Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Negropontifications: US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte Talks With Wolf Blitzer

CNN Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer

BLITZER: Is Senator Biden correct [about their being only 4,000 fully trained Iraqi military and police personnel]?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think that 4,000, that figure of 4,000, really understates the progress that has been made in the development of the Iraqi army and police forces.

Notice that the 4,000 figure "understates the progress" -- a phrase Negroponte repeats during his "Meet the Press" appearance (link). He doesn't say whether or not it understates the actual number.

BLITZER: If it's not 4,000, how many well-trained Iraqi forces are there right now?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think that the well-trained part is very subjective. We've certainly trained more than 100,000.

I guess we can take this to mean that they signed up more than 100,000 for training, and maybe issued close to that many uniforms. After that, any assessment is "very subjective."

BLITZER: So what number would you estimate is it? How many well-trained Iraqi troops do you assess there is right now?

NEGROPONTE: Well, Ms. Rice used the figure of 120,000. We count here, General Petraeus and I, when we talk about this, we talk about the numbers of battalions that are operating, and there are some 70 battalions in the Iraqi army at the moment that are out there in various parts of the country.

So again, I would say it's considerably higher than the figure that Senator Biden put forward.

Okay. Negroponte does not specify the number of individual troops because he and General Petraeus speak only in terms of battalions, of which there are some 70 (except that he says 75 to 80 on "Meet the Press," but who's going to quibble over 5 or 10 battalions). Unfortunately, Blitzer doesn't ask how many troops consititute an Iraqi battalion, so we can't complete the math problem. The interpretation of "considerably higher" is, as the Ambassador might say, very subjective.

BLITZER: The New York Times Saturday had an intriguing article about an Iraqi-chartered plane with some $300 million in cash being flown to Beirut, supposedly to purchase weapons from some mysterious source. Is all that true?

NEGROPONTE: Well, we're looking into those allegations.

One thing I can tell you is that no appropriated U.S. government monies are involved here.

Key word here: appropriated. Is there $300 million in cash of unappropriated US government monies stashed in Iraq? Also of note: The Ambassador was much less adamant in his "Meet the Press" response: "My understanding is that these are Iraqi moneys that are involved, not United States government appropriated funds."

BLITZER: [Is US policy actually growing the insurgency?]

NEGROPONTE: Well, since I've been here -- I don't know if I would agree with that, because since I've been here, the number of attacks instigated by the insurgency… has stayed at pretty much the same level over these past six months. So, to me, that would not necessarily suggest that the insurgency has increased.

I think certain activities that they've undertaken have definitely increased, such as their intimidation campaign against Iraqi officials and against their armed forces and their police.

But overall, the level of activity by the insurgency is about the same as it was when I got here six months ago.

This is tricky -- depends if by "insurgency" you mean the number of individuals participating or the number of attacks. Negroponte maintains that the overall level of insurgent activity has remained about the same in the past 6 months, although he concedes certain insurgent activities have definitely increased -- but only those aimed against the Iraqi armed forces, the Iraqi police, Iraqi officials, and Iraqis involved in the upcoming election. So things are looking good as long as you're not an Iraqi soldier, an Iraqi police officer, an Iraqi official, an Iraqi election official, an Iraqi politician, or an Iraqi campaign worker.

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