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U.S. General in Iraq Discusses Handover of Military Forces

September 7, 2006 at 6:05 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Our newsmaker interview with the commanding general of multinational forces in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli. Ray Suarez talked with him earlier today. There were a few audio difficulties on the satellite feed from Baghdad.

RAY SUAREZ: General, welcome.

It seems, every morning, on the news in the United States, there’s an overnight tally of how many people are being killed in Iraq, 25 one day, 38 the next, a dozen tortured bodies picked up from the street the next day. In that kind of conflict zone, what’s the role of an individual American Marine or soldier?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI, Commanding General, Multinational Corps Iraq: Well, the individual American Marine or soldier is out every single day, trying to bring peace to Iraq, and trying to help establish the democratic government of Iraq.

I see the same reports you see. Some of them are correct. Some of them are incorrect. But I will tell you, there’s — there’s good things happening in Baghdad and around the country. The last two days, I have been in two of the areas that we have cleared, and been able to see firsthand what is going in those areas.

And they have become secure areas, not totally free of violence, but areas where people are beginning to get on with their lives, where individuals who were displaced from their homes in the very, very heavy violence that we had a month ago are — are now returning to their homes. And we’re seeing the beginning of economic revitalization of those areas. And, before too long, we will see some long-term projects, where basic services kick in, and, we think, really, really contribute to the security of Baghdad.

RAY SUAREZ: If there are gangs or militias or groups of people who really intend to wreak violence on each other, how does an armed force intervene to stop that?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: Well, I — I think it’s important to understand that this isn’t all Iraqis fighting all Iraqis.

There are small groups of individuals — we call them death squads — who are intent on attempting to try to continue this level of sectarian violence. It’s our job to go out on the security line of operation and find those death squads, and — and bring them to justice.

At the same time, we’re facilitating bringing basic services and allowing the government to bring basic services to the people in these focus areas. The focus areas are increasing every single day, as we secure more and more of Baghdad. And that will continue for the months to come.

Disagreement over violence reports

RAY SUAREZ: This morning, the Iraqi Health Ministry released statistics that showed that, as far as they were concerned, August was just as violent a month as July in the Iraqi capital, this even with Iraqi forces and the United States, in a joint operation, concentrating on trying to quell the violence in Baghdad itself.

What's your response?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: Well, there -- there are political agendas being played in -- in this government, as they are in all governments.

And we don't necessarily agree with -- with -- with those numbers that have come out. The numbers that I have seen in the August time period indicate a decrease in sectarian violence. All the indicators that we have indicate that, in Baghdad and the surrounding areas, and really throughout all of Iraq -- but since Baghdad and Diyala Province have been the key provinces for sectarian violence, we saw a significant decrease in the months of August over the same numbers we saw in July.

The Ministry of Health has numbers. We have numbers. And I -- I will tell you that I feel comfortable that our numbers indicate a decrease in sectarian violence in the month of August.

'A different war'

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli
Commander, Multi-national Corps-Iraq
Well, there's no doubt in my mind this is a different war than we fought two or three years ago, or this is -- and this is a different war than the United States has ever fought.

RAY SUAREZ: You have been quoted as saying that this is a different war than the one the United States was fighting in Iraq two or three years ago. How so? How have forces had -- had to adjust in recent months?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: Well, there's no doubt in my mind this is a different war than we fought two or three years ago, or this is -- and this is a different war than the United States has ever fought.

I, quite frankly, don't even like comparisons to Vietnam. You can say it's an insurgency, and Vietnam was an insurgency. But this is a different kind of insurgency. This is an insurgency that -- for an example, in Baghdad -- it's a city of 7.5 million people -- we're not fighting large formations. We're fighting an enemy that blends in to the population, an enemy that has no fixed numbers.

And it requires U.S. forces to -- to change the way they fight, to move from the things that I and many soldiers are very comfortable, what we call kinetic things, such as the use of power, to use more and more non-kinetic elements.

And it's those non-kinetic elements that prove so absolutely critical. I never thought that I would know anything about how a sewer system in a city of 7.5 million people work, but I do now. And -- and I know that, only because the people of Baghdad want their sewers fixed, it is important that I understand how it works. And I can help the Iraqi government do what is necessary to make sure that it works, that fresh, potable water works, that sewage systems work, that electricity works that health care systems work.

Those are all part of that non-kinetic fight critical to the security of Iraq, because, if we can have the people in Baghdad and all over Iraq believe that their life is getting better in those four or five areas, it will definitely contribute to the security line of operation, and make Baghdad and Iraq a much more secure city and country.

Escalation of force

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli
Commander, Multi-national Corps-Iraq
What we are trying to do, and what our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines have reacted to, is to try to give them that which they need to make the right decision, should they feel a necessity to go ahead and have to apply lethal force.

RAY SUAREZ: One very measurable aspect of the United States forces' time in Iraq that you have put a lot of stock in trying to address is the killing of civilians by U.S. forces at places where there are encounters between the two. What have you done? And how has it been working so far?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: We call it escalation of force. And we have driven those numbers down significantly in the last six months.

In fact, we -- we have cut them by almost two-thirds. Again, this is an extremely difficult battle for a soldier. The enemy doesn't wear uniforms. It's hard to tell a vehicle that's rigged with explosives from a vehicle that's going to the market.

And what we're trying to do is not take away a soldier's right of self-defense in a very, very difficult environment. What we are trying to do, and what our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines have reacted to, is to try to give them that which they need to make the right decision, should they feel a necessity to go ahead and have to apply lethal force.

RAY SUAREZ: And what kinds of techniques are we talking about?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: Well, it's -- it's -- it's pretty complicated. But, in reality, what you're trying to do is give a soldier those tools that he needs to be able to try to identify those folks that are, in fact, a threat to him, as opposed to those folks that, quite frankly, are -- are just confused, because they have run into a checkpoint that wasn't there earlier in the day, wasn't there the day before.

And what we want to do is provide our soldiers and Marines with the tools they need and the time that they need to make the decision on whether or not that is a threat to them, or whether or not that's just an individual who, quite frankly, is confused.

We have got leaders talking to soldiers, talking over techniques, looking for what are those things that you should look for, something as simple as counting the number of heads in a vehicle, understanding that a majority of SVBIEDs, if not all -- and those are the suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices -- are, in fact, driven by a single individual, and that, if you have two or three individuals in the vehicle, if you can give the soldier both the capability and the time to go ahead and count the heads, he can make a much better decision on whether this is someone who just is purely confused, or someone who is truly a threat to him and those around him at the checkpoint, or wherever he may be in Baghdad or anywhere in Iraq.

Soldier frustration

Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli
Commander, Multi-national Corps-Iraq
The people see in their government a government that's going to make life better for all Iraqis. And, when that happens, it will be very, very difficult for the terrorists to operate anywhere in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: This morning, I heard a soldier speak, with a little frustration to a reporter, about what he called whack-a-mole. You hit the insurgents, the people you're fighting against, in one place, and they pop up somewhere else.

With all the reinforcement of Baghdad, have you been playing whack-a-mole, having to worry about whether the bad guys will pop up somewhere else, if you concentrate your efforts in the Iraqi capital?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: Well, that is definitely a frustration that we all have, from the standpoint of the insurgency popping up in different locations.

But -- but the key here is, is to turn portions of the population, increasing portions of the population, to the side of the government, to the side of the Iraqi government. And, as we increase those areas, the insurgents will find it much more difficult, because the people see in their government a legitimacy. The people see in their government a government that's going to make life better for all Iraqis.

And, when that happens, it will be very, very difficult for the terrorists to operate anywhere in Iraq. This isn't something that happens overnight. We have to gain -- the government has to gain credibility with its citizen. And we're doing everything we possibly can to help them.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you have talked about building confidence in the government, fewer accidental killings, electricity and water. What part, in this overall effort, does something like the new Army field manual play, that tells soldiers what they can and can't do in the treatment of prisoners?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: Well, that -- it is an important addition to our doctrine. And -- and that's exactly what it is. The field manual gives us guides that -- for us to use.

I haven't had an opportunity to -- to read it yet, nor be briefed on it. Our folks are working very, very hard to put together all that information now. But it's part of this constant evolution, as -- as we adjust our way of -- of fighting to this new way of war, a way of war that I -- I don't think will be something that we just see here in Iraq.

I -- I think the whole idea of war has changed forever. And -- and, along with that field manual and many, many others, we're going to have to look at the way we do things across the board to fight this kind of conflict.

RAY SUAREZ: Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, from Baghdad, thanks a lot for being with us.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL PETER CHIARELLI: Thank you, sir.