Background Briefing: Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's Visit to Washington and the U.S.-Iraq Bilateral Relationship Under the Strategic Framework Agreement
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, and everyone, welcome to the call. Our participant today, for folks to know, is [Senior Administration Official]. From here on out, he will be referred to as a Senior Administration Official in all of your reporting, will be on background, again, using that attribution. So now I’m going to turn it over to our Administration official to make a few remarks, and then we’ll open it up for questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, thank you. I just – I wanted to go through kind of a little background. I’ll do it in three pieces. First, I want to update basically on what U.S. policy is in Iraq and what we’re trying to do. Secondly, I’ll give a short briefing on – I just came back from a breakfast with the Vice President in the Iraqi delegation – on our goals for the visit and kind of how we both see it. And then third, I want to just give an update on kind of where we are on our five lines of effort as we pursue these policy goals in Iraq.
So as – when the – Foreign Minister Zebari was here in August I went through these in some detail, but just to kind of emphasize them again. We’re focused on five core areas in Iraq, and these are areas that are tied to our own core U.S. interests. And first is to promote a unified and federal Iraq, and that is really focused on making sure that Iraq’s territorial integrity remains intact, that the three principal communities are generally working together. And a lot of that effort is focused on Arab-Kurd tensions which tend to rise up every now and then. So number one, a unified and federal Iraq.
And number two is promoting the further increase in production and export of Iraq’s oil resources. And that is critical both for Iraq’s ability to withstand the many pressures that it is under, and it is also essential to global economic stability as well as our own U.S. vital interests both in the region and globally.
Third is to counter the reemergence of al-Qaida in Iraq. And al-Qaida in Iraq is no longer known as al-Qaida in Iraq. They’re now the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant. They have the same leader they’ve had since about 2006. That’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who we believe is now based in Syria. And this is now really a transnational threat network.
Fourth is to facilitate Iraq’s regional integration, and there’s been a great deal of effort there over the last six months, which I’ll discuss briefly.
And then finally is to support Iraq’s overall democratic development and with a key focus there on elections. They just had provincial elections over the last few months, and then they’re going to – they’re scheduled to have national elections in April of 2014. And I can talk about that.
At the breakfast we just had with the Vice President and the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister had with him his core delegation, and that included his Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, his National Security Advisor Faleh Fayyadh, his Minister of Defense Saadoun Dulaimi, and the Iraqi Ambassador Luqman Fayli, and also the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.
The conversation went on for about two hours and it was quite detailed and in-depth about the threats Iraq faces and about our mutual interests as we pursue both stability in Iraq but also the broader regional threats that we face.
The number one – there was really agreement in terms of the overall vision for the visit in terms of strengthening the overall strategic partnership. This is something we talk about all the time. But that means developing ties in a number of areas, of not only security but also economics, diplomacy, culture, trade, education. So there was a great deal of discussion on how we can enhance those areas which we’re deeply focused on.
Second was really this emerging threat of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant and how we can combat that network and help the Iraqis against it and working together. And to do that it’s not only a security focus, and the Iraqis are actually quite – they went into some detail about the fact that we’ve done this in the past and that this requires a multipronged effort – meaning security, political, and economic lines of operation – and the Iraqis have discussed that in some detail. So I’ll leave it to them throughout the visit to kind of discuss what they intend to do and how within that our mutual efforts with them. And obviously, weapons sales is one piece of this, but it’s only a minor piece.
So that was kind of the overall focus. We have this al-Qaida reemergence. How do we go about it? How do we go about it in terms of security cooperation? And how do the Iraqis go about it in terms of political reconciliation initiatives and also economic outreach?
If I can just give an update on the five areas of which I kind of briefly said our policy’s focused on, because I just think it’s useful to kind of put this whole situation into a broader lens. Kind of a touchstone for me was when the Secretary went to Iraq about six months ago, and measuring the situation then until now. And if you go through each line of effort, I think you kind of get a broader overview of the situation.
First, in terms of a unified and federal Iraq, if you go back to six months when the Secretary was in Iraq, the Kurds were boycotting the central government, the Peshmerga forces were lined up against the Iraqi army on an area known as the green line of disputed territories, and at one point actually exchanged fire with one another.
If you look at the situation now over the last six months, Prime Minister Maliki has visited Erbil and President Barzani of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region visited Baghdad for the first time really in two and half years. The relationship between Baghdad and Erbil has really made a great deal of progress over the last six months, and in particular, we’re seeing increased security cooperation in some of the disputed areas, which is really critical to isolating the al-Qaida networks which cooperate there. We’re also, of course, engaged in detailed discussions with them about revenue sharing and other issues which remain the focus of both the Prime Minister but also the Kurdish leadership in the North.
On the oil question, despite terrorist hits to pipelines, despite weather problems, and despite a number of platforms coming off due to maintenance and other things, Iraqi production remains around 3 million barrels a day. We expect that to increase over the next couple months, but most importantly we’re focused with the Iraqis on a longer term vision for their strategic infrastructure. And the problems that plague Iraq are not problems that developed over the last year or 10 years, there are problems that really go back hundreds of years. And it’s not only in Iraq, but regionally. And the Iraqis are focused on how they can use their strategic infrastructure to align these many disparate interests into a stable, unified, and federal Iraq. And that has to do with utilizing their strategic infrastructure in a way that takes oil not only, for example, from Basra in the south through the Gulf, but also with a pipeline from Basra to Haditha, which is in Anbar province where there is a refinery, and then from Haditha through Jordan to the Red Sea.
So we’ve been in detailed discussions with the Jordanians and the Iraqis on that, and then also extending that pipeline network up through Turkey to the Mediterranean and having the Kurdish pipelines plug into that system in an overall, coherent way. That’s a long-term focus, but we’ve also made some progress on that over the last six months.
In terms of regional integration, if you look at the relationship between Baghdad and Ankara six months ago ‘til now, you’ll see for the first time really in some time we’ve had an exchange of high-level visits between Baghdad and Ankara, and Iraq’s Foreign Minister just visited Ankara last week, I believe. And I’m happy to talk about that relationship.
Kuwait. Iraq this summer finally settled issues with Kuwait that have been outstanding since the first Gulf War, and that really was quite a breakthrough and required a lot of political risk both from the Iraqi leadership and also the Kuwaiti leadership. But that was really significant. And then last week, the Iraqi cabinet approved for the first time a – Kuwaiti consulates in Basra and Erbil, and anyone who has followed the Iraq-Kuwait relationship really all the way back to 1991, I think, can recognize the significance of that.
The relationship with Jordan, as I said, has increasingly strengthened, and the Iraqis are also reaching out to UAE and some other Gulf states, which I’m happy to talk about.
Democratic trajectory, Iraq did have provincial elections over the last six months. The elections were delayed in Anbar and Nineveh provinces. We were very vocal about that. We did not think the delay was a good idea. The elections then did happen. You have new provincial councils formed in Anbar and Nineveh provinces. And in fact, Prime Minister Maliki just recently met with the Governor of Anbar province to discuss some efforts in terms of counterterrorism and trying to isolate the increasingly strengthening al-Qaida networks in Anbar province.
In terms of democratic trajectory, as I said, the Iraqis are heading towards national elections by – they’ve set a date – no later than the end of April 2014. I just got back from Baghdad; I was there this weekend. They’re now negotiating the kind of final clauses on the election law to govern those elections, but the date has been set, the money has been transferred to the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission, and we are working as appropriate, as we do, with that commission, also the United Nations to make sure those elections are technically prepared and that they happen on time and lead to a genuine and credible result.
So that leads really to the final point, which is countering the reemergence of al-Qaida and the reemergence of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant. This is really a major and increasing threat to Iraq’s stability, its increasing threat to our regional partners, and it’s an increasing threat to us. As I said, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant is a globally designated terrorist under our laws; there’s a $10 million bounty for anyone who leads – gives information leading to his arrest or capture. So this is something we’re focused on really quite directly with the Iraqis and will really be a focus of the conversation over the course of the week.
I don’t have to go through the violence statistics, but just last month alone we had 40 – actually, 38 suicide bombers. Nearly all these suicide bombers – actually, all of them – we think come from the Islamic State of the Iraq in the Levant network. They’re mostly targeting Shia civilians. They’re targeting playgrounds, weddings, funerals, and this is having a devastating psychological impact, as you can imagine, on the country.
So the Prime Minister and his delegation are intensely focused on this problem. We in turn are intensely focused on how to encourage and then to combat it in an effective way with an overall strategic approach, which we found at the breakfast they were very much prepared to discuss. So with that, I think I’ll turn it over to [Moderator] and for questions.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much. So if the [Operator] would let folks on the call know how to put their name in the queue for a question, then we’ll give folks a few seconds to do that and then we’ll start with Q&A.
OPERATOR: Certainly. Thank you very much. And ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to queue up for a question, you may press * and then 1 on your touchtone phone. You will hear a tone indicating that you’ve been placed in queue, and you may remove yourself from the queue at any time by pressing the pound key. So again, for your questions please press * and then 1 at this time.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. Great. So it looks like the first question is from Anne Gearan of The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hi, and thanks for doing the call. Two things: First, can you respond to this letter that a group of senators sent to the President last night really blasting the Maliki government’s performance on a couple of fronts, but also endorsing the idea of increased U.S. counterterrorism support for the Maliki government? How do you reconcile those two things, and is the Administration on the same page as Senators McCain, Levin, and company?
And then specifically where does the weapons – Iraqi weapons sale request stand? Do you expect to actually agree on the Apaches or anything else specific during this visit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks, Anne. That’s a really good question, and we of course are working very closely with all the signatories of that letter and very closely with the Congress in terms of not just weapons sales but the overall approach to Iraq.
The letter went into some detail about the many challenges Iraq is facing, and it also made the very important point that weapon sales alone will not advance any of our interests, that weapons sales, together with an overall strategic approach, however, will. So it’s incumbent upon the Iraqis, I think, to explain to the Senators they meet with, and I believe they’re meeting with them later today, their overall strategic approach to getting after this threat.
That said, the letter also recognized the emerging threat, which I mentioned in my opening of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant. And it is a fact now that al-Qaida has a presence in western
Iraq, and it has a presence in terms of camps and training facilities and staging areas that the Iraqi forces are unable to target effectively. Now, that’s just a fact that goes to their capabilities.
So the Iraqis have asked for weapons systems from us. We’ve worked very closely with them and we support those requests, and we’re working with the Congress through those as appropriate. We’ve made some progress. For example, we notified over the summer a major air defense system which allows the Iraqis for – really, for the first time, to take sovereign control of their airspace, which right now they don’t have. So it’ll take some time to get that system in place, but that system had been pending for some time.
But I won’t really discuss the specific equipment requests, but all I will say is that we’re working very closely with the Congress on this. I know the Iraqi delegation will be on the Hill discussing it. And I’ll leave it to the Iraqis to make their case.
QUESTION: Well, from your perspective, though, the – you’ve already approved the Apaches. I mean, would you like to see that go through?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I’m not going to discuss any specific systems. We do want to help the Iraqis develop the capability to target these networks effectively and precisely, and some of the requests are in that line, but just – I’m not going to discuss any of the specific requests.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks so much. It looks like our next question is from Lara Jakes of the Associated Press.
QUESTION: Hi, guys. Thanks for doing the call. Could you go a little bit – kind of following on Anne’s question, you ended off saying that we encourage them to combat the increased threats in an effective way. Can you talk a little bit more about how you expect that to happen? As you know, the Iraqis are saying that they want to – expanded help from the United States, not just the current systems or the plans that are in place, but to actually expand it to include anything short of boots on the ground, which as I understand, could mean additional trainers, could mean additional SOF or additional CT help. Could you respond to that a little bit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry. No, Lara, I’m here. I was just writing down some notes from your question.
First, I think counterterrorism – we look at it on a country-by-country basis, and in Iraq, it’s especially complicated because you have the overarching sectarian divisions within the country. We think we have a pretty good handle now on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant networks and where they are and where it’s coming from. We’re kind of increasing expert cooperation with the Iraqis in terms of developing that information base. But I just – obviously, we don’t discuss the specifics of what we’re doing. But we really want to help the Iraqis have a better vision of what they face so they can target it effectively.
As you know well from spending so much time out there, one of the things, back in the 2006 to 2008, 2009 timeframe, particularly in Anbar Province, what really turned the tide was recruiting the tribes out there on the side of the government, the local government, and against what was then the al-Qaida in Iraq network. The Iraqis are keen to develop the same type of approach – at least that’s what I heard at the breakfast this morning, and they discussed it in some detail. However, anyone who lived through that remembers that it wasn’t only paying the Sawa, it wasn’t trusting them; it was also ensuring that they had protection and that they were going to win. And that meant that they had the weapons to combat these networks effectively.
And what the Iraqis kind of are saying is that we can do the first two, but we’re having trouble on the third, and that some of these al-Qaida networks that are coming in from Syria and that are based in Iraq now really have heavy weapons. Iraqi unarmored helicopters that are trying to target these places – and we do follow this closely – are getting shot at by PKC machine guns. Iraqi helicopter pilots that we have trained have been killed by, again, heavy machine gun weaponry. And so they’re trying to take this threat – take on this threat with equipment that isn’t really geared towards doing it effectively.
So that’s kind of the way the conversation goes. It’s not all about weapons, it’s not all about equipment, but – part of it is about equipment, but most importantly, it’s about this overall strategic approach – excuse me – strategic approach and recruiting tribes and making sure that they have the mass of the population on their side.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks so much. It looks like the next question is from Julian Barnes of The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Hi. The letter from McCain, Levin, and friends mentioned the possibility of intelligence sharing. You just said we want to help the Iraqis have a better vision of what they’re facing. What are the prospects of increased intelligence sharing? Is there information that we can give them on the location of some of these camps that they would be able to act on, or what can you tell us about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. We have had, really – I mean, when our troops were there and when our troops left, we’ve had a relationship in terms of intelligence cooperation and intelligence sharing, as we do with partners all around the world. And particularly as this threat has really accelerated over the last, say, six to eight months, we’ve tried to work even close – more closely with the Iraqis to develop their site picture in a better way.
Because one thing we don’t want to – here’s what’s – one of the things that’s happening in Iraq – and when you’re there, you can feel it – is that the suicide bombers which are primarily attacking – they are attacking Iraqi security force networks, but they’re also – just the bulk of it are attacking Shia civilian areas – again, marketplaces, mosques – and what that’s doing is basically putting a lot of pressure on the government to act. And what we don’t want the Iraqis to do is to take just a security-centric approach to this. This is an asymmetrical threat and it has to be approached asymmetrically. And what that means is making sure they have information in terms of where people are located, where it’s coming from, where the funding is coming from, and that’s something that we can do pretty effectively.
So we’re trying to help them right now as best we can, and that’s going to be a key topic of discussion over the course of the visit.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks so much. The next question is from Margaret Warner – excuse me – of PBS NewsHour.
QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Thank you for doing this. My question has to do with the Iraq – with the Iranian overflights. Was that discussed at much length at the breakfast today? What sort of – are the Iraqis giving assurances or saying there’s nothing they can do about it? Or are they, in fact, sort of defending it?
MODERATOR: Margaret, you cut out there a little bit at the beginning. Can you just repeat the beginning of your question?
QUESTION: Yes. The beginning of my question just was about the Iranian overflights of weapons and materiel and so on to Syria. Was that – how much of a topic was that at breakfast, what was the Iraqis’ posture on that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Margaret. Syria was a big topic of conversation, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations Arab League Envoy, was just in Baghdad, and the Iraqis have publicly said that they are supporting his approach. I’ll leave it to my colleagues [name withheld] and others to discuss the overall Syria situation. But we had a pretty frank discussion with the Iraqis about the situation in Syria. They are really focused on the al-Qaida networks which are coming from Syria into Iraq, and we have continually discussed with them the situation of the Iranian overflights.
Since the Secretary was there six months ago, the flights have gone down in frequency and number. It’s often hard to tell exactly which flights might be carrying what. This is a very kind of fluid and dynamic process. But it’ll be a continuing and ongoing conversation. You would have seen Maliki’s op-ed in The New York Times, and I’ll let him speak for himself in terms of their efforts in this area.
QUESTION: But I mean, they say they don’t have the ability to do it because they don’t have the ability to shoot down planes. Does the Administration – or intercept them – does the Administration consider that a sort of valid reason, or is that an excuse?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, it is – it’s true they don’t have the ability to do that. We have called on them to tighten their inspection regime so it’s really kind of airtight, and I would say right now, I don’t think the inspection regime is airtight, but it is much better than what it was four to six months ago.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Margaret. Our next question comes from Nadia Bilbassy of Al-Arabiya TV. Go ahead, Nadia.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hi, [Moderator]. Actually, Margaret just asked my question, which is the same about the shipment of weapons, but let me just follow up a little bit more, because – were they satisfied, actually, as we stand now in terms of halting all shipment coming from Iran to Syria? Are they – are you satisfied with what the Iraqi Government has done so far, or do you want them to do more?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’d like them to do more.
QUESTION: I mean, can you specify? Because obviously, as Margaret said, and the Foreign Minister said, they don’t have the abilities to search aircraft. They don’t have planes to – and mechanism to stop and to search these planes coming from Iran. But in terms of land shipment, are you happy with what they have done so far?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The land situation is very difficult. The real focus right now is the air situation. We had 160,000 troops in the country at one point. We were very concerned about the infiltration networks at that time coming from Syria and we had an incredibly difficult time having any control over it. We also at the time were trying to interdict shipments of Iranian weapons that were coming in from Iran into Iraq and killing and maiming our soldiers. And quite frankly, despite an enormous effort, we never found a single shipment that was coming in from Iran into Iraq. We would find stockpiles and things.
But policing this is just incredibly difficult. We’re working with the Iraqis, really, on a daily basis, and our Ambassador working with them on a daily basis in terms of the information we have – and it’s very difficult to get the right kind of information – the information that we have that we can share with the Iraqis on this. So it’s really an ongoing effort. The Iraqis, in terms of with the Brahimi visit, have said that they really want to make a concerted focus to be a productive force in finding a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria. So this’ll be a topic of the conversation, and I think getting to a negotiated settlement – and I’ll, again, leave it to [name withheld] and others – part of that is putting pressures on all side, and in particular, the Assad regime. And so tightening up the inspection regime, particularly now, would be very helpful.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Our next question is from Jo Biddle of AFP. Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: Hello, good morning. Thank you very much. I wondered, just following up on that, do you actually have numbers of how many flights have been searched by the Iraqis since the call went out from the United States to tighten the inspections?
And I just had a follow-up question as well on the Camp Ashraf attack in September. There’s a new report out today by a German human rights group, which says it’s independent, which says that the Iraqi Government is – was behind – was complicit in the killings which were carried out by Iraqi forces, and they’re calling for an investigation by the United Nations. What is the U.S. position on that, please? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don’t have numbers of – in terms of inspections, at least not that I’m going to release or discuss.
I will discuss the MEK. On the MEK, you have to kind of, I think, back up and look at the overall issue. The MEK is an organization that is dedicated, for its own reasons, to overthrowing the regime in Tehran. The regime in Tehran is dedicated, quite frankly, to annihilating the MEK. The Supreme Leader Khamenei lost his use of his arm in an MEK attack in 1981. So this is the overall dynamic.
Iraq, when you talk to them, across the board, want nothing to do with this problem. They want these people out of their country, safely relocated out of their country, and they signed an agreement with the UN at the end of 2011 in which the international community promised to help Iraq with that problem. To date, the only countries that have stepped up to take any of these people – there’s about 3,000 of them in Iraq – is – Albania has agreed to take 210, and Germany has agreed to take about 100, and then there’s kind of onesies and twosies here and there.
So there are still 2,900 of them in Iraq, and frankly, they have nowhere to go. And we discussed this also at the breakfast today, because the attack on Camp Ashraf was reprehensible. Shortly thereafter, I worked very hard with the Iraqis, with the UN, and others to make sure that the survivors of Ashraf were safely relocated from Ashraf to Camp Hurriya. I went to Camp Hurriya and talked to the representatives of the MEK there, because this is an extremely difficult situation on all sides. But what is really needed now is the international community to come together or step up and find a way to get these people safely out of Iraq, because so long as they’re in Iraq, there is nothing that can be done to totally protect them. It is simply not possible.
Camp Hurriya right now – they’re adding T-walls and bunkers and sandbags and everything else, but I remind people that Camp Hurriya is near Camp Cropper and other facilities where we took U.S. casualties from rocket fire as late as 2010. We took casualties on our Embassy, one of the most secure compounds in the country, in 2010, when we still had about 70,000 troops in the country, from rocket fire. This is something that, so long as they’re in Iraq, they are going to be under threat. We don’t want them under threat. We don’t want anyone else to get hurt. And we want to get them out of Iraq and safely relocated as possible. And the Iraqis support that. But we need a place for them to go, and that’s why we have supported a UN resettlement fund, which the United Nations just announced. And we announced that we’re going to pledge $1 million into that fund. But this is really an international humanitarian matter, and the Iraqis need some support, at least in terms of having a place for these people to go.
I’ll just – and my final point, because I think you asked the question: We have no – we’ve looked – also looked at this very, very, very closely, and we have no credible information to date that the Iraqi Government was in any way involved in the reprehensible attack at Camp Ashraf. And so we’ve looked at this very closely, but our focus now is making sure that nobody else is hurt. And that means making sure that Camp Hurriya is as protected as it possibly can be, but also focusing – and a colleague of mine is focused on this fulltime every day in terms of finding third countries to take the remaining residents and get them out of Iraq into safety.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. I think we just have time for a few more questions. So it looks like the next question is from Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Thanks a lot for taking the call. Just two quick questions related to Iran. Maliki has indicated that he thinks he could be useful, potentially, as an interlocutor between the U.S. and Iran. Do you see that as a useful – do you see him being useful as a – do you see him as any kind of potential mediator to convey messages back and forth or to help with that relationship?
And then on the flip side, do you have any concerns about the level of overall Iranian influence within Iraq, and particularly its connections to his government? Thanks again.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. First, on the Iran issue, I think we’ve crossed the Rubicon in terms of direct communications with Iran, with the President’s phone call. And so we are engaged in that process with the Iranians through the P5+1, and we’re really focused on that track.
In terms of overall Iranian influence in Iraq, I mean, you just look at a map and there’s no question that the Iranians have influence. All I will say is, having worked this issue for a number of years, we have influence, the Arab states have influence, the Turks have influence, and – but at the end of the day, the Iraqis are going to do really what’s in their self-interest. So an example of this: We are seeing some more activity in terms of the Shia militia activity than we’ve seen in some years, and we’re also looking at that very closely. That, however, is really a response to the surge in violence from al-Qaida directed against the Shia community. I mean, we haven’t really seen much Shia militia activity over the last – at least from early 2012 until earlier this year. We’ve really seen a pickup over the last six months as this onslaught of suicide bombings in Shia civilian areas have picked up. Is Iran involved in some of that? They surely are, no question. But the danger is that the population in some areas of Iraq feel under threat, and it just opens the aperture for Iranian influence to creep in, in a very unhelpful way.
And we also discussed this at breakfast with the Prime Minister this morning. And I’ll leave it to him to answer, but he pointed out that his first real military engagements in Iraq were against militias in Karbala, Basra, and Sadr City in terms of his wish not to see militias return. But yes, the Iranians do have influence in Iraq. Some of it is not harmful at all, and some of it is not helpful at all. And my last response on the MEK was – again, I’m not going to draw conclusions, but the Iranians have been dedicated to getting rid of this group and getting rid of their presence on Iraq. And that’s not stabilizing, to say the least.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much. Our next question is from Richard Sisk of Military.com. Go ahead, Richard.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks for taking the call, sir. You talked about strategic guidance beyond weapons sales and in terms of (inaudible) the Islamic state. What does that entail besides the weapons sales?
And if you could, sir, there’s some irony here in Maliki’s visit. And I’m considering his track record of opposition to the U.S., going back to the withdrawal, and then the overflights. It’s just ironic that he’s coming here seeking help.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of the strategic approach, it’s kind of – we have experience in this. It’s – as I said earlier, it’s – this is not just a symmetrical threat that you can just take on with force. It requires political, economic, and measures from the ground up and the bottom up. And the Minister of Defense here, Saadoun Dulaimi, is from Anbar province and actually has some fairly specific and detailed ideas in terms of what they’re pursuing. And Maliki’s meeting with the Anbari Governor about two weeks ago was in line with those efforts. He also met with Abu Risha, who is one of the key figures of the Awakening. So – and this is underway, and it’s – the idea is that we want to try to do some things that we did in the past that were effective, and the weapons sales kind of come into that.
In terms of what happened in 2011 and the overall negotiation of the troop forces, I think that’s an issue for another day.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Richard. Our next question goes to Lesley Wroughton of Reuters. Go ahead, Lesley.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thank you very much. We understand that this morning, the – Maliki pushed for the U.S. to accelerate the shipments of the F-16s, and I wanted to find out from you whether that did come up during the discussion.
The other one is they also are talking about training – the U.S. training their forces. Was – where exactly is the U.S. looking to bolster that training? Will most of it be U.S. defense officials – or most of it is defense officials, or are they contractors?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On F-16s, it did not come up this morning. The F-16s are on track for delivery by next fall. The Iraqis just deposited in our bank accounts about a $650 million deposit, which is part of the installment payments for the F-16 program. So that program is generally on track. It obviously has bumps on the roads, as anything this complicated as this does, but their pilots are in training and the program is in track.
In terms of a – training specifically did not come up. We did discuss Iraq’s regional joint exercises and military exercises, and there’s really four or five of these every year. This year, the Iraqis participated in a counter-mine exercise off the coast of Bahrain with a number of regional partners and our Navy. And they also were a key participant in the Eager Lion exercise earlier this summer in Jordan, in which their counterterrorism forces were really one of the most prominent forces there in that exercise.
I would not anticipate U.S. trainers going back into Iraqi soil. That’s not something that we are talking about. That’s not something the Iraqis are asking for, nor is it something that I think they particularly need right now.
MODERATOR: Great. And I think our last question is going to go to Michel Ghandour of Al Hurra Television.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hi. I want to ask about Iran, but I have a follow-up on the Iranian question. Do you expect the U.S.-Iran rapprochement to be discussed, and do you expect Maliki do deliver any message or letter from the Iranians to the Administration?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That has not come up, so I – again, I’m not going to speak for the Prime Minister, but I do not anticipate any such message. What was your first question?
QUESTION: If Maliki will discuss with the Administration the Iranian, or the U.S.-Iran rapprochement?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, you just look at a map and look at where Iraq is located, and then kind of think of how their leadership looks at the world, and it’s a good bet that they’re going to discuss all the issues that are affecting the region right now, including issues with Iran, with Syria, and the whole region. It’s something that all Iraqis are focused on, because the regional environment has a direct impact on their local situation. So I’m sure the regional strategic picture will be discussed throughout the meetings throughout the week.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you so much everyone for hopping on. Again, if you missed the top, this is all on background attributed to a Senior Administration Official. If folks have any follow-ups, they know how to get in touch with us here. And with that, this concludes the call. Thanks, guys.