Outposts had a clear, noticeable effect on the Iraqi people not only
physically, but more importantly, psychologically.
So, what did
we do with these citizens that made the choice to reject al-Qaeda and
extremism? Acknowledging the potential risks of dealing with former
adversaries, our commanders seized upon the opportunity and hired them
to assist in local security where Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police were
lacking. Initially known as Concerned Local Citizens, but now called
the Sons of Iraq, a grassroots movement sprung up akin to neighborhood
watches. Mainly Sunni at the beginning and wary of the Shia-led
government, these groups turned to the coalition and offered their
services to provide protection for the population.
In so doing,
we were able to keep young Sunni men away from extremism, provide jobs
and income, and gain valuable intelligence on the insurgency,
improvised explosive devices, and caches. But they were also looking
for legitimacy. The impact of the Sons of Iraq went beyond security and
paved the way for improvements in basic services, economic progress,
and local governance. As word of their success spread, so did the
program--and it continues today. Only paying them meager wages and not
providing weapons and ammunition, the program has been an unqualified
Additionally, there is a second-order effect in that
every dollar paid to the Sons of Iraq gets spent at least two
additional times as they provide for their families and then local
markets buy wholesale goods to stock their stands. In places where we
have employed the Sons of Iraq, we average a ten-fold increase in the
markets, for example going from 40 to 400 stands. Finally, the Sons of
Iraq are now branching out across Iraq and increasingly include Shia
groups and, in some cases, mixed sect groups.
Setting the Stage for Hope
speaking, when security conditions improve, a narrow focus on survival
opens up and makes room for hope. Hope provides an opportunity to
pursue improvements in quality of life. Along these lines, the surge
helped set the stage for progress in governance and economic
development. In a very real way and at the local level, this subtle
shift in attitude reinforced our security gains--allowing Coalition and
Iraqi forces to hold the hard-earned ground we had wrested from the
enemy while continuing to pursue extremists as they struggle to regroup
In Baghdad, al-Anbar, and in many other areas of
Iraq, the story in early 2008 is about improving people's lives and
building government capacity, and about their expectations regarding
the future. For the government of Iraq, the surge has provided a window
of opportunity. This window will not remain open forever.
capitalize on the reduction of violence in 2007, Iraqi leaders must
make deliberate choices to secure lasting strategic gains through
reconciliation and political progress. This set of choices and their
collective effect will be decisive, I think. This view puts things in
The future of Iraq belongs to the Iraqis. The improved
security conditions resulting in part from the surge of 2007 have given
the Iraqis an opportunity to choose a better way. In the last week,
several major pieces of legislation have been passed by the Iraqi
parliament: accountability and justice, provincial powers, and amnesty
Let me close by emphasizing that
there was much sacrifice to achieve these gains. Let us all never
forget those whose lives have been changed forever because of injuries
and those who gave their lives fighting for the ideals of liberty as
well as their loved ones. Their sacrifices were and are not in vain,
and because of them the Iraqis have the right to choose their own
The gates of freedom remain open today because of our
fallen comrades: noble and gallant warriors who gave everything so
others can enjoy life, liberty, and happiness. We will honor their
memory and remain dedicated to ensuring their sacrifices are never
I am honored to serve in the greatest Armed Forces in
the world, and I'm proud of what it stands for. We have not finished
our mission, but we have proven our mettle. Thank you for giving me the
opportunity to talk to you this morning, and God Bless America.