"Good Morning America" anchor Chris Cuomo has been in Iraq all week talking to both U.S. troops and Iraqis, and covering war developments on the ground.
Today, he interviewed Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of ground troops in Iraq, and they discussed the Iraqi army and the progress of U.S. troops.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
Cuomo: Do you believe we're closer to the beginning or the end of our time here?
Odierno: Well, again, we'll continue to move forward and we're making progress every day, but in small steps. We got to continue to make sure we continue to move forward and make the small steps. We're doing that -- trying to protect the population in Baghdad, protect the people, isolate the extremists. That's it.
Cuomo: Do you believe the campaign is taking us closer to the end or are we closer to the beginning?
Odierno: I think it will take some time. It's not an open-ended thing, but I believe we're getting closer to the end. When you see something like the latest operation in Haifa, U.S. forces still have to lead the way.
Cuomo: Are the Iraqis ready to protect themselves here?
Odierno: They are getting better every day. The Iraqi army in that situation were able to do quite a bit. They cleared many of the buildings on Haifa Street. Yes, they were given a lot of support by coalition forces, but they're gaining confidence.
Cuomo: I know in the past you've said that a key to the problems here was that the Iraqi troops weren't ready to go. Did you expect a little bit more out of them?
Odierno: No, I think that's what we planned on doing. It went according to plan. They conducted the things that they said they were going to do, and we did the things that we said we would do.
Cuomo: In the headlines, we have [seen] some discussion about the capture for the Iranians here. The Iraqi government had put up resistance on that. What's the latest?
Odierno: In the last 45 days, we've picked up a significant amount of Shiite extremists. We have now over 600 in custody. They have been working along with us so that anybody who is against the government, anyone, no matter Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, foreigner, they will be arrested, and they are allowing us, and the Iraqi forces to do this.
Cuomo: Is there any question in your mind that members of Iran's military government are here on the ground helping the resistance?
Odierno: We have found some members of the code force operating within Iraq. We have found weapons within Iraq. We found RPGs, mortars, detonation wire. It's clear either through training or providing weapon systems, they are involved here in Iraq.
Cuomo: When you think back, your units captured Saddam Hussein. "Caught like a rat," you said. Could you imagine then that we would have the trouble now?
Odierno: There have been some things that we did not expect. One was Abu Ghraib, the effect that had on bringing people forward to fight the Americans. Second, is the sectarian violence that has occurred since the mosque bombing [in Samarra]. So that is probably two unexpected things that have occurred.
I think now we're starting to understand what those problems are. Although extremely complex, we're working with the Iraqi government.
Cuomo: More troops -- Gen. [George W.] Casey who's still in command now said we didn't need more troops. The man who is going to replace him [Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus] says this is a dire situation. Who's right?
Odierno: Well, I think the bottom line is, this is about [an] Iraqi-led operation. This is about Iraqis taking charge of their own security. In order for them to do that, we have to buy them time to continue to train, for the government to become more legitimate [in] the eyes of the Iraqi people. By bringing more troops in, it provides us the opportunity to work with them to provide more time and defeat this threat, which is both an al Qaeda threat, as well as sectarian violence.
Cuomo: Quickly, you know the sentiment from home, [many are] very tired of this situation. Do you believe the Iraqi people still want us here?
Odierno: I think they want peace, they want to move. … The majority of the Iraqis want to move forward. They have confidence that with at least the coalition forces here helping with the Iraqis, there is a chance to protect the population.