Published April 19, 2010
The following is a rush transcript of the April 18, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Joining us now from Baghdad is the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.
General, let's start with the political situation. You obviously had an election on March 7th. Ayad Allawi's coalition won 91 seats but Prime Minister Maliki's alliance won 89 seats and is demanding a recount. And the U.S. ambassador says it could take months to seat a new government.
General, how worried are you about this political disarray?
GEN. RAY ODIERNO, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: Well, first, I think those elections were historic, Chris, and what it showed is Iraqi people got to vote for who they thought they wanted to continue to move Iraq forward. I believe it will take a couple months to form the government.
I think, though, the Iraqi security forces continue to do a good job. And I'm confident that we'll be able to provide the environment so they can elect a government that is representative of the people of Iraq.
WALLACE: If the Shiites succeed in disqualifying more members of the Allawi Sunni alliance, and also, if they are able to create a government without Sunnis, do you worry about a possible return to sectarian violence in Iraq?
ODIERNO: It's been clear from all of the political leaders that everybody understands they must include all major political blocks in the government. And we think that's a very important point as we move forward, because it's important that we don't alienate any of the major blocks, whether they be Sunni, or partly Shia or the Kurds.
And we believe that the conversation going on today is focused on participation of all the different blocks, so we're confident that all will be included the government. And it'll be very important, because what we don't want is to have people who don't feel like they're represented, people that they feel are alienated which then they could choose, potentially, to go back to violence.
WALLACE: General, the draw down of U.S. forces was supposed to begin about six weeks after the election, which is right about now. Are you going to be able to ramp up the withdrawal of U.S. forces? You've got about 99,000. You've got to get down to 50,000 by the end of August. Are you going to be able to ramp up the withdrawal, given the uncertainty about the political situation?
ODIERNO: Chris, I think it's both appropriate and time for us to get down to our transition force in order for us to conduct stability operations. We're about 95,000 today.
Over the last year, Iraqi security forces have slowly taken over more and more responsibility. They did it through the elections. They do it today. We no longer conduct major operations in Iraq. The Iraqi security forces do, and we support them while they do that. So I absolutely think it's appropriate.
And what we'll move to is we're going to move toward stability operations, and that means we'll train, advise, assist the Iraqi security forces. We will continue to provide help to the provincial reconstruction teams, United Nations, other non-governmental organizations to build civil capacity, and we will still conduct partnered counterterrorism operations every day with the Iraqis.
And I think that's what we're doing today and that's what we'll continue to do post-1 September.
WALLACE: Let's — I was talking about, obviously, the political situation. Let's throw another component into this equation, and that is the security situation. There have been a series of recent bombings which have killed dozens of people.
You just successfully foiled a plot by Al Qaeda in Iraq, sort of a 9/11-style plot to hijack airplanes and fly them into holy Shiite shrines. Are the insurgents — is Al Qaeda — are they becoming a new — a renewed threat, more of a problem in the security situation in Iraq?
ODIERNO: Yeah, first off, Al Qaeda continues to be significantly degraded. We've got to put this in perspective, Chris. First quarter fiscal year '10 was the lowest number of incidents we've had in a quarter, the lowest number of high-profile attacks, the lowest number of indirect fire attacks, the lowest number of civilian casualties, the lowest number of U.S. force casualties, the lowest number of Iraqi security force casualties. So the direction continues to be headed in the right way.
Yes, they are still capable of conducting attacks against innocent civilians, but the Iraqis have rejected the ideology of Al Qaeda. They are rejecting Al Qaeda as a whole inside of Iraq. We continue to make progress against them. There is still work to be done. There will still be bad days ahead of us, but it's becoming more and more difficult.
But the most important thing is the Iraqi security forces are now in the lead at going after Al Qaeda. And they are now developing their own capabilities to do this. We support them now. We will continue to support them through 2011. But I feel confident that they continue to build their own capabilities and capacities.
WALLACE: So looking at both the political situation and the security situation, are you prepared to say now, General, that you are going to meet the deadline, all combat troops will be out and the total forces, U.S. forces, will be below 50,000 by the end of August?
ODIERNO: We are — we are on target to be at 50,000 by August. We will still — we will have formations here that are able to train combat formations. We'll still be able to conduct counterterrorism operations. We'll still be able to support provincial reconstruction teams.
We're at about 95,000 today, Chris, so I — our plans are intact. I feel very comfortable with our plan. And unless something unforeseen and disastrous happens, I fully expect us to be at 50,000 by the 1st of September.
WALLACE: General, there's another aspect to this, and that is that there is widespread speculation in Iraq that the U.S. will try to negotiate — renegotiate the status of forces agreement that calls for all U.S. forces to be out by the end of 2011.
Is that something that you think we might have to do to ensure the long-term stability in Iraq?
ODIERNO: Well, I would tell you there is no move by the United States to renegotiate the security agreement. We are bound by that. We say we'll be out by the end of 2011.
If the government of Iraq thinks it would be to their advantage to ask us to stay longer than that, then we'll see. And then we'll have to have a discussion in the United States whether we decide to stay longer or not. But that will be up to the new Iraqi government, whether they want us to stay or not. And then we'll make our own decision based on our own policies.
WALLACE: General, what role is Iran playing these days in fomenting political and security instability inside your country?
ODIERNO: They still are very much involved. They still provide lethal aid. They provide training for those who continue to try to create instability in Iraq. They continue to try to increase their influence. They are involved in attempting to influence the results of elections. They do not respect Iraq's sovereignty.
In my mind, the stability — the instability that it creates is — has impacted economic development in Iraq. So they are still a threat. We look at it very carefully. We work very closely with the government of Iraq in order for them to take action against those who are trying to create this instability inside of southern Iraq specifically.
WALLACE: Is there anything more than the U.S. could do? And specifically, would you like authority to be able to cross the border to take out some of these camps where they train insurgents, where they arm insurgents, who then come into Iraq and kill Americans? ODIERNO: Yeah, I don't — Chris, I really don't think that's necessary. I think what's more important is to build up the Iraqi capability to protect their own homeland and allow them to protect their sovereignty. And that's what I would rather see us do, and that's what we're in the process of doing right now. I think that's the right strategy, and I think it's more of a longer term strategy.
They are — the Iraqis are nationalists. They will reject unwanted Iranian influence. They want to overall have a good relationship with Iran like they do with all their neighbors. But they will not tolerate malign influence inside of Iraq. So we want to give them the capability so they can handle this problem. And that's what we are focused on now.
WALLACE: General, finally, I want to talk about you, because the Pentagon has just announced that you will be rotating out of Iraq around the time that we get all our combat troops out, late summer, early fall. You have served in Iraq almost four years, longer than any other U.S. general. How do you feel about leaving the country?
ODIERNO: Well, first, Chris, the Pentagon has not announced that. It's very speculative in nature. In fact, I have not been told yet I'm rotating out. So I would just say that's very speculative.
I am very proud to continue to serve here with these incredible young men and women that are here. As far as I know, I will be here for the next several months at least, and we'll wait and see. But as far as I know, there's been no official announcement or nobody has contacted me yet about leaving.
WALLACE: Well, maybe...
ODIERNO: That said, I would just say I have...
WALLACE: Go ahead, sir.
ODIERNO: What I would say is that said, I would just say that I think we have an opportunity here in Iraq. Iraq is a critical country here in the Middle East.
I think it's important that we understand that and that we have an opportunity that we might never get again here, and that it's important that we help to build Iraq, we help to build Iraq into a country that becomes a strong partner of the United States, a partner that brings stability to the Middle East, a partner that's able to grow economically, diplomatically and is able to contribute to the security architecture regionally here.
And so I think that's an opportunity that we want to continue on. And I certainly hope that we'll be able to do that both 2011 with security forces here in Iraq, and then after 2011 with continued significant engagement between the United States government and the government of Iraq itself.
WALLACE: General Odierno, we want to thank you so much for talking with us today, and we thank you and the men and women in your command for your service, sir.
ODIERNO: Well, thank you, Chris. It's an honor to be on your show today. And again, I feel blessed to be able to work here with all these great young men and women. They are true national treasures and heroes.
WALLACE: Hear, hear to that, sir.
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