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Interviews: col. william mayville

Mayville is commander of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade, operating until recently in and around Kirkuk -- a key, oil-rich city in northern Iraq that is claimed equally by Arabs, Turkomen, and Kurds. A diplomat by day and soldier by night, Mayville's job has been not only to stabilize the security situation in the area, running military operations against insurgent cells, and to facilitate reconstruction projects, but also to help sort out the competing claims of these ethnic groups. He worries that the ethnic tensions could lead to civil unrest, with implications for all of Iraq.

Asked if the Army is being required to take on too much, Mayville responds, "You get in a situation, and you suddenly find a mountain that you've got to negotiate to get to your objective. Does the military say, 'Oh, I'm sorry, we don't do mountains?' You know, 'We do streams, we do valleys, we do jungles. We just don't do mountains?' The mountains here are the social and political issues that we're facing." This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE producer Martin Smth on Dec. 1, 2003.

[Kirkuk] is a place that could unravel Iraq. This is a place that could begin a spiral, a downward spiral. ...  Civil unrest is right here. It's at the surface.

What did you know about this place when you came here?

Very little. Our mission initially was with the Fourth Infantry Division. We were going to come through Turkey, [a] combination of airborne operations and air assault, but trace an area far to the west of Kirkuk. We only came to Kirkuk when Turkey denied us rights to the area. ... We focused in on Kirkuk because of the oil, and because of the concern of the Kurds -- what would happen if the Kurds were seen to be taking Kirkuk, and what would that mean to our allies and friends to the north?

So we did very little study of this actually, and this complexity, up until the last moment, when the decision was made to go to Kirkuk.

So you're really flying by the seat of your pants. ...

Right.

How was what you're confronted with revealed to you?

A chain of events got us into the city. Our military operations were designed to stay out of the city, to guard the infrastructure -- particularly the oil fields and the oil facilities -- but to stay out of the city itself.

You get on the oil fields, and the Iraqi Army that was here literally collapsed in front of us and melted away. So we're now in the oil fields. We're guarding them, and we're making sure that nothing's happened to the infrastructure. And people come up to you and say, "Well, that's not really important. If you want to guard something that's important, get to this power grid, electricity plant," or something. So we go there. Then they said, "But you're guarding that. You might as well guard the water pump."

The next thing you know, you're in the city, and there was so many problems going on in the city. People were -- it was just mayhem. We found ourselves in a situation where, a reverse chain, where you had to guard the city to guard the oil field to guard the grids, to guard anything else. It was just a mess.

It seems sometimes, looking at the slides, like some gigantic game of Sim City.

It is. That's a good analogy.

May 17. What happened?

May 17 is the first spike in Kirkuk in terms of violence that we had seen since the beginning of April, when we had attacked the city and seized the city. Specifically what happened was you had the Arab communities coming from the south and the southwest ... meeting at checkpoints south of the city, actually getting arms and just coming up the arteries of the city and attacking the Kurdish communities. It was in response to their perception that the Kurds were invading, if you will; moving in and resettling into the city at a pace that they just did not support.

These are Kurds that are returning, believing that now it's time to make their move on the city?

Exactly. You have this excitement following the liberation of the city. Kurds from Erbil and Suleimaniya, and up in the mountains have all come back down -- people who lived here at one time, people who had been anxious for this moment. They're all coming in. In the excitement, they kind of rubbed shoulders and pushed against the other communities that had been here, as well, for a long time.

It came to a head on May 17. We had about 500 Arabs armed, working the cities. [A] very, very violent day; it was about 36 hours of very intense street fighting. Most of the time [it was] Kurd against Arab, but often it was a case where it was against the coalition forces themselves. We had not seen that level of violence before. The only previous time had been during the attack on the city itself. So it was a very significant event. It taught us something.

It was really the first big lesson into, or insight into what some of the social dynamics in this community at play were. Moreover, if you did not address them, the consequences of that could be very, very violent. It was our first big lesson into how important it was to deal with this issue if you wanted to be seen dealing with security and stability.

The potential there for civil war? ...

There's a big risk of civil war here. ... Civil war, or at least civil unrest, with very, very violent consequences. ... But there's also the possibly of stability. It is this very complex multiethnic reality that is also the source of its strength in the future, if we can build the bridges; if we can build communities of communities; if we can find common language, and we can find guarantors of everyone's rights. I think that there is the possibility of long-term stability here. ...

It's exhausting work. ... And you've got people shooting at you while you're trying to stitch things together.

Yes. Yes. You have to put those in its place, and not bring it to the table. You treat it for what it is, you deal with it, and you deal with it very, very harshly. You don't compromise in that area. Military operations are non-negotiable. We are willing to be stretched and to listen, to expand, and to explore, so long as it's peaceful. But if it's not peaceful, then we will absolutely go at it as hard as we can. And we do. ...

Kurds talk to us, tell us they believe that you're on their side.

Right. Yes, I think the Kurds believe that the war really was about their repatriation to lands that they had lost during the Arabization process of Saddam Hussein -- the time period in the past 20 years where the Kurds were forcibly moved out of this area, and forced to either move to the north or allowed to displace to villages to the south, where there was no Kurdish communities. For many of them, this is about their repatriation.

Payback?

Right. The common Kurd believes that there is a contract between us, the coalition, and themselves -- that, for their support of us, we will underwrite their return to this province. That isn't necessarily what the political leadership is saying and what the community leaders are saying. But that's the general feeling that I get, working within the communities and talking to the citizens ... private Kurds.

You met with some local Kurdish representatives. What was going on there?

Right. What you saw is where we are right now, in a process of the post-liberation phase of Kirkuk and the province. We have evolved to a point where we are now talking about building a city government, in particular, a governing council that represents all the different folks, all the different communities, all the different ethnic groups. What we were exploring was the idea of creating bridges between one group, one community, to the other.

Well, what we saw-- They were fairly intransigent. They were saying, "The Arabs have to go."

You saw some no-penetration lines -- places where, in the sand, they have said, "This is where we -- you know -- this is our position." The communication that was going back and forth was, "OK, I understand that emotion. I understand those feelings. But as a strategy for the future, is this really smart?"

At one point, they said, "You come in here with your American ideas, and you try to impose American standards. You don't understand us."

Right. That is a tactic I heard used often, not only with the Kurds, but with the different Arab groups and different groups within the community. At this point, I would offer that we probably understand a lot more than they give us credit for, although no one can replace the experience that these people have had. I mean, truly, they have an understanding of their land, and their people, and their issues.

What all communities -- including the Kurds -- are having a difficult time with is new freedoms, and a new way of life in a democratic society. ... In that area, there's a lot of leadership that we can give, and a lot of expertise that we can lend.

The principal issue that you saw in that discussion, though, that I had with them, was one of the rule of law and the guaranteeing of rights. The thing that I'm offering to them is that, if you want to guarantee the rights of your community, then you first have to go out and ensure that those rights are extended to all the communities.

You establish the rule of law first. Once we've established this rule of law, then we can go back into it and revisit the things that we need to revisit, and redress issues and problems of the past. But you can't do that, and have a forward-looking strategy, if you don't first establish that we are a society or a community that is based on the rule of law.

Unless you play by a different set of rules.

Right. The question ... that I keep pushing back at the Kurds, at the Kurdish community and the Kurdish leadership, [is] in light of everything, in light of all that you want to do, are you prepared now to play by a different set of rules? Because up to this point, despite what they tell you, despite what they show you, despite their institutions, they have, in Suleimaniya and in Erbil, and behind the former Green Line, played by a set of rules that is tribal-feudal in nature, and very, very consistent with Islam.

They use terms like prime ministers and parliaments, and things like that, and they come about as close to it as anybody else in Iraq. But make no mistake about it -- they are very much along tribal-feudal traditions.

Democracy, the way we understand it in the West -- extension of rights, the guarantee of rights, the rule of law, and the processes that we have in the West -- are new. There's a lot that they have to be prepared to take on if they truly want a democratic society; if they want, in my opinion, to hold what they have gotten so far.

Do they really all want a truly democratic society?

I struggle with that, because I think the leadership certainly does. I think that there are many enlightened folks. Many of these people have traveled abroad. Many have seen things in the West. The question I would ask is, are they prepared -- these people, this leadership -- are they prepared to lead their communities and their cities to this type of political environment? It's really a question of, do they have the leadership and the capacity to get themselves there?

You make a distinction that I think is important -- between the leadership and the people.

Right.

What do you mean?

Within every community, I have met very impressive leaders -- civil, religious, political, educated, knowledgeable -- and very, very impressive. Our deputy governor could easily be a city mayor, or a governor of one of our states. They're that good. Many of the people on the city council, on the governing council in the city of Kirkuk -- very, very impressive. But this is a land where one community was pitted against another, when neighbors spied on neighbors, where there were no traditions of democracy of any kind.

That goes way back before Saddam.

Right. So it really gets to, how do we educate? We need leaders with vision, who can articulate that in a way that's meaningful for these communities.

A lot's going to be put on them to do that. That really is the message that I'm trying to bring to the community leaders right now, to the Kurds. We had a strategy to take Kirkuk; do we have a strategy to keep it? Is that strategy fundamentally different than the strategy that we have thus far used?

Then I think you can explore similar situations with the other, the non-Kurdish communities. We have to bridge between the communities. We have to see and value that the multiethnic aspects of this community is ultimately our greatest strength, and the greatest strength and the best hope for stability in the province.

How well does Washington, or even Baghdad, understand what you're facing here in Kirkuk?

My feeling is, first off, let me say, no one can -- no one can possibly hope to appreciate the complexity of Kirkuk until you've been here and you've spent as much time as we have had the privilege of spending here. So in some ways, that's a little bit unfair to go, now, being here for almost a year, and then say, "How does Baghdad, or does the coalition, or does our leadership in, or some of our folks in Washington, D.C., understand that?"

It's very, very complex. What I have been gripped by is-- People that do visit see it almost immediately.

You mean Wolfowitz? Bremer?

Very much so. Take it all in, and appreciate, the minute they get on the ground here.

But it's got to be a sobering process for them.

It is. It's very sobering, and they understand its complexity. Ambassador Bremer has the very difficult task, not only of having to appreciate the complexity here in Kirkuk, but the complexity in every other region in this province and in this country, and somehow put it all together. That is an incredibly difficult task.

So I've been gripped by how well folks see it, once they get here. We are engaging in dialogue with Baghdad, and we get repeat visits from folks from Washington, D.C. So people are very, very concerned, and understand and appreciate what we've got here and how difficult these things really are.

Determination is one thing. But there becomes a time in a battle -- you as a military man know this -- when the wise counsel retreat, or redeployment -- change. Right now, the words coming out of Washington from the president are ones of determination. "We're going to do everything we have to do, and we will succeed."

Right.

At what point does that become rhetoric? The complexities on ground have to dictate that it isn't as simple as simply being determined. You could do everything correct and still fail.

What I'm hearing from my leadership, and what I'm hearing on the media in covering Washington, D.C., is, yes, we have a commitment to this area. But we also have a commitment -- What we're expressing is a commitment to find the strategy that will work. Part of that strategy means disengaging from some areas and re-engaging in other areas. It's a careful mix. On any given day-- I can only speak for this province, but on any given day, you assess the balance.

Today in Kirkuk, supporting that strategy, what we're trying to do is remove the coalition forces that I have under my command, and consolidate them in operating bases, kind of over the horizon. We're trying to stand up and allow on the public safety officers, the police, the ICDC, and whatnot that are here, to take charge in the city.

Now at the same time, we are engaging much more -- with a very small staff -- but we are engaging much more on the political side. So we're kind of going back and forth. Now if we were to have another May 17 incident, where there's a huge flashpoint of civil unrest, we may have to reverse that and go back.

So what I'm doing here at the provisional level, I sense is what's being communicated at the strategic level -- a commitment to get this thing and to win it; but also a commitment to find a strategy and the right mix to make it work.

You've got a lot of people in town asking now for the government to be dissolved, because it's not legitimate. You made a speech, in fact, when you basically flunked the city council for not being representative.

Yes. The city council -- that is today, eight months after its formation -- was a very good city council eight months ago. It reflected the voices that we heard, the people that came forward. Through it, and with its help, we were able to quickly achieve stability -- a return of city services, water and electricity, get the health care going, pick up the trash, get people back to work, get the oil going. We were able to do this -- With rare moments did we have interruptions to that.

But generally speaking, we had a very peaceful and tranquil environment. So the city council has done a great job. What has changed, though, is the political landscape has evolved.

And you're starting to hear more voices.

You've got more voices. You've got community leaders that weren't here eight months ago, now wanting a place at the table. They may have gone back and collapsed immediately after the war ended, simply because they were afraid ... they were confused. Whatever their reason, they are now coming back.

What's so interesting and what's so exciting about it is they're coming back, and they're forming political parties. They're forming political action groups. They are insisting on participating in a democratic process. The city council, or the provisional council, if it wants to maintain this legitimacy and the effectiveness that it had, has to make adjustments to this during this interim period.

But they've got some power. Are they going to give it up so easy?

Where we are right now is that, if they want to retain the kind of power and control -- which is derived, ultimately, from the legitimacy of their constituents -- then that governing body has to be seen as something legitimate to the people they hope to rule, and the people they hope to make decisions on their behalf. In the future, given all the different voices that are coming up, they have to make room for a larger organization and a larger council. They have to be inclusive to the other communities that are now here that want a place at the table.

What prompted you to make the speech that you made today to the council?

It follows about two months of sitting down with the different groups. The protest happens outside the window. You go out and see who they are. You understand them a little bit more. You visit with them at night. You have a get-together in your office. But you understand, and you learn their issues and how they see themselves. You get familiar with the different communities, the different representatives of the communities that are out there. Then you go back to existing city council, and you visit with them; you participate in their process.

What really we decided was, this is the point where we really need to explore expanding and adjusting our city council for legitimacy in the future -- because of two things:

One, the Iraqi Governing Council has accelerated the rate at which it's going to take control of its country, which is fine, which is great. Two, they have now identified dates as to when the constitution and all these things are going to be in place. Those dates are a couple years out -- December 2005, the constitution.

So this council that we have has some awesome responsibilities in the next 12, 18, 24 months. It's going to have to make decisions that people, in this city and this province, are going to have to live with. So it better have the legitimacy of its constituents when it makes those decisions, or else this thing could all implode and unravel.

Some people in this town that are asking that council to be dissolved. Who is Imam Mousawi, for instance?

Mousawi is a young 25-year-old Shia mullah. He's been here about six months. He's from Najaf. He represents a segment of the Shia movement that is young, very vocal, very angry about social injustice, and very anxious to resolve the problems very quickly.

Mousawi sits in his mosque and sees every day, and hears every day, because people visit him about the problems of the city and the problems of these people. He is about social change, and he's very loud. But he's part of the political landscape. He's just one of the many voices that are here.

You've got Kurds demanding that they be given the city back.

Right.

You have Kurds that believe that they're owed the city.

This was once a Kurdish city. Of course, you ask the Kurdish community, "What does that mean? To the exclusion of everyone else? Is it zero sum?" You have Turkomen who are very proud of their history, and very proud of the fact that they, at one time, were a large majority. They have always seen themselves as a very important, prominent community within -- not only in Kirkuk, but in the cities south of Kirkuk -- and even to the northeast, the northwest. ...

You have Arabs. And you have Arabs that have been here and lived here peacefully for a very, very long time -- as long as the Kurds. You have Shia who have come here for one reason or another, and have been here ten, 20, 25 years.

Many of them the "10,000-dinar Arabs." What are the "10,000-dinar Arabs?"

That is a term that refers to a group of Arabs that were given incentives under Saddam Hussein's Arabization program to come up here and to live on land and to build on land that once belonged to the Kurdish, and in some cases, Turkoman population. At one period, the families were given 10,000 dinars as part of an incentive program to come up here. So today, the "10,000-dinar families" refers to those Arabs who were brought up here to occupy lands that were once Kurdish lands.

A lot of this is about oil, and the economic vitality of either the community or the Arab community.

At higher levels of orbit, perhaps. But no one on any given day comes in and says, somehow, that this is really derived all about fuel politics and oil.

But didn't a lot of the "10,000-dinar Arabs" come here because Saddam saw the oil and wanted to Arabize the area, because of the riches of the area?

The struggle that was up here was more an issue of the Kurdish strength, and wanting very hard to find a way to diffuse that strength to the north. One way that he could do that was to change the demographics of the city. Yes, there's about 6.4 percent of the world's known oil reserves up here. Forty percent of Iraq's oil is up here.

There's a huge amount of oil.

You cannot ignore the oil. But Saddam already had control of oil -- because of Northern Oil Company; 10,000 workers here, of which only 16 of those workers are Kurds. He had a grip on the oil already. What he wanted to make sure he had was a grip on the land, and he had to do that through Arabization.

Who's attacking and killing your men?

It's a combination of different groups. First off, to appreciate Kirkuk -- Kirkuk is the confluence -- every issue that you have in Iraq comes to Kirkuk. So we have our portion of what they call the Sunni Triangle, but really the former regime loyalists' triangle. It comes up to the city called Hawija, which is about 40 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

The triangle comes up to Hawija?

That's right. So you have that. We're very close to the Iranian border. Relatively, we're closer to the Turkish border than most of them. We're in the north. There are six major highways here that go east, west, north, and south. So there is unlimited access into this area.

Who attacks us, though, is a combination of different groups. You have former regime loyalists, fueled by the Baathists, or former Baathists, who see in their future no hope for their way of living -- and that's a correct observation on their part.

You have thugs. You have bandits and highwaymen. You have angry farmers who have not gotten the incentive, the subsidies for their cotton issued, or suffered because of a sulfur fire, or what-have-you. You have unemployment.

You do have elements of the global war on terror here. You do have Ansar al-Islam. You do have Al Qaeda, although in very small numbers.

So at any given time, what you've got, is a kind of a Venn diagram, in which one group overlaps another. What you don't have is this kind of international, or this complete network in which you find this golden thread and simply pull it, the whole thing implodes. You don't have the luxury of being able to search simply for the golden thread. …

You see a lot of U.S. congressmen. They come through here, and you get a few minutes to talk to them. Is this a misunderstanding on their part?

I think they get it when they talk to us.

But they come in here with -- what kind of idea?

I think they're very open. They ask a lot of questions. We get them out, and we let them see the different groups. We let them have discussions with the civil leaders. We let them see firsthand what we're seeing.

Is there time enough for them really to grasp?

There's time enough to understand and appreciate that this thing is pretty complex. Now whether or not there's time to -- you know, we've been here for now a year. So we have a fair understanding -- I'm amazed at what I know today, compared to what I knew six weeks ago. But I do think they get a very good understanding. Moreover, they come here to really dig in and figure it out, and at least be aware of what it is that is Kirkuk.

Tell me what we were seeing out there on the walk-and-talk that we did.

Well, what you saw was a part of town ... which is traditionally an Arab and Turkoman community. Many of the Arabs that live there were in the Iraqi Army. Turkomen filtered down in there; middle class, in most of the places that you're in.

It used to be farmland. It used to be Kurdish farmland. The Kurds moved from the south as the city moved towards them from the north. In the particular neighborhood that we were in, you saw a mix of homes that have been there for quite some time, and then brand-new homes, if you want to call some of those shacks home -- where people, displaced persons and families had now come into the city for shelter.

You saw principally Shia, 10,000-dinar families. But you had, in between that, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. All of them -- most of them -- unemployed. Those that were employed were finding day jobs here and there. None of them in too good a shape in terms of access to health care, access to justice -- certainly municipal works isn't helping them with the sewage and the water. They are barely getting along.

You have pockets of these neighborhoods throughout the city. Kirkuk is a city that has been neglected on purpose for bureaucratic repression, as a means to keep it down for the past 30 years. You see a Third World [city]. ... Indeed, one that's probably much worse than many Third World cities, on land that is perhaps some of the richest land in the world -- oil, the Fertile Crescent. And in that city are well-educated people, communities that have a history of working together. You just see a tremendous potential. Really what you see is an incredible crime of repression and poverty.

What are the consequences of failure here?

Well, it's funny. I keep asking myself, what is success? I haven't really tried to delve into what is failure, because on any given day, that which is not success is failure.

I think what we need to do -- let me answer the question this way. We have to break even. The model that I have in my head is still being defined. I'm very careful not to bring preconceived notions of what I think the standard of living should be, for what the final solution should be politically. Ultimately, it has to be defined by the Iraqi people, and by the citizens of Kirkuk.

What I have to do every day is find the break-even point and get to it, and that's really hard. The consequences of not getting to break-even, well -- it's emotional for me, because I now have an emotional stake, and so it's very hard not to care. But this is a place that could unravel Iraq. This is a place that could begin a spiral, a downward spiral to Iraq.

Civil unrest is right here. It's at the surface; it's just below the surface. Right now, break-even is just keeping it below the surface. Don't address those things? Let those things come up, and you may start to see a process that spreads throughout, first, the province, and then the country.

What you mean by civil unrest is ethnic warfare? Ethnic cleansing?

Yes. You see the tension already. What you see right now is, you see, we sat in there with the Kurdish leadership the other day, and they were telling us that the 10,000-dinar families ... oppressed the Kurdish families. Well, we went and visited them today. Those kids without shoes, those shacks without windows, those people that have no jobs. The sewage--

Do Kurds say they took their homes?

They did.

They did, in some cases. But they were forced. These people didn't have a choice.

Kurds tell me that they're guilty because they went along with it. … Then if you go and sit there and you talk to the other side, you realize that these folks, the homes that they had in the marshlands [in southern Iraq] were destroyed. They were given about as much of a choice to come up here as the Kurds had to leave.

What you really see is one of Saddam Hussein's greatest crimes, the way he just displaced communities and pitted them one against the other. But this is how he maintained power in this province.

So the Kurdish position is, "They've got to go?"

Right.

"It's your problem, you Americans. You've got to solve it."

Right.

They put great stock in the American ability to do just about anything. How's the cycle of retribution going to be broken?

Well, first off, we don't accept that framing of the problem. Ultimately, it's an Iraqi problem. We're here to facilitate it. We're here to help.

But you fight it all the time. They believe you should fix it. ... I think that guy said in the meeting, "You're closer to us than you are to the Arabs."

... And he's right. We had some shared goals, and we still have shared goals. But what we are trying to do -- and to get them to realize, and to help them to see -- is that ultimately the solution has got to be something more strategic than just remove these folks and let the Kurds come in.

The Kurds have a history that says Kirkuk belongs to them. They also have a history of losing Kirkuk, and they lose it oftentimes [because] they [have] shortsighted tactical political goals ...

And infighting?

And infighting. That's a very important point. If you saw the KDP and the PUK talking to me, you would get the impression that there's a unified and integrated strategy among the Kurdish community here. That's not the case. Today they share a common goal -- and that goal is Kirkuk, and that goal is this province.

But my concern with the Kurdish community is the rate at which they depart beyond that goal. As I try to form a strategy with them, with the other communities, to hold onto Kirkuk, to create a better Kirkuk, to look forward to find a way to deal with these issues in a peaceful way, to guarantee the rights of all, and then in that context solve these problems, I realized that there is still some distrust between the different Kurdish communities.

My concern at this point is that one community sees itself being outmaneuvered by the other, takes steps to make sure it's not outmaneuvered. And then we create this -- this momentum that consumes that city at a rate and a pace that upsets the other community, [and you] have another May 17 on your hands, simply because these Kurdish communities were looking at each other in the short term. It was more about each other than it was about a long-term strategic view for this province.

That's going to take real political leadership. That's going to take vision. That's going to take leaders in the Kurdish community and in the other communities to articulate that vision, and be willing to meet with the other community leaders in a way that they can forge some sort of alliance that leads all these people to something that's much better than what they have today. …

Colonel, why do you care about this place so much?

Well, part of it is just the humanity that's here. ... You're gripped by what's here, and you can't help -- as an American, and as someone from the West who's been blessed with so many things -- not to want to see this place better. You don't want to make it American. You don't want to hold it to a standard that they don't define. But if you can lend a hand, you certainly want to be there for them. It is very, very difficult to reconcile life, and the privileged life that I've had as an American -- that my family enjoys, the freedoms we enjoy and the things sometimes I took for granted -- and to see it here and say, "These guys got to fight for everything I take for granted." So it's easy to get emotionally attached here. ...

You've got an operation tonight.

Right.

Tell me about it.

It's in a specific area of the former region known as the Sunni Triangle. We have an area where we have a city government. We have a police force. We even have a business symposium set up two days from now. But it is an area where there are constant attacks against the coalition forces. Mortar rounds, the IEDs, the improvised explosive devices that hit our vehicles.

As we have worked the area for a while, and this region -- there is a reluctance among the people to come forth and talk to us about it. There is an inability of the police force and the city government to really be able to do anything about it. The city is called Hawija. What we have found in these cases is that we have got to go in there with a heavy hand and find these thugs -- and that's what they are. They're just schoolyard bullies.

This is a recent change in our strategy?

Actually, it isn't.

But there's talk of this Operation Iron Hammer, I think it's called.

I see what you see on TV. We have been doing this every night in this province for eight months. We have been going there -- and with very, very careful intelligence -- surgically finding these guys and dealing with them.

So it's not a new strategy? It's just new packaging?

It is not. It may be at some level. But in these provinces, every night, we probably average two to four operations every night.

This is a big one tonight?

This one's big. But this one is where we pulled ourselves out of the city. We went into a forward operating base, consolidated ourselves and waited as a kind of a 911 for the police. That relationship has not helped the police at all. In fact, their ability to provide for the public safety of that region has deteriorated.

So what we're doing is coming in with a large force and redressing the balance a little bit. [We're] saying, "At any time, anywhere, we can do these kind of operations at a moment's notice," and to let everybody know, one, the bad guys, "We're going to find ya," 'cause we're going to get a bunch of them tonight. Those that get away, they know we're going to find them.

You're going to kill a bunch of them today?

We may. We may capture them. But we could kill them; have killed them. At the same time, for those folks who are depending on us and depending on their police, we're sending a message that we haven't left. I think that you're going to see this kind of an operation going on throughout Iraq, certainly throughout this province, back and forth until finally everyone gets to realize that there's a new order in place.

Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy it all. I mean, it's incredibly rewarding. It is professionally one of the most educational experiences I've ever had. It all comes together, though. Today, you cannot simply focus on traditional military operations to the exclusion of civil affairs, of social and political issues, of the mandate for economic development, or whatever it is that this city or this province needs.

The challenge is to find the right balance. Everything has its place, and every one of these operational levers has a role. It is a mixture that, every day, we try to balance and make sure we got it right.

A viewer of this program is going to take a look at you and wonder how you can go to city council meetings in the morning and be running politics and instructing the community on democracy and its evolution, and be going out at night -- you'll be up most of tonight running a military operation. ...

Right.

And [they'll] say that your plate is too full, that the military has been handed too much.

I don't know what better model there is, though. What happened to the State Department and the United Nations? Well, they're here, but they're not here in quite the right numbers that I think people would have thought. That's not a comment. That's not judgment. That's just what is.

But has the military taken on too much? Not that you're not capable, not that you're not smart enough. But are you being handed the bag ... because so many other people have copped out? The United Nations has gone out. The Red Cross has left. So much has now fallen to you and to civil affairs, and it's a tremendous burden. Or am I off?

I think it's kind of like you get in a situation, and you suddenly find a mountain that you've got to negotiate to get to your objective. Does the military say, "Oh, I'm sorry, we don't do mountains?" You know, "We do streams, we do valleys, we do jungles. We just don't do mountains?"

The mountains here are the social and political issues that we're facing. The military is, if it is nothing else, an adaptive force. We have adapted to the terrain to accomplish the missions that we have. So I think what you have here is a morphing of an organization, and an application of what its capabilities are in a new spectrum; but one that ultimately gets to accomplishing a very military tradition, an objective -- which is stability and security.

It's a larger role than most Americans perceive the military to be responsible for.

Yes. But it is something that the military has been doing for quite some time. We've been doing it in the Balkans. We did it in Haiti. We do it in Central America. We're doing it all over the world. So it's not as foreign to us as people might think. ...

Are you hopeful?

I am. But I was born that way.

I was talking to a Kurd, and I said, "Are you optimistic?" And his response was, "Well, I'm a Kurd, I have to be."

That's right. What choice do we have? What choice does any human have?

Yes. But success is not guaranteed.

No. I think we have to be careful with what we define as success. I think that is a struggle in and of itself, and we've got to say, "Success for who? Success for the Iraqi people." Ultimately, success is what they identify and they define, and our job is to help them get there.

Thanks a lot.

OK.

And good luck tonight.

Thank you.

 

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posted february 12, 2004

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