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Statement | Sept. 10, 2021

General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr.'s opening remarks as prepared at CJTFOIR Change of Command ceremony, Sept. 9th 2021


Good Morning. Prime Minister Kadhimi, Minister of Defense Juma, Minister of Interior Uthman, Staff General Yarallah, Staff General Shimmari, General Abu Ragheef, Ambassadors Tueller, Richardson, and Ganly—thank you for having me.

I am honored to be here today in the cradle of civilization, and in the land between the two rivers, which has endured for over 5,000 years. Mr. Prime Minister, it is my most sincere hope that, God willing, Iraq will continue to thrive for another 5,000 years and more.

To our Servicemembers, Department of Defense civilians, contractors, interagency staff, and to our coalition partners present: thank you for the warm welcome. I am extremely grateful for your sacrifice and dedication to the mission. You have been working tirelessly, away from your loved ones, and often under difficult circumstances to make good on our promise to assist the Iraqi people defeat the scourge that is the so-called Islamic State.

This mission traces back to 2013, when ISIS arose from the chaos of the Syrian civil war and launched a campaign of death and destruction down the Euphrates Valley and toward the very heart of Iraq. In the cities and towns it occupied, the entire world witnessed ISIS’s barbarism and inhumanity.

Prisoners could expect no quarter; ethnic minorities were subjected to genocide. By the second half of 2014, the entire world was revulsed with horror, and the very survival of Iraq hung in the balance.

In response to this dire situation, the Government of Iraq appealed for help. The United States and other friends of the Iraqi people swiftly answered the call and assisted heroic Iraqis in stemming the bloody tide of ISIS.

On 17 October 2014, the forces of contributing nations formally established Combined Joint Task Force Operation INHERENT RESOLVE. Its mission then and now is the defeat of ISIS, but we should not forget that this mission began with the more immediate task of defending the sovereignty and citizens of the Republic of Iraq.

Working hand-in-hand with our Iraqi hosts and partners in both Iraq and Syria, we did this. And then we jointly took the fight to the enemy, liberating Mosul in the summer of 2017 and Baghouz, its last stronghold in Syria, in March of 2019. By the time Paul Calvert assumed command of CJTF-OIR last September, the campaign was already entering its fourth phase, which in Iraq meant emphasizing stabilization activities to help conflict-scarred areas recover while equipping Iraqi Security Forces and providing them the advice and intelligence necessary to maintain pressure on ISIS.

Throughout this phase, we continued to provide intelligence, air support, and other enablers to our Iraqi partners. This vital assistance allowed increasingly capable Iraqi forces to take the lead in the mission to defeat ISIS operatives wherever they hide.

This past March, for example, the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service planned and led a 10-day operation—code named "READY LION"—to clean out an ISIS cave complex in the Makhmour Mountains. With Iraqi forces operating on the ground and Coalition Forces flying overhead, we together destroyed 61 hideouts, collapsed two dozen caves, and brought justice to the murderers who lived in them.

It was a remarkable demonstration of how our partnership helps provide security for the Iraqi people. Coalition and Iraqi forces are capable of tremendous achievements when working together, each contributing our unique capabilities to a common fight.

In light of such success, Iraq and the United States resumed the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue in April 2021 to discuss the evolving-but-enduring relationship between our two nations. Here and in ensuing conversations, the United States reaffirmed its long-term commitment to the security and stability of Iraq.

Both parties also agreed that, with the maturation of Iraq’s security sector, direct U.S. military action is no longer necessary.

Now is the time to strengthen the bilateral relationship under the Strategic Framework Agreement and increase collaboration with our Iraqi partners across other sectors, to include economic investment, strengthening your health sector and preventing the spread of COVID-19, energy and climate issues, and so much more.

This commitment was made clear during Prime Minister Khadimi’s visit to Washington and his joint declaration with President Biden that there will be no forces in Iraq with a combat role by year’s end, while the bilateral relationship will continue to grow.

In 2022 and going forward, the United States’ military contributions to Iraq—whether direct, through Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, or as part of the NATO Mission in Iraq—will continue to be at the express invitation of the Iraqi government … and will be focused on a training, advising, and intelligence-sharing role in support of the Iraqi Security Forces’ ongoing mission to defeat ISIS.

We have accomplished much together in the fight against ISIS, but we must remain diligent in that fight. We will continue to advise and assist in ways that Iraq wants, principally at the higher echelons of command. We will provide the equipment, technical expertise, and intelligence needed to allow Iraq’s own capabilities to achieve their full potential.

For reaching this important milestone, we must thank the armed forces of Iraq, who have proven themselves brave and highly capable defenders of the Iraqi people and homeland.

But on this day especially, we also owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to LTG Paul Calvert. He is leaving command as he entered it: in the midst of a transition from one phase of the OIR campaign plan to another, each marking steady progress toward the day when ISIS is a distant, odious memory.

A lot of work remains before we reach that day, but Paul has made sure that our Iraqi partners have the tools they need to get us there. Under his stewardship, OIR divested over 700 million dollars of Counter-ISIS Train and Equip Funds, or "CTEF," in the form of matériel and stipends to Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga.

Rolling stock yards at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, which were once filled with equipment waiting to get delivered to Iraq are now empty—thanks to great teamwork by Paul, his staff, and the First Theater Sustainment Command.

General Calvert has also worked relentlessly to reduce the backlog of CTEF-funded equipment that was awaiting delivery in the United States—about $450 million dollars’ worth of equipment that is now in Iraqi hands and being used against our common foes.

Essential to the task of protecting U.S. personnel in Iraq has been the cooperation and commitment of our Iraqi hosts. So let me take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Kadhimi, Defense Minister Juma, General Yarallah, General Shimmari, and General Abu Ragheef for everything you have done to protect the Coalition Forces helping to defend your nation at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

And let me ask these same distinguished guests to join me in thanking you, Paul, for everything you have done to nurture this special relationship. I’m sure they will agree that they have known no better friend of Iraq. Paul’s reservoir of knowledge about this land and sympathy for its people is immeasurable.

He feels personally the losses Iraq has sustained in the campaign against ISIS; these were his comrades no less than they were your own. He also cares deeply about the people of Syria, afflicted by the twin blights of ISIS and civil war. Throughout the region, General Calvert has earned a reputation as a sincere and true friend of those who have suffered the most from ISIS’s reign of terror.

Paul, it’s all the more remarkable that you’ve forged such strong local bonds while executing the myriad tasks assigned to your task force and while devoting an uncommon amount of time to the people under your command.

According to someone on your staff, Paul—and I won’t reveal his or her identity—your passion for talking with Soldiers is unbounded by other events on your calendar. And your staff has had to work very hard to keep you on schedule. But this is the hallmark of a true leader, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of my own role models for generalship is the great World War II British commander, Viscount William Slim, who understood that the key to effective command is the ability to communicate energy while maintaining affection. Not everyone can do this—least of all in a combat environment. You, Paul, are among the few who can. And I want to thank you for your steadfast devotion, both to your mission and to the men and women who carry it out.

Paul, your legacy as OIR commander here in Baghdad is further cemented by the lasting personal imprints you are leaving on our Coalition partners. Another member of your staff informs me that you can converse with them at length about sports that you wouldn’t necessarily hear about back in the United States. Things like Formula One…Cricket…Rugby…and the Euro Cup.



On that note, I will say that this may be a sign you have been away from home for far too long, and that it is time for you to fly back to the United States with me. I only hope you’re not calling soccer "football."

But in all seriousness, Paul, I understand that Iraq has become something of a second home for you—the relationships you have built here are certain to endure for years to come.

I would like to express my most sincere appreciation and gratitude for a job well done, and to wish you success in your new endeavor as the Deputy Commanding General for the United States Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.


While Lieutenant General Calvert is leaving, CJTF-OIR will remain in steady and competent hands with Major General John Brennan. John comes to Baghdad by way of the very same Fort Bragg, where until now he headed the Army’s First Special Forces Command.

John, I would like to congratulate you on your selection for this critical command. The Army got it right by hand-picking you for this position, where your Special Operations background and advisory acumen will be fully leveraged by our Iraqi partners as we work together to continue the mission against ISIS, even as it transitions to a new phase.

That said, I would caution anyone against letting General Brennan’s steely outer shell and "operator" résumé fool anyone.

John is also an intellectual, fluent in both Arabic and French and with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. John, I place my confidence in you as you gear up to supervise the conclusion of our combat mission in Iraq and deepen our security partnership with Iraq at this pivotal time for our two nations.

John is the 8th commander of CJTF-OIR, but he is the first 2-star general to hold this post. I draw your attention to that fact to make two points. First, John Brennan is not just any major general. He is the very best the United States has to offer. He is, truly, the right man, for the right mission, at the right time.

But the re-designation of OIR as a two-star command further signifies the progress we have made so far in our historic effort to jointly build up Iraqi forces and institutions while tearing down those who seek to destroy them. It’s not terribly common that we assign a 2-star to command a CJTF headquarters with so many contributing nations. But John is no common 2-star, and with this transition, OIR is no longer a common task force.

By January 1st, it will have completed its transition from a warfighting headquarters to one focused entirely on advising and assisting our hosts in those areas where we can be most helpful.

Still, our work is far from done. ISIS has proven itself a resilient, insidious foe. Having lost its pretended caliphate, it remains a threat to the peace and prosperity of Iraq—and anyone else who does not share ISIS’s twisted worldview. Indeed, the violent extremist group has further metastasized and has spread like a deadly cancer to other parts of the world.

The tragic attack against Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul two weeks ago that claimed the lives of 13 U.S. service members and over 170 innocent civilians provides a sober reminder that our task is not done—not by a long shot.

We must all guard against it and remain vigilant. That’s why, today, CJTF-OIR continues to serve as the military pillar that supports a global coalition of 78 countries and 5 international organizations striving to assist Iraqi Security Forces and the Government of Iraq strengthen its monopoly on the legitimate use of force over the entirety of Iraq’s territory to once and for all eradicate ISIS.

I would be remiss to conclude my remarks without congratulating Prime Minister Kadhimi for the Summit for Regional Cooperation and Partnership that he hosted here in Baghdad a week and a half ago. It produced a very constructive dialogue on regional security and demonstrated to the world something that the United States and our OIR partners consider a self-evident truth: Iraq is the cornerstone upon which the security and stability of the region rests.

Working hand-in-hand with the Government of Iraq, U.S. Central Command and Operation INHERENT RESOLVE helped solidify the security sector foundation necessary to build on the Defeat ISIS mission. It is now time to expand our cooperation into other domains that promise enduring peace and prosperity for Iraq and its neighbors.

But while this exciting next chapter unfolds, I can assure you that the United States and our coalition partners will remain actively engaged in our continuing, combined campaign to eradicate ISIS by partnering the Iraq’s leaders and security forces. Iraqi forces are in the lead, and our coalition is steadfast in support.

Under the superb leadership of General John Brennan, CJTF-OIR will continue to live up to its name—our inherent resolve to see this mission through to completion is undiminished and indomitable.

In closing, I would like to use this occasion to once again thank our Iraqi hosts, our coalition partners, Ambassador Tueller and his staff, and the men and women of Operation Inherent Resolve for your dedication and perseverance.

Paul: congratulations again on a job very well done.

John: you have my complete confidence and more than a little bit of my envy. You have a crucial job at a critical moment. It’s where every commander wants to be. I know you’ll do a fantastic job. Thanks!