Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero on Iraq, post-surge.
HH: Major General Michael Barbero, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Good to have you, General.
MB: Mr. Hewitt, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
HH: I want to ask you about each of the three enemies we face in Iraq today, and their status, beginning with al Qaeda in Iraq. How is al Qaeda in Iraq functioning today, General?
MB: Al Qaeda in Iraq is still present and functioning. We continue to conduct operations against them every day and every night. They are largely responsible for these dramatic attacks, the high profile attacks, the vehicle born IED’s, the explosions in the marketplaces. Their goal is to slaughter as many innocent Iraqi civilians as they can to make it an ungovernable space. So they’re still there, and we are going after them, and they’re still active.
HH: Has their leadership suffered repeatedly…it has been repeatedly assaulted. Do they have a long line of people just standing up and ready to take over operational control?
MB: Their leadership has suffered, as have all levels of al Qaeda in Iraq. And we continue to go after them. But they’re resilient and adaptive, so it’s a continuous effort.
HH: Do we know who presently has operational control?
MB: We have some ideas about that.
HH: Are they in contact with Zawahiri, wherever he is?
MB: It would probably be best if I didn’t discuss who’s talking to whom, and receiving orders. But we have good intelligence on them, and it continues to get better every day. You know, part of this Baghdad security plan, one of the positive indicators are the number of tips we receive from the Iraqi civilians and citizens of Baghdad, has been the highest it’s even been. And I think that’s significant.
HH: How about the Baathist rump? Is it your understanding that al-Douri is actually running that?
MB: I’m not sure who is running that and how significant that is.
HH: Oh, so it’s not anywhere as near as significant as the al Qaeda operation?
MB: It’s there. I’m not sure in rating significance, there is different ways to measure it. But our focus is on all these entities that are attacking the stability and security of the Iraqi population. And this operation which we’re in now has had some positive developments in securing the population, and is starting to see some positive indicators which I can discuss.
HH: Tell us about the Shia militias. Have they gone to ground? Have they traded, as the cliché in the press goes, space for time?
MB: I think the term gone to ground and avoiding us is a little too simple. I think it’s a little more than that. I think there’s a level of intimidation. I think there is a realization on their part by some of them that maybe another course of action is preferable. You know, in Sadr City, their home, we’re operating openly with joint security stations, patrols, medical facility, and our forces and the Iraqi security forces are in there operating freely, and that is a tremendous change.
HH: Is Muqtada al Sadr still in the country?
MB: No, we agree with the leaders in Iraq that we think he’s in Iran.
HH: And is he an enemy?
MB: I’m not sure I’d term him an enemy. We would welcome he and his leaders to contribute to the security of Iraq, and the safety of the Iraqi people, and become participants in the political process.
HH: How developed is that mosaic of Shia militias, General Barbero? How many of them are major players? And do they fight more with each other, or with us?
MB: I’m not sure the numbers of the militias, and they have contributed in the past to some of the instability we’ve seen in Iraq. We’ve seen some changes here recently since the beginning of this operation, and we’ll continue to follow up to continue into a trend, I hope.
HH: Do you continue to see the Quds forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard operating in Iraq?
MB: They have been operating in Iraq. I do not have any recent intelligence on their recent activities.
HH: How big of a deployment do they have there, General?
MB: Probably can’t discuss the numbers, but they have been active. We’re convinced that they’ve been participating in the training and equipping of some of the Shia extremist groups, and rather than talk about specific enemies, you know, we will conduct deliberate operations against any forces or individuals who attack our forces.
HH: General, can the Quds forces, though, deploy and operate without the knowledge and approval of the highest levels of the Iranian government?
MB: The Quds force are an arm of the Iranian government. Their mission is to export the revolution. It would be hard to believe that there are any free agents from the Iranian forces operating inside Iraq.
HH: Now in August, you brought to the public’s attention, in a press conference, that the improvised explosive devices, the ones that were indicating high levels of technological sophistication, were coming from Iran. Has that supply line been interrupted?
MB: We have taken operations to interrupt that supply line. We just…you attack the network, you attack the supplies, and you attack the organizers. And we have been very aggressive in taking down these networks and these supply lines.
HH: How about the importation from Syria of foreign jihadists who would probably be going in not to assist the Shia militias, but the al Qaeda in Iraq?
MB: I think the best way to describe Syria is they’re an enabler. They’re not doing everything they can and should to prevent the flow of individuals into Iraq, and they’re not doing everything they should to contribute to the stability of their neighbor, the sovereign country of Iraq.
HH: Are there other Iranian-made technologies coming in to assist our enemy there, other than the IED’s?
MB: There are some weapons. I think there was a briefing in Baghdad several weeks ago, some mortar rounds, small arms, and other weapons that we think we can trace back to Iran.
HH: Now General Barbero, it’s often said that Iraq is a “breeding ground” for terrorists. Do you agree with that?
MB: I’m not sure what breeding ground means. It’s a place where we have to win. We think with these additional forces and the mission, and the commitment of the Iraqi government, that this mission is achievable, and we will be successful.
HH: The new manual on small wars, on guerilla wars, that came out of Leavenworth, is that what’s being applied successfully in Baghdad today?
MB: Well, I think we talked about the different types of forces in Iraq. There is a counterinsurgency, but there’s…to which we’re applying all of our lessons learned and experience, but also in ending the sectarian violence, we’re securing the population, providing a presence, getting the Iraqi security forces out amongst the population. So just as the situation is complex, the solution and the approach is complex also.
HH: I’m talking with Major General Michael Barbero, the Deputy Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General, given that you’re in D.C. and constantly in touch with the troops and the leadership in Iraq, I can’t think of anyone better positioned, really, to answer this. Do these debates that go on in the Beltway have an impact on the enemy?
MB: I’m not sure. Here’s…I spent a year in Iraq, and I was there during the election run up in 2003, 2004. And our soldiers are pretty savvy. They understand, our Marines and Airmen and Sailors, they understand our government, how we work, and we’ve taken an oath to support and defend and uphold the Constitution. And this is part of our Constitutional process. So they understand it, they put it in context, and they’re proud of what they’re doing. They believe in their mission, and they’re seeing progress every day on the ground, which is the most important.
HH: But how about the enemy? Do they follow these debates as well? Do they respond to them? Do they believe that that’s where the battlefield really is, in the Beltway?
MB: I’m not sure how they perceive it. You know, I can’t speak to that. I can only speak to our soldiers and Marines, and others in harm’s way understand it, and believe in their mission, and are moving out smartly to execute that mission.
HH: How is the general condition in terms of morale and equipment and functioning of the United States military? Is it, as some critics say, broken and overextended?
MB: Well, I was in Iraq and Afghanistan in the end of January and February, and talking to all the leaders in both places, and they are uniform in their belief in what we’re doing, uniform in that their soldiers are well-trained and ready to execute the mission, and that the soldiers and Marines and military folks we have operating there are the best equipped, best trained we’ve ever had. I mean, even from when I was there in 2003, if you looked at how a soldier was equipped and prepared, it’s absolutely totally different, and improved dramatically from what it was then. So the soldiers in harm’s way are ready to go, fully equipped, fully trained, before they’re deployed.
HH: Major General Michael Barbero, we’re out of time. Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you today.
MB: Sir, thank you very much.
End of interview.