BAGHDAD (Dec. 13, 2010) — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stressed to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today that now is the time for the United States and Iraq to plan for a normal, long-term military-to-military relationship.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with Maliki at the prime minister’s residence in downtown Baghdad.
During the 20-minute meeting, the chairman told reporters traveling with him, he stressed that the two nations need to build on the strategic framework agreement signed in 2008.
The prime minister agreed that the ongoing relationship between the two nations has to be discussed long before the last American troops leave Iraq on Dec. 31, 2011.
The chairman would not speculate on what form the relationship might take. “There will be an embassy here, there will be an Office of Defense Cooperation, and we’ll support that,” Mullen said.
No substantive discussions have taken place about what a relationship would look like because Iraqi politicians have been haggling since the country’s March 6 elections to form the new government. Maliki now is in the midst of forming the government and has promised that it will include all groups in the country. Mullen said he fully expects the Iraqis to have the new government in place by the Dec. 25 constitutional deadline.
The chairman discounted news reports about a residual U.S. force remaining in Iraq after 2011. He said that although he always is concerned about the influence that neighboring Iran has inside Iraq, he doesn’t believe the Iranians have been effective in swaying their neighbor.
“Iran is still trying to exert itself, [but] I haven’t seen it become terribly effective through this government formation,” he said. “There were predictions that [the Iranians] would dramatically influence the government’s outcome. That didn’t happen. My own view is I think they overplayed their hand.”
Iran and Iraq fought a bitter war from 1980 to 1988. The chairman said he has security concerns about Iranian influence in Iraq, but also has security concerns. However, the development of the Iraqi security forces has allayed some of those concerns, he said.
“Overall, I’m encouraged by what I hear, by what our people tell us, what leaders tell us, what our troops tell us about the Iraqi security forces,” Mullen said. “They are pretty good, and they are better than a lot of people predicted.”
The Iraqi forces are able to provide the internal security the country needs, Mullen said. “One of the longer-term questions is how do they handle the external security, and that question is out there to be answered,” he added.
About 48,000 American servicemembers are in Iraq. Many are working with Iraqi counterparts to build the security forces, including building an army, the police, border guards, a coast guard and an air force. At the same time the security forces are training, they are running real world missions.
Millions of people are expected to come to Iraq next month for a religious pilgrimage. Iraqi forces must protect the pilgrims, but also must find the time to train, Mullen noted.
“How do we literally get them off watch so they can train and get better?” he asked. “There’s tremendous emphasis now to get them the kind of training they need to sustain themselves.”
Mullen said that logistics and maintenance are among the capabilities that the Iraqis need to work on most. “It’s critical and is a great area of focus,” he said. “They need to get to a certain level to sustain what they have.”
The chairman arrived in Baghdad today with a USO troupe featuring Robin Williams, Lewis Black, Kix Brooks, Lance Armstrong, Kathleen Madigan and Bob Dipiero. While the USO performers went to visit troops, the chairman went for his meetings with civilian and military leaders. Weather grounded all helicopter movements, so he went downtown and back via ground transportation. The route he took, called Route Irish when the Americans first arrived, once was considered too dangerous to travel.
The chairman later spoke to the men and women of U.S. Division Center at Camp Liberty. The division headquarters is built around the 1st Armored Division, and the soldiers are soon turning over responsibility to the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division.