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Media Availability with Secretary Hagel in Baghdad, Iraq

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
December 09, 2014

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: Earlier today, I met with Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, President Masum, and Defense Minister Obeidi. I've also spent quite a bit of time today with our ambassador, Ambassador Jones, and also General Badnarik, who has been here and been an important part of our efforts here in Iraq, as well as General Terry and General Funk, and I thank them all for their continued important and good work here in Iraq.

I leave Baghdad encouraged by the progress they are all making and the vision for the future that the Iraqis are committed to achieving. At this critical time for his country, Prime Minister Abadi is taking important steps to make Iraq's government inclusive and effective. The focus of our conversations today was the effort to degrade and defeat ISIL, and as I discussed with Iraqi leaders, we're seeing steady progress in achieving this objective.

With coalition support, Iraqi security forces have retaken held territory in a number of places, such as the Mosul Dam, Amerli, and the Baiji refinery. They've strengthened their positions around Baghdad and blocked ISIL's movement southward. They're preparing now for broader offensives.

 As you all know, the United States and coalition nations are actively supporting these Iraqi efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. Yesterday in Kuwait, I was briefed on our coalition operations. Our coalition partners, especially here in the Middle East, know that this is a fight against not only a radical and barbaric militia, but also against the underlying scourge of violent extremism which threatens all of us. More than 60 coalition nations are supporting our comprehensive strategy against ISIL, supporting military operations, capacity-building, and training, stopping the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, serving ISIL's -- severing ISIL's access to financing and funding, providing humanitarian relief, and de-legitimizing ISIL's ideology.

 I especially want to recognize the Arab states, the Arab states that have taken on important leadership roles in the coalition. Kuwait, Bahrain and Morocco have each hosted important conferences on countering ISIL's messaging, its financing, and the flow of foreign fighters. And Jordan continues to provide critical humanitarian assistance.

On the military front, Bahrain was the first country to provide access and basing for coalition operations, and many other countries in the region have followed suit. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Bahrain have conducted about a quarter of our coalition partners' airstrikes against ISIL. These efforts are thwarting ISIL's ability to maneuver, communicate, coordinate, and control their forces, as well as their ability to sustain and resupply themselves.

Iraqi forces will be able to intensify offensive operations as the coalition's training effort expands into northern, western and central Iraq. And coalition partners have already committed about 1,500 personnel to help train and advise Iraqi forces. We're also working closely with regional partners to begin training and equipping the moderate opposition in Syria to defeat ISIL there.

The coalition's shared resolve has helped Iraq strengthen relations with its neighbors. Recent visits to Iraq by the Emirati foreign minister and Turkish prime minister, as well as trips by high-level Iraqi leaders to Saudi Arabia and Jordan are important steps toward strengthening the coalition against ISIL, as well as Iraq's long-term stability.

For these gains to be sustainable, the Iraqi government must continue to build an inclusive government that represents all its people, a government that all of the Iraqi people can have confidence in and trust. Prime Minister Abadi knows this. He knows it very well. We talked about it today. And I want to acknowledge his efforts to give all of Iraqis' ethnic and sectarian groups a voice in this government.

The prime minister has appointed new ministers of defense and interior, made changes in military leadership, and taken steps to root out corruption in government institutions. He has finalized a long-stalled agreement with Kurdish regional authorities to share Iraq's oil wealth and military resources, a move that demonstrates new commitment to national reconciliation, which must remain a top priority. The United States supports the prime minister's leadership and his efforts in these areas.

As Iraqi leaders and the people of Iraq know, only they can bring lasting peace to their country, if they're to be resolved to do this. I believe the Iraqi people are resolved to do this. America will continue to be a partner in supporting them as they build a future for their country that is one of peace and hope and opportunity for all their people.

Thank you very much.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, I want to thank the prime minister for his very candid and open discussions with me today. His specific request regarding additional firepower was one we did discuss, and I appreciated his directness in that discussion. We talked about how, in fact -- and he noted this -- the United States has accelerated many of the weapons systems that -- and the platforms that Iraq will need and continue to require, like Hellfire missiles over the last few months. We've put all that on a fast track. MRAPs, new MRAPs, will be delivered later this month. Ammunition, small arms, all of these -- these important armaments have been accelerated.

But I wanted the prime minister, as the president was very clear and direct and honest, as well as the defense minister, to be clear with me, because as secretary of defense, I have first an obligation to the security of the United States and making sure that our forces have what is required. Also, I have a responsibility in our forces' missions -- and this, of course, mission here is to support the Iraqi government in their effort against ISIL -- I want to hear from the Iraqi leaders what we're doing right, what we can do more of, we should less of, and that was an issue that we did discuss, and I appreciated his directness.

Q: (off mic) I was wondering -- (off mic) -- timetable of -- (off mic) -- Iraqi forces are ready to go now to liberate Mosul or whether they need more time and this operation should be put off for several months -- (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: We did talk about operations and offensive, as I said in my comments and as you all know. The Iraqi security forces are being strengthened daily, and they are on the offensive in areas. I mentioned some of them in my statements. They're continuing to do that. Mosul is obviously a key part of their overall plan and strategy, and retaking Mosul is part of the plan. The timeline on that, we're working with the Iraqis and their senior leaders on preparations on timing. Our people here are helping them with those plans and those preparations.

And I'm not sure I would be responsible or be in the best interests for me to give a press conference and announce when plans are going to occur on offensive on Mosul or any other place.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Senate Intelligence Committee today is scheduled to release today a report on CIA interrogations. What is your reaction to that report? Are you concerned that U.S. troops would face any blowback -- (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, this is not a new issue. I think you all know that this report that's being released by the Senate Intelligence Committee has been one that the administration has been talking to the committee about over the last few months. But even before that, President Obama said that he wanted to be transparent on these issues. And he wants the United States to live up to its values and our commitment to rights. So this is not a new issue.

Now, to the rest of the question, I have ordered all of our combatant commanders to be on high alert everywhere in the world. We don't have any specific information or intelligence to show that there is anything out there that would lead us to do anything beyond high alert right now. But, yes, we were concerned about the content of that report being declassified.

What we did, along with the intelligence communities and other national security equities holders, working with the Senate Intelligence Committees, we redacted -- were able to work through the redaction of what we thought were the most vulnerable areas for certainly Department of Defense, but I think all our national security interagency teams did the same thing. Most of that report, I think, around 90 -- over 90 percent will be declassified, but I'm satisfied that we were able to redact what we needed to redact to protect our people.

Q: (off mic) -- airstrikes and -- (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: Yes, we discussed everything, which, again, I -- and both those issues, we did discuss. Yeah. We discussed a lot of things, both on what he thinks we need more of, less of, what we're doing right. And I would say -- and I'll let the prime minister address this himself -- he was very complimentary of the United States' support and our coalition support, in particular our work here on the ground at the embassy, led by our ambassador, led by our senior military team, but I'll let the prime minister describe that himself.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. HAGEL: As I said, we have a good discussion about it, and that's what these meetings are for, and I'm not going to talk about what -- what specifically we -- we determined in private meetings, so --

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Okay, thanks, guys. I -- (off mic) -- thank you.

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