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News Transcript

Presenter: CPA Senor Adviser, Daniel Senor and Deputy Director for Operations, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt
Tuesday, February 3, 2004 9:04 a.m. EST

Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

MR. SENOR: Good afternoon. I have a brief statement to make, after which General Kimmitt will make an opening statement, and then we will be happy to take your questions.

On January 10th, coalition forces received a tip from an informant regarding Khamis Sirhan al-Mohammed, a former Karbala Ba'ath Party regional commander, and number 54 in Central Command's deck of cards. Based in part on that intelligence, al-Mohammed was captured the following day. Today we can announce that less than a month following receipt of that tip, we've approved a payment of $1 million to the Iraqi informant. Al-Mohammed was organizing, facilitating and financing attacks against the coalition and the efforts of the Iraqi people. His capture is a significant step forward.

It was in late December that the Coalition Provisional Authority announced the reward offer of up to $1 million for al-Mohammed and 12 other former Ba'ath Party members included in CENTCOM's deck of cards, and a month later, we received information critical to his capture.

Our intelligence gathering and our rewards program is yielding results every day. These rewards were offered under the State Department's Rewards for Justice program, a key part of our global fight against international terrorism.

Separately, last month -- or in December, Ambassador Bremer and then-president -- so I guess it was early January -- the then- president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Dr. Pachachi, announced a security reconciliation initiative that involves the release of detainees from Abu Ghraib prison. And I've told you that from time to time from this podium, I'll provide updates on the actual release program. As of today, I can report that the overall number of guarantors, the sponsors that are required for the release of each prisoner, the total number of guarantors identified is 157, and the total number of detainees matched with a guarantor is 192. The reason for the delta between the two numbers is because some guarantors have been able to sponsor more than one detainee.

General Kimmitt.

GEN. KIMMITT: Thank you.

Good afternoon. The area of operations remains relatively stable. Over the past week, there have been an average of 23 daily engagements against coalition military, just over four attacks daily against Iraqi security forces, and just under two attacks daily against Iraqi civilians. The coalition remains offensively oriented in order to proactively attack, kill or capture anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi elements; to obtain intelligence for future operations; and to ensure the people of Iraq of our determination to establish and maintain a safe and secure environment. To that end, in the past 24 hours the coalition conducted 1,625 patrols, 12 offensive operations, 15 raids and captured 42 anti- coalition suspects.

In the northern zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 88 patrols, two offensive operations and detained one individual.

An update on the two suicide bombings in Erbil: our current information is that 67 persons were killed and 247 wounded. In support of the Iraqi police service investigation, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation collected forensic evidence today and elements from the 101st Airborne Division medical units provided additional medical support. The evidence collected today will be evacuated to Baghdad for further analysis by other intelligence agencies.

Yesterday coalition forces conducted a series of cordon and knock operations, targeting division and brigade high-value targets in Mosul. The first operation resulted in a target and three associates being detained and in the second operation coalition forces targeted an individual planning a MANPAD SA-7 attack on a Mosul airfield.

On Sunday coalition forces conducted a series of simultaneous cordon and knock operations in Tall Afar targeting seven high-value targets, all suspected of Ansar al-Islam connections. Ten people were detained, two of them, which are confirmed targets.

In the north-central zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 194 patrols, three raids and captured 21 enemy personnel. Coalition forces report a raid near Taliwan (ph) detaining five Iraqis. The targets of the raids were suspected Fedayeen members and coalition forces captured five, identifying two as active Fedayeen members. An Iraqi Civil Defense Corps patrol captured three men as they were loading weapons into an automobile in a Baiji mechanic shop on the evening of January 31st. The men admitted that they were taking the confiscated firearms to Basra, and the ICDC units confiscated 25 AKA-47 assault rifles, one pistol and one automatic weapon.

A joint coalition and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps raid near Mukeesha (ph) targeted 27 individuals responsible for mortar attacks in the area. Forces captured 11 individuals to include six targets. No injuries or damage to either personnel or equipment were sustained as part of this operation.

Moving to Baghdad, coalition and Iraqi Security Forces conducted 508 patrols, 43 escort missions, and captured 16 enemy personnel. On Monday, coalition forces conducted a raid to capture an individual suspected of attacks on Baghdad International Airport. The unit captured three enemy, and all tested positive for explosives from a vapor test. The target, Mohammed Ghatab Jihad (ph), later turned himself in.

In January, an informant, using the Baghdad tips hotline, provided information related to weapons dealers, terrorist cells and air defense missiles for sale to anti-coalition organizations in Baghdad. Based on this information, Kareem Marwan (ph) and Mohammed Rafar (ph) were arrested, and two SA-7 Strella missiles, 11 sticks of PE-4, 1 kilo of RDX explosives, and three anti-tank missiles were recovered.

In the western zone of operations, coalition forces and Iraqi Security Forces conducted 248 patrols, including 16 independent Iraq Civil Defense Corps patrols, capturing four personnel. Coalition forces conducted a raid on two houses southeast of Hit to capture a suspected arms dealer in the area. The operation was conducted without incident and resulted in the capture of four enemy personnel, including the primary target. In the backyard of one of the target houses, forces dug up 100 155-millimeter South African artillery rounds, 30 107-millimeter rockets, 500 anti-tanks mines, 500 anti- personnel mines, and 10 50-pound bags of a black powder believed to be gun powder. Additionally, they recovered enough 14.5-millimeter and 23-millimeter ammunition to fill an entire cargo truck.

In the central-south zone of operations, Coalition and Iraq Security Forces conducted 76 patrols, established 25 checkpoints, and escorted 39 convoys.

In the southeastern zone of operations, Monday and Tuesday have been extremely quiet days, most likely due to the Eid festival. There have been no public-order problems, although we have reports of a police demonstration in Basra potentially planned for the 7th of February.

There was a possible Ba'ath retaliation killing in Basra last evening. The man killed had been a clerk in the Social Office of Basra. His family confirmed that he had been a Ba'ath Party member and that he had been abducted on the 31st of January.

Last, 153 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps students graduate in Al Muthanna, and 15 others started their training courses on Sunday.

MR. SENOR: And with that, we will be happy to take your questions. Yes?

Q Alan (sp) (inaudible name), CBS News. With regard to these suicide bombs in Erbil over the weekend, have you got any idea of with whom these bombers may have been affiliated, where they came from, who supported them?

GEN. KIMMITT: As we said two nights ago, at this point, no group has claimed responsibility. We suspect that they could be any of a number of terrorist cells, could be Ansar al-Islam, al Qaeda. We're conducting the investigation right now. Right now, the evidence does not point to any group in particular, so we're going to let the investigation by the Iraqi Police Service work itself out before we come to any conclusions.

MR. SENOR: Yes, sir?

Q (In Arabic.)

GEN. KIMMITT: I think the question you have asked is, with the recent visit of the deputy secretary of Defense, did he give any specific guidance to the coalition forces? And if so, what was that guidance? Is that the question?

Q (In Arabic.)

GEN. KIMMITT: All I can tell you is that I think the major guidance that was given from Secretary Wolfowitz was "Keep up the good work, and keep the progress moving forward."

The purpose of his visit here was to get a status report for himself on how the situation -- the security situation and the civilian situation was going. He was quite pleased at what he heard. There were a number of closed-door meetings where he expressed his appreciation; he expressed his pride in what our soldiers are doing and what our government officials are doing here as well.

He continued to emphasize to us his faith in the process that is moving forward, his assurance and his confidence that the Iraqi people are ready for governance and ready to pick up the security tasks. And fundamentally, his message was "Keep it up."

MR. SENOR: I would just add that he also received status reports from the Iraqi people. In addition to meeting with Iraqi security services, he also met with a number of Iraqi female leaders. There was a women's conference that was organized for him, where he was -- apparently a very spirited discussion about what next for the new Iraq. And he was on the receiving end and, I think, the contributing end of a serious give-and-take.

He met -- he held a round table with a number of Iraqi journalists -- I know some of you here today were present at that -- which was not only for him to provide an on-the-record interview for the journalists, but also just have a free-flowing discussion about how the Iraqi press is going, how the freedom of the press is going, how freedom of speech in the new Iraq is working -- again, a very spirited discussion. So, as General Kimmitt said, it was an update from the coalition forces and the civilian side, but it was also a very lively discussion with the Iraqi people.


Q Alexander Stanfed (ph) from German TV, ARD. I'm sure that the Kurds are looking for revenge. What are you going to do to stop them, to prevent them from action?

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, first of all I would not take that assertion as being a fact. I think the Kurds recognize that these were the actions of a couple of people, possibly some groups. The last thing they would like to see is an outbreak of sectarian violence, and they have demonstrated up to this point a very reserved attitude towards the situation. Of course they are mourning; we are all mourning for the loss of the significant government officials. But to suggest that they are looking for revenge, I think that -- I have not heard that and I wouldn't agree with that assertion.

MR. SENOR: Yeah, I would just add this isn't about the Kurds, this is about the Iraqi people. As the Kurds themselves have said, they said the evening of the attack that this was an attack on all the Iraqi people. And what they want is justice, and what they also want is victory over the insurgents and over the foreign fighters. And they have been very clear with us that the greatest way to achieve victory is to move forward on the political processes, to move forward on the hand over of authority, which we are doing every single day, culminating in June 30th when we hand over sovereignty. They understand as well as anybody that there are two simultaneous strategies to defeating the foreign fighters and the insurgents.

One is the military strategy, which General Kimmitt updates you all on every single day, which is the targeted pursuits of the terrorists and the insurgents, capturing and killing them. But it's also about economic empowerment and political empowerment of the Iraqi people because when we do that we isolate those trying to undermine the new Iraq, and the Kurdish leaders we have been in contact with have been very clear with us that we must surge forward here, heading into June 30th.


Q Kay Anne Fatah (ph) of CNN. Was there any sort of video found of the suicide bombers while they were in the building up until the time that the explosion happened?

MR. SENOR: All I know is what has probably been -- all of which I have said already, but there apparently was a video being taken and there was a report that one of the bombers, the back of his head may have been filmed. But that's as far as I know and I got that from news reports, so we have not heard that through the Iraqi police service nor any of the investigators on the scene.


Q I'm Benfried Strachman (ph), German news agency BPA. First of all, yesterday at 4:30 in the afternoon, we heard a big blast that was not explained to us by anyone. When we called the military, we were told that it was not us who exploded something, you know, like old bombs, but until eight in the evening they didn't know what it was. Can you clarify this? And the second question, any news on the U.N. mission, on their arrival here?

MR. SENOR: I will just tell you that as many of you know, Secretary-General Annan is meeting today with President Bush in Washington. This is part of the ongoing discussion that the administration is having with the U.N. on a number of issues, not the least of which is the role that the U.N. will select for itself in Iraq; the timing of a possible role, and the substance of a possible role.

So I would refer you today to the White House for direct, immediate comment on the U.N.'s next steps because they will have the most up-to-date information, based on the secretary-general's meeting with the president.

Q I was talking about this little -- about the security delegation that was supposed to come.

MR. SENOR: Sure. The security delegation is here, and it is continuing to receive briefings from the coalition. And it is traveling the country, assessing the security situation so the U.N. secretary-general can begin to move forward on the next stage of his decision-making process, which is when and how to move forward on deploying an electoral team to Iraq to evaluate the issue that the Governing Council has asked the secretary-general to evaluate, which is the viability of direct elections in Iraq in the next three or four months.

GEN. KIMMITT: With regard to the blast, I'm not aware of that. We did not receive any reports, either from the Iraqi police service or the military authorities, that there was a large blast that had significant casualties. There may have been a blast. I'll have my people take that question and we'll give you an answer.


Q (Through interpreter) -- from Radio Sawa. Five days ago, Ambassador Paul Bremer announced and give a decision to some -- to the Iraqi Kurdish organizations, considered these organizations are being the main organizations in Kurdistan. Do you think that there is any connection between what Ambassador Bremer has just announced to the Kurdish organizations regarding the bombing that took place days after? Is there any connection between what he announced and what happened?

MR. SENOR: Ambassador Bremer made an announcement with regard to the PKK and its various alias organizations, purely within the context of the overall war on terror; that as President Bush and as Ambassador Bremer have said repeatedly, Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism, and we will aggressively pursue any terrorist organizations that are operating in this country, whether it's the PKK or any other. Now that was really the nature of his announcement. Whether or not there's some sort of larger connection, that remains to be seen. And as General Kimmitt has said, that will come out as we move forward here on the investigation.

But right now it's a little premature to speculate on any connection between an attack and something Ambassador Bremer said in recent days.


Q Hannah Allam from Knight Ridder newspapers. I have a couple questions about the movement of new troops to the outskirts of Baghdad. First of all, what role will Iraqi forces play in policing the city that they're not playing now? What's different? And second, will Iraqis be able to tell the difference? Will there be a less visible American presence in Baghdad, fewer tanks, et cetera?

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, that certainly is the intent, that there will be less of a visible day-to-day presence of the American forces, coalition forces inside the city of Baghdad. There comes a time, and throughout the entire country, where we want to see less and less coalition presence and more and more Iraqi presence and Iraqi responsibility for policing, defense, border police, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

The intent of General Dempsey is -- it is his assessment that within the city of Baghdad that conditions have been met so that not only do we have a minimum sufficient number of police, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, new Iraqi army -- Iraqi army forces that can handle the security within the city by itself, and as a result because of that it's appropriate for the coalition forces to take a more passive role.

Now, as he said numerous times, this does not mean that his forces are going to be dozens or hundreds of kilometers away; they're just going to be on the outskirts of the city. The metaphor that I usually think about is that rather than being the policeman on a day- to-day basis, the American forces and the coalition forces are going to be more like the firemen; that the policing function, the public security function, will be conducted by the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi police service. And that is right and that's our ultimate goal -- that the Iraqi people take responsibility for their own public security and national defense. But like a fireman sitting in a firehouse, if the situation merits and if the situation requires bolstering in a specific area, the coalition forces would be available to come back in the city and help out.

But all agree that a lower profile for the coalition forces at a time and place when the conditions merit it, where that can be transferred over to Iraqi security forces, it is our ultimate goal.

MR. SENOR: And I would just add that the effectiveness of the Iraqi police force, specifically in Baghdad, speaks for itself. When Ambassador Bremer arrived here in the spring, there was not one single Iraqi police officer on the streets of Baghdad. Today there are well 60,000. And not coincidentally, the crime rate in Iraq -- in Baghdad has declined 39 percent in the last two months. The governor of Basra tells us that the crime rate in Basra has declined there over the last two months by about 70 percent. So, clearly the presence of Iraqi police on the front lines, walking the patrols, addressing the problems, is having an effect. And this enables our security forces -- the American security forces to make the sorts of decisions that General Kimmitt is speaking to.

GEN. KIMMITT: And before we think that they have not been ready and that they're not doing the job, the fact remains that over 270 Iraqi policemen have died in the line of duty since May. And that's a significant figure by any measure, that they're willing to put their lives on the line every day for the public security of the country of Iraq.

MR. SENOR: Brian, yes?

Q Brian Hartman with ABC News. On June 30th or sometime after June 30th, will the Iraqi people be able to look forward to symbolic places like Martyrs Monument, the "green zone," which is very symbolic and is also the heart of the traffic system here, is that going to be given back to the Iraqi people? Are you going to take down the barricades and open these places up? Will the U.S. troops leave Martyrs Monument so these places will be given back to the Iraqi people?

MR. SENOR: It's a little too early, Brian, to discuss that. It's going to be the basis of discussions that the coalition has with the Governing Council as we move forward. Those obviously are important matters that will need to be addressed. But right now we are focusing on the more immediate issues, which are the crafting of the interim administrative law; next after that, we'll have to deal with the relationship of the U.S. security forces with the -- with a future Iraqi government and Iraqi society. Those are all matters that we'll deal with down the road. And attendant to those will be some of the matters you're speaking to.

GEN. KIMMITT: Specifically about Martyrs Monument, there already is an agreement in place that we will hand that back over to the Iraqi people. As you can imagine, for what it represents, there haven't been many people lining up at the front door to take the Martyrs Monument.

The one clarification I would make when you talk about Assassin's Gate and giving that back to the Iraqi people, first of all, it belongs to the Iraqi people, it doesn't belong to the coalition. So it does belong to the Iraqi people. And if you go out there today, Brian, you're going to see that side by side with coalition troops, we have Iraqi troops guarding it every day. And so it may well be that next week, as General Dempsey starts moving his forces out of Iraq, that the full-time presence at the Assassin's Gate will be Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.


Q General, Luke Baker from Reuters. Just wondering whether the investigation into the detention treatment of the Reuters journalist detained in Fallujah last month has been completed and, if it has been, what the conclusions were.

GEN. KIMMITT: I know that an executive summary has been provided to your company by the 82nd Airborne. At this point I'd recommend you take that question up with the 82nd Airborne. They have the lead for the investigation. And I know that most of the conclusions have already come out in that document.


Q (Name inaudible) -- from the Associated Press. General Kimmitt, I was wondering if you would like to make an assessment of the intensity of the insurgent activities during December and the human toll compared to, let's say, previous months, because it would appear that December, or January, was one of the bloodiest months, including November.

And my second question is are you keeping a count of Iraqi death toll as well?

GEN. KIMMITT: We are trying to keep as closely as we can a casualty count on the part of Iraqi security forces, Iraqi government officials, many Iraqi civilians. I would not lay a lot of credibility into the numbers that we have, because most of those are brought about through coalition reports. And as you know, throughout the country, there are many casualties that are encountered that are far away from any coalition forces. So our numbers, we believe, would be generally well below the actual numbers.

With regards to the nature of the insurgency, as we've said from this podium, the numbers in December and January weren't dramatically different and significantly different from the months prior to November. November is where we had a spike in casualties. Many of those came about from some very tragic helicopter accidents.

But as long as we're up here talking about any casualties, my assessment is, we've got a long way to go. It's never -- one never wants to have the significant responsibility of having to walk up to a family and tell them that their son or their daughter has died in combat. And so I don't want to make an assessment until that number is zero. Then I'll tell you the assessment is good.


Q (Through interpreter.) (Off mike) -- in a declaration to one of the Kurdish members, he has just accused some of those who belong to Ansar al-Islam. So do you have any idea about this? And how can you verify that -- is it true those people who made the bombing belonged to Ansar al-Islam?

GEN. KIMMITT: We are aware of that accusation, but I think at this point it would be premature to specifically point at Ansar al- Islam as the group responsible. We don't have the forensic evidence. We don't have the entire situation fully investigated.

However, we could certainly not exclude Ansar al-Islam as one of the potential groups that have demonstrated these types of tactics and procedures in past suicide bombings. For that matter, we don't want to exclude al Qaeda or any number of other foreign terrorist organizations.

So do we have our eye on Ansar al-Islam as one of the possible perpetrators of the attack? Absolutely. But to say that they are the ones responsible, I think, is premature at this point.

MR. SENOR: Yes? There.

Q (Through interpreter.) Malik Timimi (sp). We knew that the American troops are now changing their troops, and where has this changes reached? And are there any new duties that will be given to those troops, new troops? Thank you.

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, we have -- we are conducting the ongoing transition of forces right now. It has been complete in a couple of the areas of operation, such as Multinational Division Southeast and Multinational Division Central-South. We will continue the transfer of soldiers and troops out of the four other division areas between now and May.

In terms of new duties, there have been no real new tasks that have been given to these forces. But what they have done is they've learned a lot of tactics and procedures from the forces that are currently here on the ground. And as we go through this transfer procedure, what we euphemistically call the right seat/left seat procedures, we would hope that those soldiers get on the ground, have an overlap with the old troops such that it will be virtually invisible in terms of our operational profile and our operational capabilities. And given the success that we've already seen with those organizations that have already transferred, overlapped, we fully expect that this will be a seamless transfer from about 125,000, 130,000 soldiers moving out, to roughly an equivalent number -- about 20,000 less -- coming in. We would expect that to be finished, generally, in the May time frame.


Q Hi. Jill Carroll (sp) with ANSA. You've mentioned you're looking at various foreign terrorist groups for the Erbil bombings. Does this mean you've ruled out local insurgents or former regime loyalists, that kind of group for this attack?

GEN. KIMMITT: No, we certainly haven't ruled them out. And we'll be taking a look at them as well. Our first assumptions are based on the tactics that were used. When you start seeing people strap on suicide bombs and conduct suicide bombings, your first inclination is to sort of look foreign rather than look here within Iraq. That's not to suggest that we are excluding anybody at this point from the investigation, but that's where our first impressions are taking us.

MR. SENOR: We have time for one more.

Yes, sir?

Q (Name inaudible) -- the Financial Times. Has the coalition seen the documents that are alleging that the former regime made payments in oil to members of the U.N. and neighboring states, and do you believe that these documents are credible?

MR. SENOR: We have not seen the documents. We have seen the reports. I think it was in the Al-Mada newspaper, the local Baghdad newspaper. It would really be an issue for the U.N. to take up or the Iraqi authorities to take up. This would be a perfect issue for the Commission on Public Integrity to address, which I understand the Governing Council will be formally announcing on Thursday, Mr. Mowaffak Rubaie will be announcing at a press conference -- at least that's what he mentioned to us earlier today. So there will be an Iraqi institution to address that sort of charge. And certainly the U.N. may consider taking it up, in light of the fact that it involves violations and manipulation of the oil-for-food program.

But the coalition is right now administering existing contracts for the importation of food and other supplies under previous and existing oil-for-food contracts. We are not addressing manipulations that may have occurred in the past, we are really just implementing existing contracts and administering them.

I understand that the Ministry of Oil is also -- Iraqi Ministry of Oil has also expressed some interest in taking a look at this. And I know that there are some American entities that are alleged in that, and that would be something for the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control to look at. But as far as the coalition on the ground here in Iraq, it is outside our jurisdiction.

Thank you, everybody. Good evening.

GEN. KIMMITT: Thanks very much.

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