Iraq Policy Speech - As Prepared by Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) to the New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group
Good morning. I want to begin my remarks this morning by recognizing the men and women in uniform who serve us. I want to recognize two individuals of this community: Mat Liberto who is serving us presently in Iraq, and Joe Bethea who recently returned from Iraq. Those of you who are friends of Mat and his family, please convey to him our gratitude for his service, and our pride in his achievements. Joe Bethea just came home from a year in Iraq. Joe is like most members of the United States service. He is humble and he understates what he has accomplished. Joe I am so thankful that you are here with us today safely and I would ask that you join me in a round of applause for his service.
It is now nightfall in Iraq and a lot of our young men and women, like Matt Liberto and Joe Bethea, are on duty. Iraq is a place where a bus might not simply be a bus on the way to the shopping center or market. It might contain a bomb that will end your life and the lives of others. The American personnel in Iraq are doing a harsh, courageous, and difficult duty. And with a few, very rare exceptions, each one is doing that duty in a way that brings great pride to the people of the United States.
I want to begin this morning by emphasizing that although much is wrong with our policy in Iraq, the service, courage, and sacrifice of our men and women who have gone there have been heroic. They frankly deserve better than we have given them. The criticism of the policy, the suggestions to change the policy, should never be taken as a criticism for the patriotism, service, and dedication of the men and women serving there.
I have been to Iraq. I have been to Walter Reed Medical Center. I have been to 7 funerals of young people who have come home from Iraq to their final resting place. I am proud of every single one of those men and women. They are deserving of our praise and our gratitude. They are also deserving of our best strategy and best thoughts as to how to bring them home successfully. And that's what I'm here to talk about this morning. I'd like to talk about our objectives in Iraq, our circumstances in Iraq and the strategy that I believe we should follow to succeed and bring every last one of our men and women home.
First, I would like to talk about our objective. There are several fire extinguishers somewhere in this courtyard. If one of those fire extinguishers was filled with sarin gas, a deadly chemical, and it was discharged in this room, odds are that most of us would die. Many of us would be permanently impaired and sickened. Only a few lucky ones would escape. If those fire extinguishers were discharged in the New York City subway, the death toll would exceed the death toll of 9/11 in a matter of 30 seconds to 60 seconds. Horrific warfare, unfortunately, will blot and stain the history of the Twenty-First century. And make no mistake about it; we are living in a world where tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of distorted and twisted people, would love to discharge such a weapons and kill as many people as they possible could. This is a stark, harsh reality that Americans have come to fully understand only since September 11 of 2001.
Such an attack is only possible if those who would launch such an attack have an opportunity to do so. They will only have the opportunity to do so if they have access to leadership, personnel, money, and an industrial infrastructure that would let them acquire or make sarin gas, smallpox, a dirty bomb, or a similar type of weapon.
In order for a terrorist group to operate, as Al-Qaeda operated in Afghanistan in the late part of the last decade and the early part of this decade, it needs the consent of the government that is supposed to be running the country in which it's located. There would have been no 9/11 without Al-Qaeda. There would have been no Al-Qaeda without the Taliban running Afghanistan, which created a situation where Al-Qaeda could flourish and enjoy the sanctuary from which the attackers plotted the murder of nearly 3000 people nearly 5 years ago.
The United States' central tenet in the war against Islamic jihadism is to deny jihadists the type of sanctuary they enjoyed in Afghanistan prior to 2001. If the terrorists do not enjoy sanctuary, they cannot finance, prepare, plan, or execute the kind of attack that could occur in the New York City subways or here. The reason Joe went to Iraq, the reason our troops are in Iraq today, is to ensure that Iraq would not become such a sanctuary. Sadly, if we do not dramatically change our policy, it will. And we will be left with precisely the opposite result that we went to achieve. Our objective in Iraq is to leave behind a country that will export neither terrorists nor terrorism, with a government that is both willing and able to shut down and stop a terrorist operation to manufacture sarin gas, smallpox, or a dirty bomb. Success means leaving behind a government that is both willing and able to accomplish that mission. We must ensure that Iraq will not be the export of terrorists or terrorist acts against us, or other innocent people around the world.
We are not achieving that objective. And unless we change, we will produce a result that is precisely the opposite of why we went to Iraq. Iraq could become an incubator for terrorism, a sanctuary from which Islamic jihadists will attack us with impunity. And attack they will. I want to reemphasize that a failure here is a failure of policy, not of military execution. Every military job that we have given to our armed forces, they have succeeded beyond our expectations. The problem is that this is not a military problem; it is a political problem.
Next, I would like to give a brief description of the Iraq we went into in 2003, along with the Iraq that existed from 2003 until early this year, and lastly the circumstances that exist today. The Iraq that we went into in 2003 was a bottled up, explosive substance, waiting to explode. Iraq is a place where 61% of its citizens are followers of the Shiite Muslim sect. About 30% of its citizens are followers of the Sunni Muslim sect. And the largest of the remaining groups are Kurdish Iraqis, who make up between 8 and 9 percent of the Iraqi population. You have about 61% who follow the Shiite sect of the Islamic faith, about 30% who follow the Sunni sect of the Islamic faith, and less than 9% who are Kurds.
There has been a centuries old struggle, in fact a millennia old struggle, between the Shiite and Sunni sects. There is great violence, there is often great hatred, and there is great conflict. Saddam Hussein is a Sunni Muslim. As a Sunni Muslim, he led a country in which 61% of his subjects, and they were subjects, were members of the Shiite religious sect. Saddam was a brutal, ruthless, murderous tyrant with respect to many of his citizens, but with particular respect to his Kurdish and Shiite citizens. Shiites were murdered by the hundreds of thousands under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Kurds were subject to mustard gas and other chemical weapons. Hatred that had been bubbling up for hundreds, and even thousands of years, got an exclamation point and became even more focused and intense during the long brutal reign of Saddam Hussein. Both Shiites and Kurds were waiting for the opportunity, in fact desperate for the opportunity, to exact revenge against Saddam Hussein and his largely Sunni followers and government officials. This is the situation we walked into in 2003.
For the longest time from the fall of Saddam Hussein in April of 2003, until early 2006, there was a strong possibility that Sunni and Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis could coexist in a secular, unified, national government that would separate church and state. The Shiite leaders, particularly a man named Ayatollah Sistani, who is the major Shiite leader in Iraq, deserves particular credit for this achievement. He showed and he urged his Shiite followers to exhibit great restraint in the face of unbelievable violence. Imagine these circumstances. Imagine that we lived in a country where a majority of people were Roman Catholic and about 30% were Protestant. And the Protestants had a leader who was a dictator, who ran the country for 25 years. And the Protestant leader persecuted and disrespected Roman Catholics on a regular basis and would torture and murder them. But the dictator is deposed by an invading force. There is a vacuum created. There is an attempt, during the vacuum, to create a government that has both Catholics and Protestants and the other religious minorities. During this time, followers of the deposed dictator regularly attack and assault Catholic nuns and priests. Imagine if the Arch Bishop stood up and said to his fellow Roman Catholics: "Hold your fire. Don't fight back. Be peaceful, restrain yourself, and let's negotiate a new government rather than fight a civil war." This is precisely what Ayatollah Sistani did for the better part of three years. He did so as an act of faith that the United States would succeed in stabilizing the violence, raising the standard of living for the Iraqi people, and justifying his faith in the American policy. He had radicals that tried to assassinate him and tried to disturb the peace on a regular basis. But he held his ground. In February of this year, it became virtually impossible for him to hold his ground. The most sacred shrine of the Shiite sect in Iraq was firebombed in February of 2006.
This would be the equivalent of Protestants torching Saint Patrick's cathedral in New York City. The death toll from that attack was zero. No one died. But I think when they write the history of Iraq, the likely conclusion will be that the possibility of a unity government died that day. Because the attack had such enormous religious and symbolic significance for the Shiite Muslims, it was no longer possible for the moderate leaders to restrain their more radical elements. Since then, Iraq has descended into a spiral of violence; Shia verses Sunni, Sunni verses Shia both sides against the Kurds and everyone attacking Americans.
Here are the facts. In July of 2003, three months after Saddam Hussein was toppled, there were 500 attacks made by someone against someone in Iraq. Most of the attacks were made by remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime against American troops that had deposed that regime. By July of 2004, the attacks ranged from 500 to 1300. The attacks took on two forms: most were from remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, Sunni Muslims who did not want to live in a Shiite dominated country, and some insurgents from Jordan and from Syria. These were Al-Qaeda related attackers who came into the country and attacked Americans.
By 2005, the 1300 attacks grew to over 2100. Again, the bulk of these attacks were from Sunni Muslims who were resisting the establishment of a new government. There were also a significant number of Al-Qaeda related attacks from the outside. The balance was this: 85% of the attacks came from Sunni Muslims resisting the establishment of a new government and 15% of the attacks were from insurgents coming in from outside the country. By July of 2006, the American people had been told that we should stay the course, that things were working out, and that we just needed to be patient as the Iraqis trained their troops and elected a new government. By this time, however, the 2100 attacks a month had grown to 2300, a significant increase. But what was most significant was this: not only did the intensity of the attacks increase, but the nature of the attacks changed radically. Instead of attacks being made by resistance elements of the Sunni forces, or outsiders coming into the country and attacking American or Iraqi security forces, there now was a tremendous growth in attacks against Iraqi civilians by Shiite or Sunni militia.
The stories are horrifying. Thirty-one Sunni women were working at a meatpacking plant in early October when a group of Shiite militia came up, identified the Sunni women in the group, and executed 7 of them and wounded 3 others in a public square. In retaliation, Shiite militia went into parts of Baghdad, stopped a bus, and pulled the Sunni Muslims off They slit the throats of the Sunni men on the bus. This is becoming the dominant nature of the attacks. In July of 2004, in the entire month, there were a recorded 80 attacks on Iraqi civilians of the nature I just described. This is in a country of 24 million people. Eighty attacks. In July of 2005, there were 75 such attacks. Again, we were still in a phase where the violence was largely Sunni resisters trying to resist a new Shiite majority government.
After the mosque attack in February of 2006, the world changed. In July of 2006, there were 1000 attacks against Iraqi civilians. This is not 1000 Iraqis being attacked; this is 1000 attacks against multiple civilians. The worst example is what happened last Thursday. In Sadr city, which is a pre-dominantly Shiite part of Baghdad, 200 people were killed by a series of explosions. The best intelligence was that the explosions were set by Sunni militia. Virtually everyone killed was a Shiite Muslim. 200 people were killed in one day. So what is our situation? Let me read you this quote: "The conflict has changed in character, scope and dynamic, and is increasingly a sectarian struggle for power and the right to defend Iraq's future identity. Sectarian violence, a weak central government, problems in basic services and high unemployment are causing more Iraqis to turn to sectarian groups, insurgents, and militias for basic needs, imperiling Iraqi unity." Is the source of this quote a partisan critic of the president? Is the source of this quote a person who opposed the war from the beginning? No. The source of the quote is the general who heads of the Defense Intelligence Agency of the United States government. This is an American general whose job it is to run the Defense Intelligence Operation. This is his observation as of November 15th of this year. There's this quote in reference to the murder of 200 Shiites on Thursday: "These actions are most reflective of political backgrounds and wills. The crisis is political. And the ones who can stop the cycle of aggravation and bloodletting of innocents are the politicians." Is this the quote of a think tank observer in Washington? Is this the quote of a European critic of the war? No. It's the quote of the prime minister of Iraq, Mr. Al-Jaafari on Sunday.
I think it's indisputable that we are in a situation where the cause of the violence is the centuries old struggle between the Shiite and Sunni sects. To some extent, the Kurds are involved as well. So what do we do to stop this? And what do we do to succeed? I would suggest that we do four things to solve this problem. First, the Bush Administration's policy has been to replace American troops with Iraqis who are ready to fight for their own country. In a sense, that's been the policy. I was told by General Casey, who was at the time the commander of American forces, in September of 2005, that the Iraqis would need 325,000 trained troops in order to do the job. When they had 325,000 troops, there would be no more need for the Americans. The Pentagon told us last week that the Iraqis now have an excess of 300,000 trained troops. I don't think the problem is that the Iraqi troops aren't trained; I think it's that they are not loyal to the government. Their first loyalty is to their religious sect, their tribe, or their village. It is not to the government that they're supposed to fight for. There are stories, and I think Joe could confirm this, that when an American convoy goes on a reconnaissance mission, they don't often tell their Iraqi partners where they're going. The reason they don't tell them where they're going is that they're concerned that the Iraqi forces will tip off the people that they are about to raid. This is because their loyalty may be to the group they are raiding, rather than the government.
This is an impossible situation if it is true. I say, let's find out. Here is what I propose to do. The president is meeting with the prime minister of Iraq tomorrow. I think he should respectfully say to the prime minister: "Find your best 75,000 troops. Find your best trained, most loyal 75,000 troops. We will agree, between our military leaders and our Iraq security planners, to find an area that 75,000 troops can stabilize. We will then pull all of the Americans out and put the Iraqis in and see how they do. I think we need to take a significant segment of Iraq, an area that 75,000 Iraqi troops could police, and turn security operations over to the Iraqis immediately. We should then turn to our generals to determine where to move the 75,000 Americans. If it's Kuwait, we should take them to Kuwait. If it's Qatar, we should take them to Qatar. If it's home, we should take them home. We should take them out of the fight in Iraq and see how the Iraqis do. We should test the Iraqis to find out if their loyalties are to their own emerging government, or to their tribe, their sect, or village.
We should next evaluate that experience in fairly short order. I don't think it will take long to see what happens. If it is successful, if the Iraqis are successful in stabilizing that part of the country and are ready to fight for their new government rather than their religion and tribal leaders and their village, then I think we should continue to assist with the establishment of their new national unity government. We should transition our troops out, as other Iraqis are ready to step in. That process should not take longer than 12 to 18 months to be completed. If in fact, there are over 300,000 Iraqi forces ready to fight for this government, then I think they need to do so. The reason that Iraq has not made political progress towards a stable and legitimate government is because the only people fighting for them are American sons and daughters. To a much lesser extent, there has been blood spilled on the Iraqi side. If the Iraqis are not ready for this government, we shouldn't be either.
Lastly, if putting 75,000 Iraqis in total charge of a region of Iraq does not succeed, we should work together with the Arab league and the United Nations and NATO to convene an international settlement conference to end the civil war that is now raging. If the Iraqi government and its armed forces are incapable ending it, then clearly the government has failed, and it is necessary to negotiate a new Iraqi government. I don't believe that we could or should impose such a government on Iraq. I don't believe that we should impose a government on anybody, or anywhere in the world. But we should facilitate these negotiations and we should follow them wherever they lead. I believe they would lead to the division of Iraq into three strong regional governments and one weak central government. This would be a Kurdish government in the north, a largely Shiite government in the southeast, and Sunni government in the central part of the country. This is not a good alternative. But it is the best of a lot of bad alternatives. And if this is what is necessary to stop the civil war bloodshed and facilitate the withdrawal of Americans, then I say that's what we need to do. Our objective is to leave behind a government that will not cooperate in the export of terrorists or terrorism. Despite the great success of people like Joe Bethea, despite the success of our military people, we are failing to meet that objective. I think the time is urgent and present to find out whether a national unity government in Iraq can succeed, or whether it is time to convene a conference to negotiate a settlement for new government structure.
The status quo in Iraq must change. It must change. I believe again that there are four steps to be taken. We should identify 75,000 Iraqi forces that are loyal and ready to go and put them into the fight. We should withdrawal an equal number of Americans from that area of the country to a place in a manner suggested by our Generals, whether it's back to the United States or still in the region. We should quickly evaluate the results of the Iraqis taking over security operations. If it is promising; if violence is quelled; if a Sunni soldier is willing to take an order from a Shia general to go into a Sunni neighborhood and arrest people; then there will be success. If, as I suspect, this does not happen, then it is time to recognize the facts on the ground, to acknowledge that we have a civil war that is raging without end. We must convene an international conference by which we would participate but not dominate or dictate, to resolve a negotiated solution where the people of Iraq would have a stable government and our people could come home. American soldiers, marines, airman, sailors, and coastguardsmen will fight fiercely when given an order to do so. They have done so here with great success, and I'm very proud of them.
But our responsibility is to give them orders that make sense. In 1862, no European power would have sent troops to the United States to referee between the Union and the Confederacy. You can't referee someone else's civil war. You can't fight to protect a government that has no legitimacy among the people that it's suppose to govern. I'm not certain the Iraqi government hasn't collapsed: that it has no legitimacy. I'm not certain. And I do acknowledge that over 10 million Iraqis went to the polls and voted for this government. And I do not disrespect their vote. But I do understand that with the power to elect your leaders comes the responsibility to defend your government. And I don't think we can tolerate one more day of our sons and daughters defending someone else's government. It is one thing to fight side by side with that government, but if our partners are not defenders of the government that we are defending, then the partnership has failed. The time to understand this fact is now. The way to do this is to turn the fight over to the Iraqis as I have suggested. If they succeed we should continue to work with them. And if they fail, we should acknowledge this and convene a conference that will have a solution to the mess we find ourselves in. Before the year is out, it is likely that the 3,000th American family will get the unwanted knock on the door from people wearing military uniforms to deliver the horrifying news that someone they love has been killed. I respect and revere the service of every single one of those Americans and those that have come back maimed and injured both in spirit and in body. I have deep respect for Joe and his colleague who served so well, and I welcome them back. We owe them a strategy that is as good as they are.
These are my ideas as to what this strategy ought to be. On November 7th, the citizens of this country told us in Washington they wanted change. It is our responsibility, and I speak as a member of the new Majority, to say what that change ought to be, and to implement it. If all we do is criticize what this president has and has not done, then we have failed the American people. I can speak for a very long time about what I think the president has done wrong in Iraq. But that doesn't help the men and women who are fighting there, that doesn't help accomplish the objective and I don't think that does the job that the citizens of this country entrusted the new Majority to do in conjunction with the Minority in the Congress, and the President of the United States. When we played the national anthem this morning, it reminded us of how fortunate we are to live here. Our good fortune will continue, only if we honor those who serve in the military with a policy that is as good as they are. These are my thoughts this morning as to how we can accomplish this. I thank you very much for your time and attention. Thank you.