Lt. Gen. Michael Bednarek, chief of the US Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, said that the Iraqi government and armed forces are working on countering terrorism in cooperation with the United States. Speaking to Azzaman on May 3, Bednarek said, “The cooperation consists of supplying Iraq with weapons, information, training, development and aerial maps to detect the movement of terrorist forces and armed groups opposing the Iraqi government.”
Members of the US military rest aboard an Air Force C-130 transport plane in Baghdad, Dec. 15, 2011. (photo by REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
The text of the interview follows:
Azzaman: What is the nature of your job in Iraq?
Bednarek: I am the senior adviser to the US government in the defense sector, and we have many missions designed to assist Iraq in the security and defense sector through the Defense and Interior ministries and the national security establishments. In addition, we are laying the foundations for an ongoing US-Iraqi diplomatic effort and promoting security cooperation. At this stage, our objective is to manage the sales of arms to Iraq, in order to strengthen the country’s capabilities to preserve its sovereignty and independence. This includes joint security efforts, professional development and military education. We are also working together to develop a strategy for a lasting peace in Iraq.
Azzaman: How do you follow up on the developments in Iraq?
Bednarek: We are following up on the situation in Iraq, and on the Iraqi efforts to fight terrorism. We are cooperating in this field by communicating with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Lately, we supplied Iraq with the necessary weapons to counter terrorism.
Since the eruption of the security problem and its aggravated ramifications in December 2013, and late January 2014 in Anbar, the US government has assisted the Iraqi armed forces, through the Iraqi federal government, by providing information and arms to resolve the battle against terrorism and enable Iraq to counter this grave danger. Since Jan. 17, 2014, the US has sent 14 million shells and rounds. The munitions consist of rifle rounds and Hellfire missiles. The US has also delivered nearly 7,000 pieces of weapons, namely rifles, rockets and rocket launchers. All of these shipments were sent to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and armed terrorist groups, and they came in response to the Iraqi government’s demands to urgently fight terrorism.
The latest shipment of weapons arrived on April 23, and we have shipped 800 cannon rounds. The next shipment consists of 99 Hellfire rockets and 1,000 tank rounds. Regardless of the amount and type of weapons, the US is still committed to its obligations in the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement. It is a clear evidence to the partnership with Iraq, because we do not have any other ally that receives such a significant support in the security and defense sector.
Azzaman: Are there any other partnerships within the framework of countering terrorism?
Bednarek: Yes, there are many partnerships as clearly demonstrated by the presence of liaison officers between the US military and the Iraqi military. When these challenges end, we will consider further developing these partnerships. In addition, we have a partnership that consists of supporting and training the Counter Terrorism Bureau and its members to fight the ISIS and al-Qaeda. We have found that, as terrorism is escalating in Iraq, extraordinary efforts need to be deployed to support Iraq in this field.
Azzaman: How do you view the US-Iraqi cooperation at the intelligence level and its role in combating terrorism ?
Bednarek: I agree with you that there is a vital need to share information, not only at the intelligence level, but also in all areas in order to counter terrorism.
There is a partnership between the US and the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Bureau and the Ministry of Defense, which allowed the Iraqi military forces to better maneuver, especially since they need intelligence information. Thus, the US is providing them with aerial maps, given the need to be informed about the movements of opposition and terrorist forces that act against the Iraqi government.
Azzaman: What did your efforts in the intelligence training sector accomplish so far?
Bednarek: The intelligence training is crucial, and based on the US-Iraqi partnership records, we have provided Iraq with aerial photographs of terrorism spots. Thus, this support will continue.
Iraq is working today on developing its intelligence capabilities through various techniques, such as cybersecurity and the management of airships for further aerial intelligence. We are also conducting ongoing talks with the Iraqi side, whether in the Ministry of Interior or Ministry of Defense, in order to sign a deal to buy airships from the US so as to reduce armed and terrorist operations in Iraq.
Azzaman: There have been statements about the US being late in supplying Iraq with weapons.
Bednarek: On the contrary, we are ahead of schedule for emergency requests. However, there are long-term programs that are linked to Iraq’s independence. This is not to mention the logistic support, which could affect the receipt of shipments, especially when it comes to the US Apache fighters. We assess the strategic position of the Iraqi forces and we offer assistance through emergency military grants and not through contracting. This reflects the clear commitment of the US government toward the safety and security of Iraq.
Azzaman: What is the covert reason behind the delay of the arrival of the Apache helicopters shipment?
Bednarek: Everybody knows that the Apache plane is a combat aircraft that has the best aerial combat capacities in the world so far. A year and half ago, Iraq signed a contract to buy 24 Apache helicopters. However, the Iraqi troops were in dire need of the helicopters before they were due to be delivered as per the contract. We ought not to forget that there are several demands on these helicopters from around the world, which could delay the delivery timetable. Given this long period of time and Iraq’s urgent need for these aircraft to fight terrorism, we decided to lease the jets instead of selling them for the time being. We finalized the shipment order with the US Congress. The Iraqi government and the Army Aviation are currently looking over the details of the project that includes a six-month training to fly the jets, and requires an eligible air base. These projects have been put on hold for many reasons, namely the jets’ needs for spare parts stores, which must be provided by the Iraqi government.
Azzaman: Are there any challenges as to the arms shipments with the Iraqi side?
Bednarek: There are no significant challenges, but these shipments require greater facilities on the part of the Iraqi side. Iraq is working on overcoming these obstacles in the coming period, especially since we need to train the human resources to obtain the necessary licenses. This is not to mention the need to develop payment mechanisms for contracts related to weapons and to agree on amounts that will be wired by the Iraqi government through the Central Bank of Iraq to the US Federal Reserve Bank. All this will take place in September 2014, when we receive the first batch of the Apache and F-16 aircraft.
Azzaman: Are there any challenges with concluding air weapon contracts?
Bednarek: There are no major challenges. However, we are working with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense on the rehabilitation of the Balad Air Base, as it was subject to several attacks after 2011 and needs maintenance and reparation of the runways and jet warehouses. The outer perimeter and the fence need to be fixed as well. The Iraqi air force is working on overcoming all these challenges.
Azzaman: How do you view the experience of Iraq in the fight against terrorism?
Bednarek: The fight against terrorism is a long process, which necessitates several means and methods, not only in terms of military efforts but also in terms of intelligence. Iraq has started serious works in this regard, as it held the first international conference to fight against terrorism in Iraq, where many states discussed this issue. The US supported the conference through its high-level representation. However, I would like to stress the outstanding support of the Iraqi tribes of the government’s effort in fighting against terrorism. The Awakening forces deserve to have pride in their sense of nationalism.
Azzaman: How do you view the future of Iraq in terms of arms and development during the next four years?
Bednarek: Our relations with Iraq go beyond the issue of weapons and are more focused on development. The US government considers Iraq’s real need for economic and educational development. The US is likely to take a step toward developing the education sector in Iraq.