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Petraeus Q & A

TWS Exclusive: An interview with Gen. Petraeus from the Swiss weekly Weltwoche and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

11:00 PM, Dec 21, 2007 • By MATTHIAS RUEB and URS GEHRIGER
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P: Clearly Sadr's Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) ceasefire does result in a reduction of violence. Although there are certainly elements associated with the Sadr Militia that have broken that ceasefire and have carried out attacks on the Iraqi forces, Iraqi civilians, and Iraqi infrastructure. It was one of these rouge JAM, or JAM special group cells, that did the rocket attack early December. One rocket of which hit the storage tank in the Doura refinery over here. Happily, they were able to contain that and they've got the refinery going again, but that produced a real threat, really, to all of Iraqis, not just to the refinery. They have been behind also using these EFP's that come across from Iran, in the killing of two governors of southern provinces, at least two police chiefs, and some others and also kidnappings.

Q: What made Sadr declare a ceasefire in the first place?

P: We believe that Muqtada al-Sadr is trying to clean up this kind of rogue activity and the special groups that have been trained, equipped, funded and, in some cases, directed by Iran but which are giving his movement a bad name. And he's right to be concerned about it. It is good that he's concerned about it. Everyone would welcome the Sadr-trained participating as a political organization in the Iraqi political dialog and activity. And you see that in certain areas. I think the accommodations that people made in Basra, for example, the negotiations between Fadilah, the Supreme Council and the Sadrists there are encouraging, albeit, certainly against the backdrop of various militia activities and, certainly, growing Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). It's a very complex situation, to be sure. There's no shortage of enemies still out there. Nobody at all is celebrating any kind of successes or anything like that. You know, what we are doing is keeping our head down and continuing to move forward and to pursue the different security challenges with our Iraqi partners.

Q: There has been a great deal of attention paid to the surge of the U.S. forces. How are the Iraqi troops performing in the ongoing campaign?

P: The Iraqi surge has been much greater than our surge. And actually, it is being felt. Yes, there's an uneven quality to Iraqi forces but they brought in some over 160,000 this year in terms of police, soldiers, border police and other assorted Iraqi security force members. That's huge. My own country is really working very hard to add between 5,000 and 10,000 soldiers a year to the U.S. Army, for example. It's really an enormous.

Q: How reliable are the Iraqi Security Forces?

P: There's an uneven quality to them, certainly. There are certainly concerns about sectarian allegiances of some of them still, although a number of them have been cleaned up over the course of the past six months as well. There are, for example, national police units that are really quite good in our estimation. There are some about which we still have concerns. But the Wolf Brigade commander was just replaced early December as an example. So there is movement in these areas. We are concerned though also about campaigns to kill and intimidate some of the more nonsectarian and more successful leaders like General Qais down in Hilla. So again, the trajectory is never consistently up. It's sort of up in bumps and downs and sometimes it's a pretty big down and then we'll recover. What you're hoping to do is keep it generally on a positive trajectory. And I think that's generally true. I think if you look at, for example, attack trends. It really has been pretty steadily downward ever since June. Even if it were to stay at the level that it is now, that would be a level that we've not seen since, certainly, prior to the Samarra Mosque if not in the late spring of 2005. And you can feel it and see it in Baghdad in terms of markets. If to protect the civilian population is our purpose and it is, civilian deaths should come down and they have been. And this is, by the way, Iraqi data--not all of which is verified. We are working more and more with them. And you can see it does converge as we have worked more closely with them. There's some sectarian influence even on the reporting of data not to mention everything else. And there are corruption problems and there are lack of capacity issues and everything else. Ethno-sectarian is actually quite down. You'll remember what it was like last year and it's very different now. And that's a result of a number of factors. Some of it, again, is al Qaeda is on the run. Jaish al-Mahdi has a ceasefire. Special groups are in turmoil, really, among themselves. All the intelligence sources we have tell us that the special groups are literally fighting among themselves. Some want to honor the ceasefire, some are opposing it, others are trying to impose on them. The chain of command is by no means clear.