Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

General Petraeus News Conference

Aired April 26, 2007 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We're waiting to hear from General David Petraeus. We know that he was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking with lawmakers, trying to convey to them, these are the different notes of progress taking place as a result of the surge, U.S. troop surge, as a result of continued U.S. operations there.
At the same time, outside of Capitol Hill and even perhaps we should say inside of Capitol Hill, still a lot of dissent over whether this plan is working, whether the U.S. troop surge is working or further exacerbating the situation in Iraq. We're going to finally hear from David Petraeus in the Pentagon because those meetings yesterday on Capitol Hill were sort of behind closed doors. I mean it was not something that everyone got to watch and listen, even though today, when you talk with two congressmen in the last hour about exactly what was conveyed. Now we get to hear it from the horse's mouth.

TONY SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: And Barbara Starr is in that Pentagon Briefing Room.

And, Barbara, if you would, I know you're seated, so we won't be able to see your lovely face on camera this morning, at least not right now, but give us a sense of what you're expecting and how tough the questioning might be for General Petraeus. We know he's going to be asked to really justify . . .

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, I can hear you.

STARR: Tony, we just had a one-minute warning that General Petraeus is about to enter the room. I think it's going to be exactly the opposite of yesterday. We are right in front of open doors. There's no closed doors in the press room. Everyone has assembled. And we're led to believe General Petraeus will spend a considerable amount of time answering questions, likely to focus on I think what everyone expects, how's the surge going, what is successful, what are the problems still. General Petraeus making it very clear that these -- what he calls sensational attacks, the suicide bombs, the suicide car bombs, the spectacular attacks that are killing so many Iraqis are a problem.

General Petraeus now coming into the room.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Well, good morning. It's good to be with you all, and nice to see some familiar faces here this morning. My purpose this morning is to provide a short update on the situation in Iraq -- including a brief description of the operational environment, the challenges Iraq faces, and the status of our operations -- and then to take your questions.

This is similar to my briefings to the House and Senate yesterday afternoon but without the classified information that I provided to them, obviously.

The operational environment in Iraq is the most complex and challenging I have ever seen, much more complex than it was when I left last in September 2005 and vastly more complex than what I recall in Central America, Haiti and the Balkans in previous tours in those locations.

The increase in sectarian violence in 2006 following the Samarra mosque bombing did enormous damage, literally tearing the fabric of Iraqi society, changing the demographics of Baghdad neighborhoods, and displacing millions of Iraqis.

Today members of al Qaeda, extremist militias and Sunni insurgent groups seek to destroy what Iraqi leaders are trying to build. Political parties with ethno-sectarian interests, limited governmental capacity and corruption add additional challenges.

And exceedingly unhelpful activities by Iran and Syria, especially those by Iran, about which we have learned a great deal in the past month, compound the enormous problems facing the new Iraq.

The situation is, in short, exceedingly challenging, though, as I will briefly explain, there has been progress in several areas in recent months despite the sensational attacks by al Qaeda, which have, of course, been significant blows to our effort and which cause psychological damage that is typically even greater than their physical damage.

Iraq is, in fact, the central front of al Qaeda's global campaign. And we devote considerable resources to the fight against al Qaeda-Iraq. We have achieved some notable successes in the past two months: killing the security emir of eastern Anbar province, detaining a number of key network leaders, discovering how various elements of al Qaeda-Iraq operate, taking apart a car bomb network that had killed 650 citizens of Baghdad, and destroying several significant car bomb factories.

Nonetheless, al Qaeda-Iraq remains a formidable foe with considerable resilience and a capability to produce horrific attacks but a group whose ideology and methods have increasingly alienated many in Iraq.

This group's activities must be significantly disrupted at the least for the new Iraq to succeed. And it has been heartening to see Sunni Arabs in Anbar province and several other areas turning against al Qaeda and joining the Iraqi security forces to fight against it. That has been a very significant development.

The extremist militias in Iraq also are a substantial problem and must be significantly disrupted.

There can be no sustainable outcome if militia death squads are allowed to lie low during the surge, only to resurface later and resume killing and intimidation.

There have been some significant successes in this arena as well, including the detentions -- detention of the heads of the Sadr secret cell network, the Iraqi leader of an explosively formed projectile network from Iran, the former deputy minister of health and his facility protection security force brigadier -- who had effectively hijacked the Ministry of Health -- and a national police officer accused of torture, with several of these detained by Iraqi forces.

Sunni insurgents and the so-called Sunni resistance are still forces that must be reckoned with as well. However, while we continue to battle a number of such groups, we are seeing some others joining Sunni Arab tribes in turning against al Qaeda-Iraq and helping transform Anbar province and other areas from being assessed as lost as little as six months ago to being relatively heartening.

We will continue to engage with Sunni tribal sheiks and former insurgent leaders to support the newfound opposition of some to al Qaeda, ensuring that their fighters join legitimate Iraqi security force elements to become part of the fight against extremists, just as we reach out to moderate members of all sects and ethnic groups to try to drive a wedge between the irreconcilables and the reconcilables, and help the latter become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

There are also a number of challenges in the area of governance that the embassy and Multi-National Force-Iraq are helping the Iraqis to address.

It is, in fact, important to recall that the government of Prime Minister Maliki is Iraq's fourth government in as many years.

Moreover, it is not a government of national unity. Rather, it is one comprised of political leaders from different parties that often default to narrow agendas and a zero-sum approach to legislation.

That is one reason that progress on key laws has been slow, though there has been some progress. The budget law, the base hydrocarbon law approved by the Council of Ministers, the emergency powers law and so forth have all been noteworthy.

And it is, in fact, just noteworthy to acknowledge -- as Ambassador Negroponte did yesterday -- just what Iraq has achieved since he served there as the ambassador in 2004, with respect to its elections, its constitution, its government and so forth.

I believe Prime Minister Maliki and many other Iraqi leaders are committed to achieving more in this area in the months ahead.

Though its institutions are slowly developing, Iraq still suffers from a lack of the governmental capacity needed to put Iraq's oil revenues to work sufficiently for all its people. In view of this, what we are working hard, together with the U.S. Embassy again, to help strengthen institutions, doubling the number of provincial reconstruction teams, establishing a law-and-order task force, developing an energy fusion cell, and increasing emphasis on ministerial mentorship.

The focus of Multi-National Force-Iraq is, of course, on working with our Iraqi counterparts to help improve security for the people of Iraq in order to give Iraqi leaders the time and space they need to come to grips with the tough political issues that must be resolved.

Resolution of these issues is the key to the achievement of reconciliation among the various ethnic and sectarian groups, political parties and leaders in order to achieve a lasting solution to Iraq's problems.

We are still in the relatively early stages of our new effort -- about two months into it -- with three of five Army surge brigades and two additional Marine battalions on the ground, and the remainder of the additional combat forces scheduled to be operating in their areas by mid-June.

Baghdad is the main effort, and we continue to establish joint security stations and combat outposts in the city and in the belts around it. The presence of coalition and Iraqi forces and increased operational tempo, especially in areas where until recently we had no sustained presence, have begun to produce results.

Most significantly, Iraqi and coalitions forces have helped to bring about a substantial reduction in the rate of sectarian murders each month from January until now in Baghdad; a reduction of about two-thirds.

There have also been increases in weapons caches seized and the number of actionable tips received.

In the Ramadi area, for example, U.S. and Iraqi forces have found nearly as many caches in the first four months of this year as they found in all of last year.

Beyond this, we are seeing a revival of markets, renewed commerce, the return of some displaced families, and the slow resumption of services. Though I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas. And I again note that we are really just getting started with the new effort.

I am well aware that the sense of gradual progress and achievement we feel on the ground in many areas in Iraq is often eclipsed by the sensational attacks that overshadow our daily accomplishments.

While the enemy's effectiveness in carrying out such attacks has been reduced by our operations to some degree, there clearly are still far too many of them. And we obviously are focusing heavily on actions to identify and dismantle the networks that carry out car bomb and suicide vest attacks and their supporting infrastructure.

Our achievements have not come without sacrifice. Our increase in operational tempo, location of our forces in the populations they are securing, and conduct of operations in areas where we previously had no presence, as well as the enemy's greater use of certain types of explosive devices, have led to an increase in our losses.

Our Iraqi partners have sacrificed heavily as well, with losses generally two to three times ours or even more. Indeed, while some Iraqi forces remain a work in progress, there should be no question that Iraq soldiers and police are fighting and dying for their country. And a number of them have impressively shouldered their part of the burden of the fight against al Qaeda and the other enemies of the new Iraq.

To help them progress we have steadily been increasing the number of transition teams, the train-and-equip effort, and steadily strengthening the partnership programs between our forces and Iraqi elements.

The situation in Iraq is, in sum, exceedingly complex and very tough. Success will take continued commitment, perseverance and sacrifice, all to make possible an opportunity for the all-important Iraqi political actions that are the key to long-term solutions to Iraq's many problems.

Because we are operating in new areas and challenging elements in those areas, this effort may get harder before it gets easier. Success, in the end, will depend on Iraqi actions. As I noted during my confirmation hearing, military action is necessary but not sufficient. We can provide the Iraqis an opportunity but they will have to exploit it.

During Secretary Gates' recent visit to Iraq, we agreed that in early September Ambassador Ryan Crocker and I would provide an assessment of the situation in Iraq with respect to our mission and offer recommendations on the way ahead. We will be forthright in that assessment, as I believe I have been with you today.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all Americans for their support of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilians serving in Iraq.

Our young men and women in uniform deserve the recognition that Tom Brokaw accorded them when he described them as America's new greatest generation. It's a privilege to serve with them again.

Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

QUESTION: You say that Iraq is now the central focus of al Qaeda's worldwide effort. Are you saying that al Qaeda and Iraq is now the, sort of, principal enemy of the U.S. forces stationed there? Before it was Shia groups.

And do you see that this is an -- that al Qaeda in Iraq, do you see any evidence that it is linked internationally to bin Laden? How many foreign fighters are actually there?

PETRAEUS: First of all, we do definitely see links to the greater al Qaeda network. I think you know that we have at various times intercepted messages to and from.

There is no question but that there is a network that supports the movement of foreign fighters through Syria into Iraq. It is something we can, you know, keep some track of in a broad way. Obviously, when we can get the final 50 meters, if you will, we then take action against it.

It is clearly the element in Iraq that conducts the sensational attacks, these attacks that, as I mentioned, cause not just horrific physical damage -- and which, by the way, have been increasingly indiscriminate.

Secretary Gates noted the other day that al Qaeda has declared war on all Iraqis. I think that that is an accurate statement. They have killed and wounded and maimed countless Iraqi civilians in addition to, certainly, coalition and Iraqi security forces. And they have done that, again, without regard to ethno-sectarian identity.

That significance of al Qaeda in the conduct of the sensational attacks -- the huge car bomb attacks, against which we have been hardening markets, hardening neighborhoods, trying to limit movement and so forth -- those attacks, again, are of extraordinary significance because they can literally drown out anything else that might be happening. As I mentioned, we generally, in many areas -- not all, but in many areas -- have a sense of, sort of, incremental progress. Again, that is not transmitted at all. Of course, it will never break through the noise and the understandable coverage given to it in the press of a sensational attack that kills many Iraqis.

So this is a -- you know, it is a very significant enemy.

I think it is probably public enemy number one. It is the enemy whose actions sparked the enormous increase in sectarian violence that did so much damage to Iraq in 2006: the bombing of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, the gold mosque there, the third holiest Shia shrine.

And it is the organization that continues to try to reignite not just sectarian violence but ethnic violence as well, going after Iraqi Kurds in Ninevah province, in Kirkuk and areas such as that as well.

So again, I think a very, very significant enemy in that regard.

QUESTION: Number of foreign fighters?

PETRAEUS: I wouldn't hazard a guess.

What I will say is that there are certainly dozens of foreign fighters who do come into the country on a monthly basis; again, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the state of the network. It is obviously a network that we do focus on and try to disrupt very considerably. QUESTION: Sir, what would be the -- in your assessment as a military man, what would be the consequences on the ground in Baghdad if the United States was to pull back from its security mission in the capital by the fall (ph), withdraw its forces, say, to the forward operating bases in the capital and maybe withdraw from Iraq by the summer of '08?

I'm not asking you about congressional legislation or about timelines. I'm asking you for your military assessment of the effects on the ground if the U.S. were to end its security mission in Baghdad in the fall -- in terms of insurgent activity, the vulnerability of the population and sectarian violence.

PETRAEUS: I have, as you know, in fact tried to stay clear of the political mine fields of various legislative proposals and so forth. And I think the commander on the ground's job is to understand the mission he's given, make the request for the forces that are needed to accomplish that mission and then identify the risks, if you will, when all of those forces may -- may not be provided those resources.

We are doing what we're doing -- increasing our forces -- in response to an increase in sectarian violence that took place in the year 2006. And it continued into January when, in fact, sectarian murders were still very, very high in Baghdad. And that doesn't imply that they are at an acceptable level now. But they are about one-third what they were, say, as recently as January.

We believe that the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces in neighborhoods; the focus on the so-called extrajudicial killing -- EJK -- cells, is, at least in substantial part, a reason for the reduction in these sectarian killings.

So I think it's -- depending on where we are in September, of course, and I think that's a key question, how much progress can we make.

My sense is that there would be an increase in sectarian violence, a resumption of sectarian violence, were the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces, at that time, to be reduced and not to be doing what it is that they are doing right now.

And I think, again, that carries through. In each case, you have to make some assumptions about where you think you might be at that time.

You could have some optimistic assumptions. You could have some pessimistic assumptions. And then that would determine, I think, what the result would be, in terms of a resumption of insurgent activity, extremist activity, in terms of the various death squads.

By the way, I'm not talking about the run-of-the-mill Jaish al- Mahdi, by the way. I'd like to distinguish between just, sort of, the young men with guns on the streets at various points in time and these extremist cells, which are the ones that cannot exist as they did in the past if Iraq is to have a sustainable situation at some point in time down the road.

QUESTION: You said just now that things are likely to get -- may get worse before they get better. Are you -- what kind of progress are you seeing, or do you expect to see, over the next couple of months, that you think you'll be to make this assessment in September?

And if the Iraqi government does leave for a recess, which the secretary has asked them not to, will that postpone or impair your ability to make this assessment in September or just stall any improvements there?

PETRAEUS: Well, we're going to make the assessment in early September. That's a commitment that Ambassador Crocker and I have made.

By the way, we are determined to continue to operate as Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey did: one team, one mission. And to carry on the Embassy and Multi-National Force-Iraq literally linked arms as we do that.

But we have committed to make that assessment in September. We think that's the appropriate time to make it. It will be a time at which we will have had our additional forces on the ground for several months, all of them operating in the areas in which we intend to deploy them.

We will have seen additional Iraqi security forces. I forget the exact number that is being trained just in the month of May that will graduate from this greatly expanded institutional training capacity of the Iraqis. I think it's in the order of 7,000 to 9,000 in the military alone. But we can get that to you later.

So they will be have been beefed up continually during this time. There's additional equipment continually flowing to them.

I note, by the way, they have well over 2,500 up-armored Humvees alone now in that division, a wheeled armor vehicle brigade and so forth.

So again, all of this will have gone on. And then on the Iraqi governmental side they will have had a number of additional days, meetings of the Council of Representatives. Our additional provincial reconstruction teams will have been at work, the budget execution focus, the rule-of-law task force and so force.

We'll have seen whether in fact our effort in these areas have helped produce the kind of progress that they're designed, in fact, to produce and to see if there is an exploitation of the opportunity that we believe our soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and police will have provided to the Iraqi governmental leaders to come to grips, again, with some of these really tough legislative issues.

Secretary Gates made pretty clear, I think, about the expectations that -- you know, that given the hard work of our soldiers and the Iraqi soldiers, that one would certainly hope that the Iraqi legislators would match that with their own hard work. That's our expectation. They want their country to succeed, needless to say. And it's going to require them, obviously, coming together to make the kind of progress that we think is important.

QUESTION: You talk about continued commitment and perseverance and sacrifice. And you also say, as we've heard for years now, success will depend on the Iraqis.

And I'm just wondering, do you anticipate high levels of troops -- American troops in Iraq -- let's say 100,000 or thereabouts -- for years to come?

PETRAEUS: I'm not -- I wouldn't try to truly to anticipate what levels would be some years down the road.

I think that my predecessor at various times -- a number of people have noted the length of commitment that has been required in historical cases that are somewhat similar to this, although every case is absolutely unique. And the challenges here, as I mentioned, are enormous, with huge regional implications as well.

It is an endeavor, again, that clearly is going to require enormous commitment and commitment over time, but beyond that time I don't want to get into try to postulate how many brigades or when we would start to do something (inaudible)

(CROSSTALK)

PETRAEUS: I wouldn't even -- I'm not going to hazard that kind of thing.

QUESTION: The car bombs that you talked about, the spectacular attacks -- number one, do you have any way do tell us how much they have increased, perhaps since the first of the year? Do you have any evidence of Iranian involvement at this point in any of these networks that are doing these massive car bombs?

And you spoke about Iran being extremely unhelpful. You said you had new information in the last month. What have you learned about Iran's involvement?

PETRAEUS: The Iranian involvement has really become much clearer to us and brought into much more focus during the interrogation of the members -- the heads of the Khazali network and some of the key members of that network that have been in detention now for a month or more.

This is the head of the secret cell network, the extremist secret cells. They were provided substantial funding, training on Iranian soil, advanced explosive munitions and technologies as well as run-of- the-mill arms and ammunition, in some cases in advice and in some cases even a degree of direction.

When we captured these individuals, the initial capture -- and then there have been a number of others since then -- we discovered, for example, a 22-page memorandum on a computer that detailed the planning, preparation, approval process and conduct of the operation that resulted in five of our soldiers being killed in Karbala.

It also detailed -- there are numerous document which detailed a number of different attacks on coalition forces. And our sense is that these records were kept so that they could be handed in to whoever it is that is financing them.

And there's no question, again, that Iranians financing is taking place through the Quds Force of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps.

As you know, there are seven Quds Force members in detention as well.

This involvement, again, we learned more about with the detention of the individual named Shebani (ph), who is one of the heads of the Shebani (ph) network, which brings explosively formed projectiles into Iraq from Iran. His brother is the Iranian connection. He was in Iraq. And that has been the conduit that then distributes these among the extremist elements, again, of these secret cells and so forth.

Those munitions, as you know, have been particularly lethal against some of our armored vehicles, and responsible for some of the casualties -- the more tragic casualties in attacks on our vehicles.

So I think that's what has taken place.

QUESTION: What is your assessment at this point?

Do you believe that the central government of Iran -- Ahmadinejad himself, perhaps -- is, number one, aware of this, supporting it, directing it?

What is the central government involvement?

Could this level of activity possibly take place without the Iranian leadership knowing about it?

And just, as another point, do you see any involvement beyond EFPs?

Are they now involved in these spectacular suicide car bomb attacks?

PETRAEUS: I don't think we have found a link to the spectacular car bomb attacks which we believe are generally al Qaeda and elements, sort of, connected to al Qaeda.

Typically, in fact, still we believe that 80 to 90 percent of the suicide attacks are carried out by foreigners. That's a network, again, that typically brings them in through Syria and is, again, a major concern, and certainly a hope that Syria will crack down on the ability of people to come through their airport and so forth and then be brought into Iraq.

With respect to how high does it go and, you know, what did they know and when did they know it, I honestly cannot -- that is such a sensitive issue that we do not, at least I do not, know of anything that specifically identifies how high it goes beyond the level of the Quds Force commander Suleiman (ph).

Beyond that, it is very difficult to tell. We know where he is in the overall chain of command. He certainly reports to the very top. But again, nothing that would absolutely indicate, again, how high the knowledge of this actually goes.

QUESTION: General Petraeus, you said that things may get worse before they get better, in this effort.

Can you expand a little on what the American-Iraqi public should be potentially braced for?

And are higher U.S. casualties inevitable as a result of your new approach? You mentioned that your losses had gone up since you moved into the neighborhoods. Is that likely to continue? Is that something they should also be braced for?

PETRAEUS: I mentioned this because as you move into areas that you've not operated in before, as you contend with elements that were in those areas that in some cases were not challenged -- I mean, there are some element areas that were -- that had become to some degree sanctuaries for certain extremist organizations -- as that takes place, I think there is the very real possibility that there's going to be more combat action and that, therefore, there could be more casualties.

And that's really all that I am implying with that. I don't want that to become the, you know, the central message of this by any means.

But I think that when you are expanding your forces, when you're expanding your forces' presence, when you are going into areas that have been very lightly populated with coalition forces in the past, that there is going to be more action. And as we take on elements, again, that in some cases were unchallenged, that that will take place.

And, certainly, Iraqi forces will be our partners in all of that and have been all along so far.

QUESTION: General, a clarification and then a question.

In regard to this 22-page memorandum that you said was seized in one raid, was that in reference to the number of American soldiers who were, sort of, ambushed and kidnapped and then killed?

PETRAEUS: Yes.

QUESTION: And were you saying that there was evidence of Iranian involvement in that operation?

PETRAEUS: No.

QUESTION: I just want to be clear.

PETRAEUS: No, no. First of all, that was the operation that you mentioned.

And we do not have a direct link to Iranian involvement in that particular case.

QUESTION: And then my question -- regarding the fact that you said any success depends largely on the Iraqi government. Yet when what appears to be a key part of the early surge strategy -- is the erection of this, what you called a concrete caterpillar, the 12-foot wall to separate Sunni and Shia...

PETRAEUS: This is not to separate Sunni and Shia. Let me use my point of personal privilege here to interject that.

Let me just explain, in fact, if I could, and then I'll actually give you a chance to finish that question, if I could.

The concrete caterpillar, the Arizona creeper, whatever you want to call it -- there really are a number of these throughout Baghdad. It is part of an overall effort that is designed to make neighborhoods, markets, areas of congestion safer for the Iraqis who live in those areas, work in them, shop in them and so forth.

I think I mentioned that it includes Operation Safe Neighborhood, Operation Safe Market.

Safe Market is one that -- where we focused first on the two biggest markets in Iraq, the Shorja (ph) market and the Jajriya (ph) market. These have tens of thousands of Iraqis in them during their peak hours on a daily basis. And they were subject to car bombs before the Baghdad security plan began.

And so with the Iraqis, we sat down and they designed a way of putting barriers around it so that you could limit access to it by vehicle. And they actually shut it off to vehicles during the hours that the market is in full swing. And they can only go in during the early morning hours to set up and then, after the markets close, to tear down and take out the trash and so forth. That's been done now for a vast number of markets, not just in Baghdad but in other cities as well.

There are similar efforts ongoing to enable better control of vehicular movement, checkpoints all over Baghdad. There's a proliferation of checkpoints that become increasingly elaborate to provide better through-put, better protection for the Iraqi soldiers who typically are the ones that are manning these.

Another effort -- there is a safe neighborhood initiative. Again, a number of different neighborhoods. And you can actually focus on where they need to be. You can look at the density -- the plots, if you will -- of where there are sectarian murders taking place and you array that for a week, for a month, what have you, and you can identify the areas in which there are cells operating.

So when you're going to then go into that neighborhood, clear it -- and clearing takes a long time. It's taken us 19 days just to clear Mansur District alone, for example, one of the central districts in Baghdad. You then have to be able to hold it or else it is -- the clearing operation was not of enduring value. You can't hold it if you cannot control access to and from that particular neighborhood.

In most cases, actually, the neighbors welcome that kind of barrier plan or walls or what have you. In many cases, this has given the confidence to people in those neighborhoods to return to them because now they are actually walled off from bad guys, from extremists. And that is what it is that we are trying to wall off.

In some cases, the walls are indeed along sectarian fault lines. In some cases, they are just walling off neighborhoods that are mixed neighborhoods.

Again, it depends on the geography of the neighborhood, not on the sectarian demographic breakdown.

The issue in this case, and the reason Adhamiyah became a cause for concern is because it is a very old neighborhood, as many of you know that have been there. And it has one of the historic Sunni Arab shrines in Iraq in it, a very old mosque.

And that raised sensitivities that access to that was being walled off and so forth. And so there was consideration given.

Our commanders, with the Iraqi commanders, have looked hard at how can you achieve, again, population control without having some kind of obtrusive barrier and so forth. And that is ongoing now.

So that's what it is that Iraqis and we are trying to do.

By the way, a large number of the work is being done by Iraqis, Iraqi contractors and some Iraqi military engineer units, and then other is being done by U.S. engineer elements.

QUESTION: Yet it also raised strong objections from Prime Minister Maliki.

So how successful can U.S. military operations be if they are subject to being politically undercut by the Iraqi government?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think it would be worth -- I think that that's probably worth seeking clarification on. Because there's been a little bit more of a meeting of minds, I think, on that in recent days.

QUESTION: General, you talked about a Baghdad clock and a Washington clock. Can you explain what you mean by that?

And is it your assessment that this war can be won on anything close to that Washington clock? And how would you envision -- what would that victory would look like?

PETRAEUS: Yes, sure.

You know, what I've said is that there is a Washington clock ticking. And actually, to be fair to those in Washington, it's an American clock.

But that clock is moving and it's moving at a rapid rate of speed. And it reflects the frustration, impatience, disappointment, anger and a variety of other emotions -- feel about the pace in Iraq and the situation in Iraq.

And you know, I am not immune to those emotions, either, having given over two and a half years of my life and watched a number of our soldiers give the last full measure of devotion to it.

So we want to see faster progress. And, again, that is understandable that that clock is moving pretty rapidly.

The Baghdad clock, for all the reasons that I mentioned, is not moving as rapidly. It is not enough, for example, to go to Prime Minister Maliki -- who I do believe, as I mentioned, is someone who wants to lead and serve all Iraqis.

But it's not enough to go to him. He's not the Prime Minister Tony Blair of Iraq. He does not have a parliamentary majority. He does not have his ministers in all of the different ministries. They are from all kinds of different parties. They sometimes sound a bit discordant in their statements to the press and their statements to other countries. It's a very, very challenging situation in which to lead.

And so, as I mentioned to some of the congressional leaders yesterday, in fact, we need to encourage and provide that -- those emotions to all Iraqi leaders -- the key leaders of the key parties, of the key blocks of the Shia, Sunni, Kurds and so forth, and, again, the key elements within those blocks and leaders in the Council of Representatives, leaders of the presidency, leaders of the -- again, that is what is necessary. And they're all going to have to work together to make progress.

That's a tall order, but that is what does have to happen. They understand it. I think that a number of them are determined to do what is necessary to achieve resolution of these very difficult issues.

But, again, I make no bones about the challenges that are involved there.

QUESTION: You've mentioned a number of positive trends, most notably the reduction of sectarian violence. But there are negative trends.

(CROSSTALK)

PETRAEUS: I mentioned those, too, I think. Yes.

QUESTION: ... some numbers to go with those that are equivalent with the numbers you've given us for the reduction in sectarian violence.

PETRAEUS: Actually, I think the level of violence has roughly been -- depending, again, on how you calculate these things, but by our consistent method, level of violence has generally been unchanged. There was a dip for a while throughout the country -- that there was a dip for a while. It was coming down in that these sensational attacks of the past couple of weeks and a couple of these chlorine bomb attacks, just because of the sheer number of people that end up going to a hospital even though they may then immediately come out, in the case of the chlorine bomb attacks, tends to run those up.

So we have not seen a corresponding drop in the level of violence statistics that we have seen in the sectarian murder statistics.

The reason I focused on the later, though, is because it is a very important metric for neighborhoods. I mean, if you neighborhood is subject to the kind of extrajudicial killing that plagued Baghdad as recently as January and still does plague some neighborhoods, obviously, you cannot focus on much other than just survival.

And, of course, that's what caused this displacement of, really, millions of Iraqis over the course of the last couple of years. And it is something that, again, you have to drive down if, again, there's to be the degree of confidence that can help them gradually put a few stitches back into the fabric of a society that has been torn by sectarian violence.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about car bombings?

PETRAEUS: Well, I factored that in there.

I don't know that there's been an appreciable change, actually, in that. Again, it tends to be quite fluctuating. You know, the last couple of days, for example -- the previous two days, after the horrific attack on our 82nd Airborne Division, soldiers actually -- it was back down somewhat.

But again, it just tends to go in cycles. And we have not seen a definitive trend that I could report to you in that regard.

QUESTION: Sir, you've said that success ultimately depends on the Iraqi government. There's a reasonable chance that they won't come through with what they need to do, given all the complexities that you've laid out.

What can you tell the American people -- why is it worth the continued sacrifice on the chance that the Iraqi government won't hold up its end of the bargain?

And one of the things that I hear from people who are for the withdrawal or the phased redeployment is, how much worse can it get than it has been: 2006, 34,000 civilian dead?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think again, it does come down to the implications of various options. And it can get much, much worse than it was.

Right now it is -- I think it's fair to say a good bit better. But again, I am not trying in any way, shape or form to indicate that this is a satisfactory situation whatsoever.

I did mention, again, one metric that I think is an important one. It's one that we happen to focus on literally with our forces. But there are others, again -- the car bombs -- and I did, in fact, identify that as one that has shown an area in which we obviously have to focus even more effort, because it has inflicted horrific casualties on Iraqis in particular.

So again, I think you have to ask, you know -- just as I responded -- what are the implications of various options? What do you think would happen? Of course, that depends on assumptions about the situation, when it is that you carry out the various options. And I think that that's -- that's hugely important, as one, again, thinks of these different notions for the way ahead.

QUESTION: General, if sectarian killings are coming down, are you seeing any evidence of people moving back in their old districts, and Sunnis and Shias starting to live together again?

And secondly, your recommendations in September -- are you willing to countenance the idea that you may have to say to the president, "This is not working; we should pull the troops out"? Or are you more likely to say, "Things are not going well; here are the adjustments in strategy we need to make"?

PETRAEUS: Well, on the latter one, I mean, I have an obligation to some wonderful young men and women in uniform -- and a lot of civilians, by the way -- who are serving in Iraq and who deserve a forthright assessment from the folks at the top about the situation on the ground.

And that's what I'm going to provide.

Now, with respect to returnees, we've seen small numbers. And that's, I think, what you heard me say in the statement. Again, I don't know that you would yet call it a trend.

We have seen, again, some neighborhoods that were really depopulated, in which there have been the early signs of returns.

We have seen -- I mean, you look at a place, for example, like Dora, the Dora market down in East Rashid in Baghdad, a real difficult area, perhaps one of the toughest in all of Baghdad.

I went on a couple of patrols the day after I took command back in February. And candidly, I was, sort of, shocked at what I saw, in terms of what sectarian violence had done to Baghdad.

And the Dora area, in particular, struck me because there was not a single shop open at all. And there now are -- I think it's over 200 and literally climbing every day.

The reason is because Iraqi and coalition soldiers hardened that market, located Iraqi and U.S. combat outposts right in the center of the market, and then on its periphery. And, in fact, I walked through that area with a CNN reporter, in fact, a few weeks ago. And it has continued to expand, over time, down there, despite attacks. So there's a degree of resilience there as well.

But that's what we're seeing. And again, too soon, I think, to call that a trend, too soon to say that what we've done in just the first couple of months has, with our Iraqi partners, again, enabled them to stitch together the fabric of a society that was so torn.

QUESTION: General, the commander of Camp Cropper has been relieved and imprisoned for allegedly aiding the enemy.

One, can you provide any more information about this?

And two, do what do you attribute the apparent continuing problems with detainee operations?

PETRAEUS: He actually, I think, gave up command, actually, last fall, as I understand it.

And I'm aware of his charges, but he is actually in Kuwait, which is where the case is being carried out.

And as with any case that is ongoing, a senior commander can't comment because of the concern over command influence. And that's really where I'd have to leave that.

I think that the command there has provided the details on the charges.

Again, this is something that took place quite some time back; actually well before I came on the scene. And that's about all I know about that.

QUESTION: What can you say about...

PETRAEUS: With respect to the detainee operations, I think, actually, that we have learned an enormous amount the very hard way. But I do think that we did make a number of corrections in the wake of Abu Ghraib and some of the other problems that we have had with detainee operations.

We believe that those operations are quite humane. And obviously, they're in somewhat marked contrast to those of al Qaeda and the extremists, who indiscriminately attack civilians and coalition and Iraqi security forces.

I saw the report by UNAMI, and we believe that there are numerous factual inaccuracies in that that actually need correction. And I'd actually welcome the opportunity to discuss this a little bit.

The administrative review process that MNF-I uses is really quite robust and it has multiple checks and balances.

The specific procedures that are followed by Multi-National Force-Iraq are based on those in the Fourth Geneva Convention, and they are well-rooted in generally accepted law of war principles; all of this supplemented and guided by the field manual that was published this past year which governed the treatment of detainees, interrogation and so forth.

There is no 60-day period during which detainees are not allowed counsel, although normally there's a 30-day window before which visitors are allowed, although exceptions can be made in the case of an attorney. After that, an individual can see his attorney.

MNF-I maintains detainee assistance center at its theater detention facilities, which, again, have come light years from where we were in the early days, but which, frankly, still need continued improvement, particularly in the sense that in some cases we have detainees who are truly maximum security-type detainees and we have to improve the facilities, in fact, to accommodate some of those individuals.

The detainee assistance center facilities services are available to all detainees. We have the capability to refer a detainee to the Iraqi bar association where he can obtain an attorney at the detainee's expense.

Furthermore, the Iraqi government provides defense counsel to any detainee at no expense to the detainee at the time a detainee's case is referred to an investigative hearing at the central criminal court of Iraq, a process that, as you know, has been ongoing at some time.

In addition, defense counsel will continue to be provided throughout all subsequent stages of that particular process.

QUESTION: General, last week -- you spoke about the progress in Anbar. Last week, Major General Olson (ph), one of the leaders of the PRT efforts, raised a question about Anbar efforts, saying that the military has empowered tribal leaders potentially at the expense of democratic governance.

QUESTION: I wonder if you think that's the case, and whether you would say at this point achieving stability and security and safety in Anbar has to be a greater priority than -- you know, than democratic governance.

PETRAEUS: First of all, I didn't see that statement. I'd be somewhat surprised if it's -- is it the Rick Olson (ph) who's the PRT, or...

QUESTION: Yes. He was just saying that bringing the tribes in obviously had its good effects, but it also potentially undercuts the -- you know, what will hopefully be the elected government of Anbar province.

PETRAEUS: Well, I -- look, I think first of all that the tribal elements of Iraq are a fact of life, and that what Iraq eventually will have is some form of government that at least listens to and incorporates the views of tribes and sheiks, particularly in an area like Anbar province.

Now, it varies when you're in cities. The tribal influence is less. But I think that candidly a mistake we may have made in early days was not to pay enough attention to these very important elements of Iraqi society which still play a very, very key role -- and it really, you know, a lot more than I think sort of the stereotypical view of tribes. I mean, each tribe generally has a construction company, an import-export business and a trucking company as well. I mean, these are entrepreneurs as well as tribes, and they provide a variety of services to the members of their tribes.

So I think, again, that what results in Anbar province will actually have the features of democratic governance: representing the citizens of Anbar province and being responsive to them. But among those elements to whom they are responsive will be certainly the sheiks and the...

WHITFIELD: OK, underscoring a pretty sobering reality in Iraq. Very sobering when you hear General David Petraeus say that the situation in Iraq is, quote, "complex and challenging, the most complex and challenging I have ever seen."

HARRIS: There is much more we're going to talk about from this briefing this morning. Let's see a picture of our general, retired Brigadier General James "Spiker" Marks.

WHITFIELD: He was plugged in, listening. It will be interesting to see what his take is on what General Petraeus had to say.

HARRIS: coming up next in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's get some reaction to the comments from General Petraeus. Just moments ago in the Pentagon briefing. Let's bring in our general for analysis on this. Military expert Retired Brigadier General James Marks, live with us from Washington.

Spider, great to see you.

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Hi.

HARRIS: No promises there from the general, but he did say that it will take commitment, perseverance and sacrifice to win. He is asking for some time, isn't he?

MARKS: Absolutely. I mean, as he indicated at one point there are two clocks that you deal with. You deal with the U.S. and Washington clock in particular, and then you deal with the Baghdad clock, and David's clock is the Baghdad clock.

HARRIS: Let me ask you to expand on his comments right at the top of the briefing, the most complex operational environment, the worst he has ever seen. Put us on the ground, if you would. What is he describing there? What is he talking about there?

MARKS: It's an incredible mix of sectarian violence, an opportunity to try to achieve normalcy. The normal Iraqi family trying to just get their lives back together, the growth of a military, the growth of governance, the sovereignty of Iraq, foreign fighters, focus of the world.

Tony, the list just goes on. And so you build all this together, and that's what General Petraeus and the soldier on the ground deals with.

HARRIS: Not enough government capacity to reach the deals on sharing oil revenues, amending the Constitution to satisfy more Sunnis, reducing sectarian violence and other key issues. But he is smart enough to, again, say to us that that has to happen, but even that is going to take some time.

MARKS: Absolutely, Tony. See, what you're dealing with here is you're looking at the growth of a government and the perspective of nationalism that hasn't really been achieved. What has happened when you let loose of Saddam, you got rid of those bonds and all those things that held them down. For years, you had this cathartic growth in expression. You've got to get all of that kind of in the same direction. The rudder's got to get in the water and they have move together with the nationalistic perspective, and that's what he's talking about. That is governance in its full flavor and form. Military is necessary, but not sufficient. I think he talked about that as well.

HARRIS: Help us here understand what he is up against. His unique position here leading the war effort in Iraq, understanding that here in Washington there is this huge debate going on and there is real talk, real language about a shift. Call this legislation what you will, but it does represent a new approach to fighting this war in Iraq. What is he up against trying to fulfill the mandates of this surge, understanding -- is this the definition of being between a rock and a hard place here?

HARRIS: Yes, it really is. Frankly, Tony, you know, the first of all, the definition of a surge is something's going to surge and something's going to recede. What General Petraeus has said all along is you've got to increase the number of troops on the ground, which is happening. There are about 60 percent of the way through.

But there's not going to necessarily be a recession, nor should there be, immediately on the heels of that, because it does take time to try to achieve the results and to achieve the security, as mission No. 1, so that Iraq can step up and grow its military, establish governance, provide electricity, open schools, hospitals, et cetera.

So it's that type of -- there's a rush to impatience here in the United States. And in Iraq, that clearly is just not the case. So he's got to focus in on his mission and his requirements in country.

HARRIS: But as he is laying out the success, the progress -- I shouldn't say success -- the progress that is being made during this surge, it just seems to point out what wasn't done over the last four years, how little progress was being made over the last four years. And I'm just wondering, are we in a situation now where he is going to be asking for not months, not -- but years to fulfill what he believes is the problem of this surge?

MARKS: Well, the solution, of course, is over years. Whether that includes the U.S. presence in this number and in this focus is clearly another discussion for debate. As you know, '08 is around the corner.

HARRIS: Yes!

MARKS: And that's the D.C. clock, and the bottom is going to fall out of this thing. So what can Iraq do now to discernibly, in very measured terms, demonstrate we got it, and that's what David Petraeus and this organization is working on right now.

HARRIS: Retired Brigadier General James Spiker Marks. Spider as always, great to talk to you. Thanks for your time.

MARKS: Thank you.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines