Is the Iraq Surge Strategy Working?

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army, has visited Iraq several times as an adviser to American commanders. He talks about his most recent trip there and shares his assessment of what's working and what's not.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Four years after the invasion of Iraq, President Bush ordered tens of thousands of additional combat troops to that country, almost all of them to Baghdad. The idea, as he explained again at a news conference this morning, is to secure the Iraqi capital in order to give the government the breathing room it needs to make difficult political decisions that might give Iraqi insurgents reasons to support the government instead of fighting it.

By all accounts, Baghdad is safer, and today the government announced that the curfew there has been extended by two hours from 8 to 10 PM.

But attacks are up elsewhere in Iraq. Is the plan working? Can it work? One of the proponents of the buildup, retired Lieutenant General Jack Keane, joins us in a moment to take your questions. Later in the program, we'll talk with a newspaper editor who opposes the war whose son is on his way to fight in Iraq.

But first, if you have questions for General Keane, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Jack Keane is former vice chief of staff for the Army. Since he's retired, he's visited Iraq several times as an advisor to American commanders. He's among those who proposed the increase in forces in Baghdad and recently returned from a trip to see how it's going. He joins us here in Studio 3A. General Keane, nice to have you back on the program.

Lieutenant General JACK KEANE (Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): It's great to be back, thank you.

CONAN: After four years of hearing that we're about to turn the corner, that this time it's going to work, why should we believe that this isn't just another blind alley?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well certainly anybody who has that degree of skepticism, it's somewhat justified given almost four years of a failed strategy. I think what we've got here is - look, the president has made a significant commitment.

He changed out all the key players, from Secretary Rumsfeld, two generals and also one ambassador, and he put in play a new strategy, which I think the fact that it surrounds Baghdad as the center of that strategy sort of indicates that we've been there before. But actually on the ground the military strategy is different because we are in fact securing a population, and in fact we have never done that before.

The only single purpose here is to secure that population, bring the level of violence down, force the Sunni insurgents to realize that they cannot achieve their political objectives with armed violence, and bring together a reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shiite-dominated government, which would then quiet the Shiite militias to be sure.

That's what this is intended to do, and there are some early signs but it's much to early to be predictive about it.

CONAN: What is actually different on the ground? How are U.S. forces - and Iraqi forces, too, they've sent additional brigades to the capital as well -what's different about their deployment? How does the place look different?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Yeah, it's dramatically different, particularly for what's happening to the soldiers. In the past, we operated out of forward operating bases, a number of them around the country. And then for the last two years, we were consolidating these bases into much larger ones and actually had less and less contact with the people.

We operated out of those bases in what the troops would call a Humvee-based patrol, and that was called a presence patrol done in vehicles. What is dramatic now in the neighborhoods in Baghdad, the troops are living in those neighborhoods 24/7. They eat in those neighborhoods, in other words food is brought to them, they sleep there, and they do it not as one entire unit at battalion level, they do it as platoons. So they're very de-centralized and they're doing it with the Iraqis.

What does that mean? What it means is the people definitely are being secured properly for the first time. Those command posts that are in those neighborhoods are being overloaded and overwhelmed with information coming from the Iraqis themselves because - this is happening much sooner than I thought it would - because they want to get this violence off their back and they see this as an opportunity to do that.

So that is what is so dramatic about it militarily. It's much more of an offensive operation designed to secure the population, and to do that you have to be among the population to do it correctly.

CONAN: We want listeners to get their questions in as much as possible: 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Ed, Ed with us from Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

ED (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Ed, you're on the air.

ED: Oh, thank you for taking my call. I was just wondering, what does it really mean if Baghdad is stabilized if the insurgents would simply leave and raise hell elsewhere, and then as soon as we leave they would come back again? And I'm wondering whether stabilization of Baghdad is an illusion. Thank you.

CONAN: General Keane?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well that's a very good question because in the past, in Fallujah, Samara, in Baghdad I and II, we in fact did clear out of neighborhoods and towns and cities enemy insurgents. We never had a force, though, that stayed in place so that when they did come back and attempted to terrorize or intimidate or in some cases assassinate the population they were denied access to that population.

That is what is different about this operation. As we spend weeks and months doing this, clearly the insurgents will attempt to come back and they will be denied access to that population. They will have to fight us to do that, and they put themselves at risk.

In terms of the other areas that you're talking about, certainly the enemy has options. And listen, Ed, if there's one thing when it comes to this enemy that we have been consistent about for four year is that we have underestimated it. And I'm here to tell you that's a fact, and we're trying very hard not to do that now.

So there is an operation taking place around Baghdad in the belt, so to speak, to stop that very thing from happening. And there is more of an aggressive buildup in Al Anbar with additional troops to stop that from happening as well.

So the commanders on the ground are very much aware of that. They know the enemy has options, and they want to deny the enemy those options as much as possible. Thank you for the question.

CONAN: And let me follow up a little bit on Ed's question. And Ed, thanks very much. If you would, you were talking there I think primarily about Sunni insurgents, the people who have been attacking the government. There are also Shia insurgents, the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr. There's a widespread belief that they are just lying low, using U.S. forces to fight the Sunnis, using U.S. forces in fact to fight some of their own renegade elements.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: That's very true. The one thing we have to recognize about the Shia militia, despite the horrific nature of the acts that they have done, particularly in '06 since the bombing in Samara in February, and it's this reality: They waited two and a half years before they came out behind their barricades, and they did it because we chose not to protect the population and the Iraqi security forces did not have the capability to protect it.

It has been our thought that if we're able to bring the level of violence down, both Shiite and Sunni violence at the same time, you take away the issue of why the Shiites are out there dealing with this in the first place in terms of the catalyst for their violence.

Now listen, we're not naive that there are Shia militia leaders who certainly see this as an opportunity to advance their own political position in the country. Maliki has given us permission to kill and capture key Shia militia leaders, and that has taken place with about eight of them now and that has registered on the rest of them.

That is why they fled east to Iran, particularly in the case of Sadr, and also south out of the Sadr City into the area in Basra. And Maliki has made some significant movement here I think without publicly stating so, and this is a positive thing.

I think he has realized that his political future is not aligned with Sadr nor with the Shia militia leaders, and that is why he's giving us permission to deal with him. And we're doing that rather effectively, and we're attempting to avoid having an all-out fight with the Shia militia fighters themselves, which number about 60,000 to 70,000. We think we can avoid that. If we have to do it, we can. Right now, the plan is to avoid if possible.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. With us from Asheville, North Carolina, Jim.

JIM (Caller): Hi. I think there's one major flaw in all of this, and that is we're supposed to be buying time for the Iraqi government. They're not using this time. They are just as fractious as ever. They're not agreeing on anything. Even proposals that have been in place for months now they can't agree on. So what makes us think that anything is going to be accomplished by this when they can't work together, you know, obviously can't work together.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: That's a great question, Jim. Here's some things that are happening. Look at - we've all been very frustrated since Maliki took over. And I've said publicly before, you know, I'm not sure anybody truly knows what color his stripes are. In that sense, you know, does he really want to have a multilateral government that represents all the people in Iraq or does he just want a Shia-dominated government.

But look at this. In the last number of weeks here's some of the things that he is doing. For the first time, his rhetoric is matching actions. He provided the force requested for the Baghdad operation. All the brigades showed up with the predictable percentages of strengths we thought they would. You know, around 65 percent. He appointed a very, very capable leader in charge by the name of Lieutenant General Abboud(ph), someone who we did not know; but since, we have come to have great respect for him because he is in charge and he is sincere about protecting Sunnis as well as Shias and returning Sunnis to homes that were vacated because of the Shia militia.

The other thing is the oil law, not to be taken lightly. Maliki has been steering through his government. It is on its way to completion. He is also steering a modification to the de-baathification program. He announced it just as the ambassador was leaving. The ambassador was putting a lot of, you know, personal commitment to that. This is Khalilzad. And Petraeus has looked at it, it does have some more work.

But nonetheless, look it, we've got something to work with. That is the good news. And Maliki is committed to modifying that de-baathification program. The next step will be a modification of the constitution. He's got people working on it. And the final step hopefully will be reconciliation with the Sunnis with some form of amnesty. So is this fast enough to satisfy everybody? Absolutely not. But he is moving in the right direction and these are the most positive steps we have seen since he took power about a year ago.

CONAN: It's certainly not easy, though. The important Shia leader al-Sistani said today that he opposes the change to the de-baathification law. This is going to be difficult.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: There's no doubt. I mean, there's lots of complications in Iraq, to be sure. And listen, in not understanding this political culture that we imposed or at least attempting to impose a representative democracy on, one of the things we did not understand very well is the Shia psychological/ emotional impact that 35 years of repression has had on the Shias and the Kurds. And that is at play here as they try to modify the Sunni de-baathification program.

CONAN: Jim, thanks very much for the call. More of your questions for General Keane after we get back from a short break. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

At a news conference this morning at the White House, President Bush said the troop reinforcements in Baghdad are already making a difference there. But what about the rest of the country? Our guest is retired General Jack Keane. He was one of the intellectual architects of what the White House describes as the surge. You're welcome to join the conversation. Give us a call at 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. You can also read what other listeners have to say at our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Sean. Sean with us from Los Vegas.

SEAN (Caller): Hi. Yes, with Senator McCain saying that Baghdad is improving and things are getting better and CNN's Michael Ware responding that he doesn't know what Neverland Mr. McCain is in and Americans wouldn't last 20 minutes on the streets of Baghdad, what are we supposed to believe about the realities on the ground in Iraq?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well I think the thing to believe is that where the surge has been put in place, in other words where we have increased in military forces in Baghdad - and recognize that we're just about halfway there. The rest of them will not be in place until June. That's the reality of it. Where we have increased U.S. forces and Iraqi forces and they are in the neighborhood securing the population - that is not taking place all over Baghdad, but it will in time - there is a noticeable decrease in violence in those neighborhoods where that is taking place.

That doesn't mean for a minute that we could wander around there without security, without weapons. And certainly anybody as notable as our VIPs who are visiting there will need to have security even in those neighborhoods because clearly the insurgents can strike if they plan the operation, coordinate it properly, et cetera. But look it, there is improvement, and I think that's probably what Senator McCain has seen. First of all he's in a marketplace, and that hasn't happened in a very, very long time by a congressional delegation visit.

So General Petraeus felt comfortable enough to take him to, you know, one of those marketplaces probably in a neighborhood where we've been working pretty hard and we've brought the level of violence down. And it is a positive feeling in those neighborhoods from the people. There's noticeable differences. But we're on a long journey here. This is not over by any stretch. Baghdad remains a dangerous place and we'll have to get the rest of our forces in there before we're able to bring that level of violence overall down in Baghdad.

CONAN: Yet that congressional delegation goes into that market accompanied by 100 heavily-armed men, snipers on the rooftops, two attack helicopters overhead, wearing Kevlar vests, and one of the Congressman remarks: Gee, it's just like a summer stroll in a market in Indiana. Isn't that overselling it a little bit, do you think?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well I don't want to criticize Senator McCain, but let me say this. That certainly, one, they were in the marketplace. That's a positive sign, as opposed to flying them from a helicopter from the airport to the Green Zone and never letting them go to see anything. So that's number one. Number two is yes, all the precautions were certainly taken to protect them, and I think those precautions will be in place for the foreseeable future all through '07 and probably through part of '08 before we're able to feel comfortable about people in those marketplaces and not being vulnerable.

So we have a ways to go, make no mistake about it.

CONAN: Sean…

SEAN: The troops are in place. How long will it take before actual noticeable progress is made?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: I think you'll see - first of all, there's early signs of progress now but not enough to be predictable. I think in the summer timeframe we should see some clear definable signs of progress in my view. And by that I mean not just the level of violence, but progress. What this operation is about is about a political solution. What I'm talking about is there will be some clear political progress made in terms of Shia militias and Sunni insurgents, and hopefully some beginnings of reconciliation with those Sunni insurgents.

CONAN: Thanks for the call Sean.

SEAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go to - this is George. And George is with us from Louisville, Kentucky.

GEORGE (Caller): Yes, I wanted to ask about how you expect to maintain this kind of operation tempo with the amount of soldiers that you expect to have as an (unintelligible). I mean, when I was in Iraq after the initial invasion operating under General Petraeus's command in the 101st Airborne, you know, this was the kind of operations we ran. And by the time we were on the Syrian border we could barely keep track of gasoline smugglers, much less deal with, you know, all the other day-to-days of a fully mature insurgency.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well, you're absolutely right, George. And thank you for your service to your country and also with the great Screaming Eagles. Spent a lot of time in that outfit myself.

GEORGE: You're welcome (unintelligible).

Lt. Gen. KEANE: (Unintelligible). Listen, that's a very good question. What you're talking about is how do we sustain this in the face of this enemy that we've had a tendency to underestimate through the years. Well, first of all, I think you'll see eventually announcements that will sustain this into '08. Because any thought of not sustaining it into '08 will give the enemy back the population so that they can intimidate, terrorize and assassinate those who've been working with us.

We have to continue to protect that population into '08 so that then the Iraqis will be able to gradually start to take over from us in the '08 timeframe. It's the growth of the Iraq security forces that are eventually the solution here that we've all been waiting for. The problem with the initial strategy that had to be changed is that we over-relied on them and we needed actually more time. And that's what this operation, the second purpose of which is to provide for the Iraqi security forces in terms of their growth and development.

GEORGE: I mean, but what happens if the Iraqi security forces have neither the ability nor inclination to, you know, step into that role without, you know, 150, 180,000 (unintelligible) American soldiers in the area. And if they can't pick it up, it just reverts to the state it was over the last three years where you have random violence. I mean, if they don't step in and they don't build up forces, there's no solution.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: There are two - right. You put your finger on the two things that can cause failure here. The first one is that Maliki does not seek a political solution with the Sunnis and is not willing to take on the Shia militia. He's already made the statement and he's already acting to take on the Shia militia. So making a combination with the Sunni insurgents and bringing them into the political process is key. If he's not willing to do that, we fail.

Secondly, if the Iraqi security forces, as you accurately pointed out, if they're not available in the '08 timeframe to step up, then we begin to fail as well. Certainly a lot depends on Iraq both politically and militarily for this operation to be able to succeed in the future.

CONAN: George…

GEORGE: Frankly, I'm very happy to hear someone actually say what would constitute failure or success in this operation five years on or four years on.

CONAN: George, thanks very much for the call.

GEORGE: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's a question we got on the blog from Matthew Peret(ph). In General Keane's opinion, are there enough U.S. troops to successfully occupy the entire country, suppressing violent uprising long enough to allow cooler heads to prevail and a new Iraqi government to succeed, or is force being concentrated in Baghdad to suppress violence only long enough to allow President Bush to save face and pull the U.S. troops out, touting success and leaving the rest of the country in ruin?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well, first of all, the entire country is not in flames and it's not fraught with violence. As has been pointed out many times and accurately by the administration, in this case, is that there are four provinces which are being contested, 14 are not. So you don't have to deal with the entire country. And let's face it, the Sunni insurgency which started this problem - aided and assisted by the al-Qaida later - they do not have the capacity to go to every province in this country to inflict that level of violence.

To conduct an operation like that, very decentralized, they have to have support to do that - logistical support and some political support as well. And the further they are from their insurgent base, which is in Al Anbar province, the more challenged they are. So all that said, the focus is in Baghdad because they made it the focus. They made it the center of gravity. It's also in Al Anbar and will be in the areas around Baghdad, in the so-called belt around Baghdad, which is essentially the suburbia-type towns and cities that surround Baghdad north, east and south and certainly Al Anbar to the west.

And that should be sufficient militarily. We'll still have forces up north in Mosul and we'll still have forces down south in the Basra area, but they really are (unintelligible) force.

CONAN: You talked about the adaptable enemy. Just a year ago, Tal Afar, the city up near the Syrian border in the northwestern part of the country, was cited as an example of this is how we should do it. This was a city that was pacified and seemed to have kicked out the al-Qaida element. Then just last week an absolutely horrific suicide bombing killed many Shias; and then, just as horrific, Shia policemen apparently went on a rampage in revenge and murdered hundreds of Sunnis. The rest of the country is having some problems.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well, make no mistake about it, that problem in Tal Afar is certainly a cause for concern. But look, Tal Afar was an area that we had secured - we have secured the population and we changed the level of violence rather dramatically, we enfranchised the local leadership. And then what? Then we pulled out.

The mistake was not what we did initially to secure the population. The mistake was that, you know, we left Tal Afar to its own devices, and it's not surprising that they had the opportunity to get back in there. But there's a lot of positive foundation in Tal Afar in my view and it would not take much to get that thing back on the right course again.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Matt. Matt is calling us from Minnesota.

MATT (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MATT: I have a question for the general. If people in Baghdad don't have electricity or water, which many, many don't, how can we expect a political process to take a real stronghold if these basic services are not restored?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Yeah. You're absolutely right on target, Matt. One of the other things that has been a steep learning curve for us - painfully so, I may add -is that we have come to have unanimity on the fact that security is a precondition not only for the political progress that we have just been talking about the last 15 or so minutes, but also for economic and social progress.

This has been difficult to come to accept, but that is the truth of it. We cannot make economic progress unless we have security. We've been chasing ourselves on this issue for four-plus years. So the thought is, as we bring this level of violence down, this part of the security package is providing the essential services for the people in these neighborhoods to do exactly what you are suggesting.

And it is those essential services with the added security in their lives that the thought is and the theory is that then they will become more connected to their local officials who are providing those services, and also indirectly more connected to a central government which is providing the funding for those essential services.

This economic package, in my view, is as important as the security operation militarily itself, and it has to go hand in glove with it. And I'm going to tell you straight out here that I have some concerns about it because we have not done well here in the past. And there's a lot of people who are looking very hard at this. There's a new ambassador here and he's bringing in a new deputy chief of mission with him. And I know central to what they'll be doing here certainly is political progress, but they know they've got to jumpstart this economic progress.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Matt.

MATT: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Retired General Jack Keane. I want to correct what may have been a misimpression I spoke about earlier. I was quoting Republican Congressman Pence, who said that the march through the market was like a stroll through a market in Indiana. We may have left the impression that that was said by Senator McCain. It was instead Mike Pence of Indiana.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go now to Jonathan. Jonathan calling us from Florida.

JONATHAN (Caller): Good afternoon, General, and thank you for taking my call. I'm concerned about the discussion and rhetoric that's going on in Washington. It just bothers me that it seems like everything is hinging on the word timeline. Like the distinction between the Democrats and the Republicans and the White House and Congress seems to be, okay, we'll fund the war, we'll support the troops, we want success, but there can't be a timeline.

What's wrong with coming up with a timeline? You can always change it. It just seems to me like adults in Washington should be able to come together, come up with a plan, come up with some language that works for everybody, and let's get together on this. It's disturbing me.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well, Jonathan, you're absolutely right. I mean, there is such divisiveness in Washington, D.C., in terms of partisan politics over the war, and rightfully so. I mean, we have 3,000-plus dead for four years invested here. There's a lot at stake certainly and the consequences of failure, you know, for the nation are rather significant.

But here's what I think. In my own mind I believe there is an unofficial timeline that the administration probably has. I mean, I have one in the back of my mind, not necessary, you know, whether to what their thoughts are, but in my own mind I think that we've got to make some genuine political progress here as a result of a more secured Iraq by '08. And that's the reality of it.

I would imagine the president and his people probably feel the same way. That being the case, it's really not too far from where many of the congressional members are on this issue. So what's the problem? The problem is we can't get in the same room and have an adult conversation like this without it being electrified in the media. We should have been able to, it would seem to me, to bring both sides of the issue together to talk about here is what we're going to try to do, here's the realism of it, and here's what I think, unofficially, is where I am.

No one wants pronounce a timeline, I think, who puts their mind on this because we do have an enemy that's out there. But I would have liked to have thought that with senior members of the Congress, the administration would be able to talk frankly with them and develop a partnership here to go ahead. That's not been the case and it's really unfortunate for the country.

CONAN: That comes on both sides. There's a lot of suspicion of people who said that, look, we haven't been told the truth earlier. We've been mislead. Why should we believe you this time? How about putting it in black and white in paper, in a law?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: That's correct. And the divisiveness is at that state where there's not an opportunity to have that kind of conversation and make the necessary compromises based on trust. I mean, it's hard to compromise if you don't have some trust. And that trust seems to have been broken down, unfortunately.

CONAN: Jonathan, thanks very much for the call.

We're going to take this conversation over the break, so if you have a question for General Keane about the situation in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq as we're, what, about seven weeks into the escalation of forces into Baghdad and to Anbar province as well. Some encouraging signs of progress, he says, yet obviously still a very long way to go.

Anyway, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. We'll also be speaking with an editorial page editor about the heartbreak and pride that he felt as he sent his son off to fight in the war.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Today we're talking with General Jack Keane, a retired lieutenant general, former vice chief of staff of the Army. One of the intellectual architects of the plan that's generally described as the surge, a term he dislikes but nevertheless is stuck with it now. And we're taking your question at 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail talk@npr.org. And there's an e-mail from Gary in Cornville, Arizona.

I fail to understand why, after four years, the Iraqi security forces are still not considered to be sufficiently trained to handle security in their own country. Can your guest explain why it takes so long to train Iraqis when our own troops are considered battle-ready in just a few months?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well, training the Iraqis has been a challenge right from the start, in terms of getting them their proper equipment and also having the appropriate advisory teams together. We have gone through a learning curve here as well.

We know now that we have to have some of our very best people there as the advisory training team. We have not had that in all cases in terms of people who have combat experience and recent combat experience in Iraq. The size of that team has to change also, and then the training preparation for that team has been completely revamped.

So we have made some progress. It will take a little time to bear the fruits of that progress. But I checked on this when I was there myself to look at the quality of these advisory teams and have they gone through the change that we wanted that to happen. And that is taking place. It is not the case in every one of those teams having had the proper training and gone through the proper selection, but all the new ones that are arriving will meet that new standard.

Look, I'm convinced that we can get the Iraqi security forces to a level to be able to cope with the problems that they have inside Iraq. They do not have to be at the capacity level of what we've considered to be the capabilities of Western-type militaries and certainly not at the capability of the United States. Primarily, who they are fighting are fellow Iraqis themselves and the skills are rather primitive.

But we need to get the leadership vetted properly and the leadership trained, and then the basic skills with the soldiers, they're obviously already there. It's mostly making certain that the leaders have the requisite skills and that's why the advisory teams are so important.

CONAN: Are you concerned that these Iraqi forces, and this is the police as well as the military, are going to be loyal to the central government or are they loyal to their sects? Are they Shia army, Shia militia, or are they Iraqi armed forces?

Lt. Gen. KEANE: Well, there has been in the past, you know, some breakdown in those forces. There's not been a significant breakdown in the forces. And that is why I've always disputed, you know, this claim that we were in the middle of a civil war. And the fact is the institution called the Iraqi military and the associated security forces with some exceptions have stayed loyal to the government, and that certainly is the case now and it has been the case through '06 with all the pressure on it.

There have been certain battalions and there's been certain brigades in the police that, you know, have not stayed loyal and have carried out their own vengeance. Where that is taking place, those people are summarily removed, the organization has broken up and so on. But the fact is the overwhelming majority of them have stayed loyal and that is a good sign. And given the violence we had in '06, I think it's a necessary foundation for progress here in '07.

CONAN: One last question for General Keane. Now this is Scott. Scott is with us from Boulder, Colorado.

SCOTT (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

SCOTT: Hello. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes. Go ahead, Scott.

SCOTT: My question is - you raised the issue of potential failure in Iraq, and I just wanted you to speak to what is the vision of a possible success in Iraq.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: That's a great question, Scott. I welcome it. The success probably is different than I think what we initially started out, which was a bona fide representative democracy. The political culture in Iraq is not mature enough to support that. I believe what we'll have is a stable government with the Sunnis participating, obviously the Kurds as well, Shia-dominated for sure, and quite not on the Jeffersonian model, that I think is obvious now, but capable of dealing with violence themselves in that country. And that is the key thing, that they will be capable of dealing with the level of violence.

The problem we have had is that the level of violence has been so high. It increased every succeeding year, '04 over '03, '05 over '04, '06 over '05, and that violence was so high that it's beyond the capacity level of the Iraqis, in my view, ever to cope with that level of violence. So what this operation is doing is bringing that level of violence down to a level that they can begin to cope with it and keep that level of violence down once we get it down there.

So that is what the plan is. We have some early signs of that, but we've got a ways to go before we can bring this thing home. That's what success will look like: stable Iraq where you're making political progress, the essential services are being provided, economic progress, and the social progress that needs to be taken as well.

CONAN: Scott, thanks very much for the call.

SCOTT: Thank you.

CONAN: And General Keane, thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.

Lt. Gen. KEANE: That's great.

CONAN: Retired Lieutenant General Jack Keane with us here in Studio 3A.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.