STEVE INSKEEP, host:
As the Secretary of State traveled yesterday, President Bush met with other advisors at the White House, and the subject was Iraq. After that meeting, the national security adviser met us in his corner office in the West Wing. Stephen Hadley occupies the office that Rice once held, and that Henry Kissinger, among others, held before them.
We asked about Iraq's security forces. According to U.S. officials, those soldiers and police have to improve before U.S. troops can begin to withdraw. The question now is how to measure their progress.
Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs):It's a series of levels. First level, how are we doing on recruiting, training, equipping and fielding Iraqi security forces? As the president says, as they can stand up, we can stand down. There's another piece about building a Ministry of Interior and a Ministry of Defense that can provide a civilian leadership for the police and for the armed services, respectively. There's also a longer-term piece, which is putting in place the logistics that will allow this force, over time, to be more self-sustaining. That is a process that will take probably more than a few weeks, more than a few months, maybe a couple of years.
INSKEEP: When you speak with the president, does the question of the loyalty, or perhaps I should even say loyalties, of Iraq security forces come up?
Mr. HADLEY: The reviews on that have really been good. That's one of the things, of course, that was tested, as you know, in February when the Golden Mosque was bombed in Samarra. There was concern as to whether the military forces would fracture along sectarian lines, and that didn't happen.
INSKEEP: Let me ask you about three data points, and see how they fit into your broader picture. Last week the U.S. military acknowledged that two American soldiers had been killed by the Iraqi's they were trying to train. Last week MORNING EDITION interviewed an American major who had been training Iraqis, who recalled an assassination plot against him that was foiled. And on a recent reporting trip in Baghdad, we were spending time with Americans who work with Iraqi police. And they said that when they go out on patrol, they're unable to tell the Iraqis in advance where they're going, because the Iraqis can't be trusted to keep that information secret.
Aren't there some serious problems here with making sure that the people you're training are all on the same side?
Mr. HADLEY: In terms of the Iraqi police, I think, that's right. But one of the problems we're having down in Basra, one of the things that Prime Minister Maliki focused on, was the concern about the local police because of ties to local militia; and, quite frankly, because of a lot of criminal elements. I think it's less of a concern with the Iraqi Army. But, again, remember, there are now over 264,000 Iraqi Security Forces. That's a big number.
Are there going to be instances where there are questions about loyalty? Of course, there are. The point, of course, now is for these forces to become loyal to the new unity government which is in place. And that, of course, will be one of the tasks for that government.
Mr. HADLEY: That's one of the challenges of the new government.
INSKEEP: Are you saying this question of loyalty is really just an isolated question? I mean, isn't this something that's being faced, in one way or another, in many areas of Iraq right now?
Mr. HADLEY: Well, the question is how you define many areas of Iraq. In terms of the overall framework, I think, the evidence that we have is the army has held together pretty well.
INSKEEP: Even with all the top officials, who no doubt come through this office where we're sitting, and the reports that I'm sure are available on the computer screens we can see over by your desk, do you ever wonder if you really, really know what is going on inside Iraq?
Mr. HADLEY: There's obviously imperfect knowledge any time you go into another and another culture, separated by a language. You know, sometimes I wonder, you know, whether we really know what's going in the United States from time to time.
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Mr. HADLEY: Or sometimes, what's really going within the U.S. government from time to time. That's one of the reasons, of course, why it is so important to get this unity government established. Because the coalition forces, they can't know this country better than the Iraqis.
INSKEEP: There was a fascinating memo that was leaked from Ambassador Khalilzad's public affairs staff. They were talking to their own Iraqi employees. You're familiar with this memo.
Mr. HADLEY: Sure. Mm-hmm.
INSKEEP: The Iraqi employees were saying that they were concerned about increasing Islamic conservatism in the country, as well as being afraid for their own lives and having to take extraordinary security measures. What account can you take of that kind of granular information about how difficult daily life is for many people?
Mr. HADLEY: We look at that, of course. One of the things I found is that there's not a lot that surprise me about that memo. It has been a difficult situation in - particularly in Baghdad. So I read that memo and there wasn't a lot new in it. But was it useful to be reminded of it? Of course. And it is one information source that one would look at.
INSKEEP: When you look ahead, say, to the end of this administration, and you think about what's happening in North Korea, Iran, Somalia, even Afghanistan, do you think that in a couple of years Iraq is going to be the country that worries the United States most?
Mr. HADLEY: I do not. We have talked about, as I said, a country that is on the road to democracy, able to defend itself, and can be a source of stability in the region. And that's the road the Iraqi people have set themselves on.
INSKEEP: Let's talk about the flipside of that question. What's a long-term threat that you see that's going to exceed Iraq, even though its expected there'll still be fighting in Iraq in a couple of years?
Mr. HADLEY: Well, one of the things, obviously, people are concerned about is Iran. Iran's efforts to pursue a nuclear program - that raises questions of whether it is a cover to get a nuclear weapon. It is a country that has supported terror, and has not provided democratic rights to its own people. Obviously, there's concerns about Iran that, I think, you're seeing reflected in the region, reflected in the international community, as a whole.
INSKEEP: Stephen Hadley, National Security Adviser, thanks very much.
Mr. HADLEY: Thank you very much.
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INSKEEP: Stephen Hadley spoke yesterday at the White House, and you can hear the full interview at npr.org.
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