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Briefing En Route Baghdad, Iraq

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route Baghdad, Iraq
February 17, 2007

SECRETARY RICE: All right, I thought we would just spend a few minutes talking about the Baghdad stop. We've talked a lot about the Middle East stops. But I think it's an important time, good time to go to Baghdad. The Baghdad security plan is just beginning to unfold and I think it's important to realize that it wasn't ever intended to be a sort of single day; it was intended to ramp up over time. And I will have an opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister about how he views the start of the plan.

I'm looking forward to talking to our people about how we are coming with the elements of support that are needed from state and economic agencies on the political side, on the economic side. But I also intend to have a meeting with a number of the Iraqi leaders who I think form a kind of centrist group that can help support the Prime Minister and the government in what they're trying to do in bringing population security to their people, in bringing down the level of sectarian violence and delivering services and jobs to the people. I think at this point we're really only checking inputs because it's too early to expect there to have been real results from the plan. But I do want to make certain that everybody feels that we're getting the right input. So that's the purpose of this Baghdad stop.

QUESTION: How would you rate Prime Minister Maliki's performance at the moment? You have been critical in the past. Do you think he really is committed this time and that his commitment is -- so far in terms of the security clampdown he has pulled out all the stops to get it -- to move it forward?

SECRETARY RICE: I've been quite impressed with his performance and the performance of his government thus far. The speech that General Abboud gave a few days ago in which he talked about really the commitment of the government to even reconstruct neighborhoods that had been torn apart by sectarian violence was really a remarkable speech and I think showed a dedication to ending the sectarian violence and bringing about -- I can read sign language, right? And bringing about an end to the sectarian violence and really being even-handed in a way that the population is protected I think has been very impressive.

And I'll have a better sense when I get there of how the input side is going, but my impression from the briefings that we've had back home is that the Iraqis are showing up, they are doing the job alongside their coalition counterparts and that they're off to a good start.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it's the beginning, clearly. But I do sense that the strength of commitment -- the Prime Minister has spoken about this plan probably four or five times to the population to really bring the kind of support for the plan that's needed from the population as well as from the political leadership. And I think it's been impressive thus far. But again, I think we don't know about results and we're going to have to continue to work on the input side.

I do want to understand better how well the Iraqis are doing or how well they think they're doing on some of the national reconciliation issues. It seems to me that those need to move along more quickly. They've made a lot of progress on the oil law. It would be good if that gets finished. And they need, obviously, on laws like de-Baathification and provincial elections to move ahead, although we understand the council of representatives is going to be in recess but there's a lot of work that can be done by the cabinet to get ready for when the council is ready to come back and consider the legislation.

QUESTION: If I could ask you to follow up on that. You've spoken in the past about the need for the Maliki government to meet benchmarks and to show progress on some of those national reconciliation issues. At least by my count from the document that he gave the government last year, gave the U.S. Government last year outlining some of those benchmarks, they haven't actually fully met any of them. At what point does -- you know, essentially do benchmarks cease to be the measure of progress for you?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, the wait for progress can't be endless, but we track not just the end points but the process itself. And I do think particularly on the national oil law there's been a lot of progress made and they seem to be very close to concluding that oil law. And so it's really important that they complete it, but it's also important that they've made progress.

One of the issues that I'd like to get a better sense for is how they think they're doing on de-Baathification, for instance, which has been a real issue because that touches people's lives in the Sunni community. You'll remember that with the initial de-Baathification initiative that they took, there were teachers and people who couldn't hold their jobs and so it obviously has a real impact on the lives of ordinary Iraqis and so I will want to see how they think that process is going. But obviously, the end point is really important, but when they're making progress that's also important to note.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that as the security drive has gotten underway that a lot of the militia and insurgents seem to have melted away, and whether or not that's a positive sign that actually may be making steps towards a reconciliation going about, or are you afraid that they're not simply going away to come back and fight (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, a lot depends on how the Iraqi Government uses whatever breathing space militia -- if, in fact, militias have decided to stand down and stop killing innocent Iraqis, or death squads or the militias, that can't be a bad thing. That's got to be a good thing. But how the Iraqis use the breathing space that that might provide is what's really important. Is there really progress on political reconciliation? Is there progress on bringing people into the political process who have been outside of it? Is there progress neighborhood by neighborhood in showing that the Iraqis, following on what we can do, are prepared to deliver jobs and opportunity and reconstruction to these areas that have been hard hit by sectarian violence?

So I don't know the full story. I think none of us know the full story of precisely what the militias are doing, but if there is a diminution in the violence as a result, if they’ve decided that they're not going to challenge the Baghdad security plan, then the use of that time for good purposes could make the situation much more stable. And in any case, eventually these militias have to be dismantled anyway.

QUESTION: There's been a lot of discussion over Iran's involvement in stoking up the violence in Iraq. How involved do you think Iran's leadership is in this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think the President covered this very well the other day. We know and I think there's a lot of evidence that Quds force has been involved in activities in Iran that are destabilizing. We went to the Iranian Government almost -- well, more than a year ago, a year and a half ago, to say that we were concerned about these explosive -- highly explosive IEDs.

And the DNI has said that it's hard to imagine a circumstance in which this kind of activity would take place without the knowledge of Iranian Government, but I can't -- I don't think -- I certainly can't and I don't believe the U.S. Government can give you chapter and verse about the involvement of the leadership of the Iranian Government. But I think you have to hold the Iranian Government as a whole accountable for the activities of its constituent parts, and that's why we would appeal to the Iranian Government to play a stabilizing role instead of a destabilizing role in Iraq. But I can't give you chapter and verse on what the leadership does and does not know.

QUESTION: I know you've been asked this a million times, but do you have any plans in the near future to speak directly to Iran about its interference or alleged interference in Iraq?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we talk all the time to the Iraqi Government about this issue and they talk to the Iranians. At this point we have, of course, delivered messages in the past to the Iranians that say please, you know, stop this activity, this is destabilizing the region and it's killing our soldiers. But we have the -- we have channels that we have used from time to time, and on this particular issue we have communicated to the Iranian Government our concerns about these activities.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit more about the meeting with some of the other politicians you're seeing? Who are they and is there any concern that by meeting with them it would appear to undercut your support for Maliki?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Iraq, as inchoate as it is, it is a democratic government. And in a democracy, the elected leader, elected leaders, need to support various constituencies. And that's what my message is going to be to these leaders with whom I'm meeting. Sean can give you the complete list, but it's President Talabani and I think [Barham] Salah and others. I don't have the full list myself. But I've met with all of them at one point in time -- one time or another before.

And these are all people who have a stake in a unified, democratic, stable, nonsectarian Iraq. Tariq al-Hashimi, for instance, will be there. And these are people who have at various times made statements, offered support in policy, and indeed made sacrifices in the case of somebody like Hashimi, who has lost family members, of their dedication to that goal. And that is Prime Minister Maliki's goal and he needs the support of other leaders. We very often talk about whether the Maliki government can deliver and sometimes it actually gets personalized: Can Maliki deliver? Well, this is a group of leaders that needs to deliver and they need to be supportive of what is being done there. They need to be out with their constituencies working on these issues. And I think they want to do that, and so that's what I'm going to be encouraging.

QUESTION: Could you maybe bring us up to date on the PRTs and the expansion of the PRTs because (inaudible) want to talk about that, but I'm not quite sure what the situation is.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we are ready to expand the PRTs. We have agreed to expand them into a number of areas, but we're putting early emphasis on Baghdad, neighborhoods in Baghdad, and then Anbar to accompany the surge in military forces with a political and economic surge as well. We're doing fine in terms of staffing them from the State Department point of view. We've identified the people who are going to lead them, who are going to be the political officers and so forth.

But State has agreed to be the recruiter -- is the way to think of it -- for other civilians who will be a part of the PRTs. And we don't have in the Foreign Service agronomists and engineers; we have to go out and recruit them and -- buy contracts from the civilian population. But we and DOD are working through the details of how we would do that, what kinds of skill sets we need, and we're already heavily into the process of recruiting those people. We look forward to the passage of the supplemental so that we can then fund that recruitment. But I feel good about what we have done in terms of the Foreign Service call and the response of people to that call. It's now a matter of getting other civilians in.

But it gives me an opportunity to say that it just demonstrates the importance of what the President mentioned in his State of the Union, which is a civilian reserve corps, because we just don't have a mechanism for widespread recruitment of civilians with different kinds of expertise to engage in this kind of state-building activity. And you'd like that not to have to be the military, not to have to be the reserve, but to be civilian. But it takes a while to recruit them, and if we had a civilian reserve corps they'd already be there and trained and they would be people who knew that they could be called to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.

And it's something that I think is overdue. I think going all the way back to the Balkans really we've needed this kind of civilian reserve corps. We learned the lesson in the Balkans. We learned the lesson in Afghanistan. We've needed those people in Haiti. We've needed those people in Liberia. We need them in Iraq. And given that we're going to be, I think, helping in a lot of post-conflict stabilization efforts, then I hope that we will do that. And I've found a lot of support for this concept on the Hill and we're going to be working very closely with the Congress to try to put that together.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, when do you think you'll be able to go to Baghdad on an announced visit and arrive and have an official delegation meet you?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't know. Obviously, the security situation is not as we would have liked it to be and not as we would have hoped it would have been. It is a difficult situation in which this kind of travel can't be, kind of, broadcast in advance. But it'll happen. You know, it'll happen. Right now, you have a lot of very violent people who are trying to really do away with the dreams of a lot of Iraqis who would just like to have a stable life, who I think in their own way are proud of their democracy. I have met with Iraqi women legislators and with university students and with others, and in their own way they're proud of their democracy.

But it's under attack. And part of the reason for the President's decision -- a lot of the reason for the President's decision to enhance our military and political and economic presence there is to hasten the day when Iraqis can protect themselves and in which the kind of violence that they're experiencing right now won't be the case any longer.

QUESTION: Thank you.


Released on February 17, 2007

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