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News Transcript

Presenter: Senior Advisor to the CPA, Daniel Senor and Deputy Director for Coalition Operations Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

MR. SENOR: Good afternoon.

General Kimmitt has an opening statement, and then we will be happy to take your questions.



Last night there were a number of questions at the press conference regarding the capture of Abu Mohammed Hamza. We thought we'd provide some questions and some answers with regards to some of the items that have been picked up.

These are pictures taken directly at the location. This was a set of photographs of Zarqawi that were picked up at the location. As you can see, this is a suicide vest that was found inside the house at which Hamza was killed, contains a plastic explosive, ball bearings, blasting caps, a trigger device and a hand grenade. This satchel is made to loop over the neck and be detonated by hand.

Inside of the house, you can see an extensive amount of explosives. There was a pre-made improvised explosive device, a container full of plastic explosives over here. These were a number of suitcases that were found with wires, batteries, items that would be necessary for triggering explosive devices.

Outside the house were found some barrels of sodium nitrate, some crates with some Soviet Cyrillic writing on the side, some more bags of sodium nitrate, and other items unknown. Samples have been taken by our explosive ordnance detachments, and they're being analyzed at this time.

Regarding the area of operations, it remains relatively stable. Over the past week there have been an average of 18 engagements daily against coalition military, five attacks daily against Iraqi security forces and just under three attacks daily against Iraqi civilians.

The coalition continues to conduct precision offensive operations to kill or capture anti-coalition elements and enemies of the Iraqi people. These operations are also intended to obtain intelligence for future operations and to ensure the people of Iraq of our determination to establish a safe and secure environment.

To that end, in the past 24 hours, the coalition conducted 1,434 patrols, 25 offensive operations, 19 raids and captured 77 anti- coalition suspects.

In the northern zone of operations, Iraqi security forces were involved in two separate attacks. In one attack, two Iraqi policemen were shot in a restaurant in Mosul; both officers were wounded and taken to a local hospital for treatment. In another attack a white pick-up truck executed a drive- by shooting at the Iraqi Civil Defense headquarters in central Mosul. Two Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers were slightly wounded and are being treated at a local hospital.

In the north-central zone of operations, coalition forces conducted a raid near Baqubah. The targets were a bomb maker and Kataan al-Anbar (ph), a Ba'ath member and financier of terrorists. Kataan is suspected of being one of the top leaders in the Diyala province and is assessed to be a major source of funding for the former Saddam Fedayeen and other groups. Forces captured 12 individuals, including al-Anbar, without incident.

After an attack in the village of Samir (ph) in the evening of February 18th that destroyed an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps vehicle, the ICDC and Iraqi police worked together to capture the person responsible based on eye-witness identification. On the afternoon of February 24th, the commander of the local ICDC and a captain in the Diyala police department, turned the target over to coalition forces.

In Baghdad, a district advisory council member, Sayeed Jabar Sayeed (ph), had two grenades thrown at his house. The attackers drove by in a white BMW, threw the hand grenades and fled the scene. A coalition patrol searched the area for attackers but found nothing. Yesterday coalition forces in Baghdad conducted a cordon and search in order to capture a suspected financier of attacks on coalition forces. The unit captured the target, Mohammed Ismael Alrawi (ph), along with eight other personnel.

In the western zone of operations, at 13:50 today, an OH58 helicopter from Task Force All-American, crashed into the water in the vicinity of Hadithah. The site is secure, although we can confirm two casualties at this time. The aircraft is presently in the river on its side and dive teams have been contacted for assistance. It is unknown if the accident was due to mechanical difficulty, enemy fire or another potential reason. The sister ship escorting the aircraft did not observe enemy fire and an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the accident.

Coalition forces in the west conducted simultaneous cordon and searches of four objectives near Fallujah, to kill or capture three anti-coalition personnel. The operation was conducted without incident and resulted in the capture of eight enemy personnel, including the targets.

In the central-south zone of operations, coalition forces conducted a search-and-seizure operation southwest of Karbala. The unit arrested 11 suspected anti-coalition personnel and confiscated six AK-47s, two shotguns, one sniper rifle, a satellite phone, one FM transceiver and one global positioning system. Additionally, 150 packages of suspected drugs were found.

A patrol detained 90 personnel who tried to illegally cross the Iran-Iraq border northeast of Al Kut and confiscated 8 minibuses, five AK-47s and two other small-arms weapons. All of the persons and the minibuses were turned over to the Iraqi border police.

In the southeastern zone of operations, there was an explosion outside the house of a Governing Council member, with minimal damage and no injuries. On examination at the site of the explosion, explosive ordnance personnel concluded that the device consisted of approximately 500 grams of uncased explosives. The reason for the attack and the group responsible are under investigation.

MR. SENOR: Before we take your questions, just one administrative reminder. Tomorrow is the opening of the International Press Center here around the horseshoe, other side of that wall. The facility will now be open. It will have 24-hour access per day, will be open with press officers there from 8:00 to 8:00 every day.

Tomorrow's the opening. There will be a backgrounder at 10:00 a.m. with a senior administration official. Those who have taken advantage to register with the press center and register for space at the press center are encouraged to attend. Again, that's tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. in the International Press Center. There will be some administrative matters we go over in terms of how the press center will operate, introduction of the staff there. There will be staff from all the relevant organizations here represented. And then there will be, as I said, a backgrounder by a senior coalition official, the first of many. We will have daily backgrounders in the press center five or six days a week.

And with that, we are happy to take your questions. Yes, sir?

Q (In Arabic, Through Translator) I'm Abbas Saleh (ph) from al-Manon (ph) newspaper daily. I have two questions, one for General Kimmitt and the second for Dan Senor. General Kimmitt you just spoke of the fallen helicopters, you just said that the strategy used by the attackers, do you think the fall of the helicopters were accidental or do you think it was deliberate. Do you think the strategies of the attackers are such that you can not stop the attacks. Mr. Senor What are the arrangements for the formulation for the transition for the new government in Iraq

MR. SENOR: The transitional government, provisional government, caretaker government, depending on which term you want to use, is the government that will be responsible for authority in this country from June 30th till the time of direct elections; June 30th, when we hand over sovereignty, to the time of direct elections, which the U.N. is now recommending to be late 2004, early 2005. We are working on that right now.

As you know, the caucus plan outlined in the November 15th agreement provides for a process for the establishment of a provisional government after June 30th. We have said from the beginning that we would be open to clarifications and elaborations and modifications to that plan, which we are open to receiving right now. We are hoping the U.N. has further recommendations. They have encouraged us to work with the Iraqis on developing a more simplified plan. We have said that we are open to this plan being subject to change, and that is something we will be working on in the weeks ahead.

Right now the Governing Council is pretty focused on the transitional administrative law, the interim constitution, which they are making a lot progress on and hope to have passed and finalized in the days ahead. So that's their immediate priority right now. It's going to be an important document, and certainly an historic one. And then after that we'll begin to consult on how to simplify or modify or change the plan to establish a provisional government for the post- June 30th period.

GEN. KIMMITT: And regarding your question on the helicopter, it's important to note that no determination has been made at this time whether that helicopter was brought down by enemy fire, by equipment malfunction. It's premature at this point to speculate what brought it down, and the investigation will bear that out. And as soon as we find out that answer, we will pass it on to you.

With regards, though, to your comment that it is dangerous to fly a helicopter in this environment, there is always a certain measure of risk. Our pilots are very well equipped with the latest aircraft survivability equipment. They're very well trained. They adopt their tactics every time there is an incident. And anybody who is outside at any time of the day can hear the helicopters flying in the Baghdad region, and they're flying throughout the country.


Q Kay Anne Saduq (ph), CNN. There was a report three or four days ago about an incident in Iskandariyah where four soldiers were injured and one translator was killed. Can you confirm that one of the injured soldiers was a general? And if so, what happened and what's his condition?

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, I can confirm that there was an accident. I can confirm that those personnel who were injured were brought to Baghdad, received care here. One person has been evacuated to Landstuhl for further medical care due to a bad condition. As regards his rank, that's -- I'm not prepared to discuss that at this time.


Q Richard Beaton (sp) from The Times. I was wondering if you could tell me, General, if you've seen a report in today's Azaman (ph) newspaper, to the effect that the U.S. Army's planning to destroy 10 palaces, what are described as palaces, belonging to Saddam and his family, in and around Owja. I was wondering if you knew anything about that.

GEN. KIMMITT: No. I was informed that that question would come up. I know that I've talked to the 82nd. They are not planning to destroy palaces in the western zone of operations; in fact, quite the contrary. They are intending to hand over facilities that have been used in the conduct of their operation. When they are no longer using them, they intend to hand them over. And as the 82nd said, we intend to hand them over in better shape than we got them.


Q General Kimmitt, Luke Baker from Reuters. Sir, there are some reports out of Pakistan that there's been a redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq to Pakistan in the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Has there been any redeployment whatsoever of U.S. troops, Special Forces or anything like that from Iraq?

GEN. KIMMITT: I'm not aware of any redeployments of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. We have a routine transportation going back and forth. That is all part of the same CENTCOM area of operations. We have some shared assets that work for both commands. But large numbers of troops redeploying from Iraq to Afghanistan? Not aware.


Q (Name inaudible), Fox News. When Mr. Hamza was killed at the incident, he had in his possession several IDs, fake IDs, passports. Has been his identity determined, his nationality been determined to you guys, as well as -- second question is, have you heard from Ayatollah Sistani regarding the U.N. report in terms of the elections taking place late this year or early the next year? Thank you.

GEN. KIMMITT: We can't confirm his nationality right now. He was in possession of a Jordanian passport, but whether that was one of the fake --many fake IDs that we picked up at that location -- we haven't made that determination yet.

MR. SENOR: And we have not communication with Ayatollah Sistani on the U.N. report. But as you know, when Mr. Brahimi was here, he did meet with Ayatollah Sistani, and I presume at some point they will have contact again on that particular subject.


Q Christian (surname inaudible), ARD, German television. There was -- the referendum movement for Iraqi Kurdistan held a press conference today, presenting a petition with 1.7 million signatures. And that petition demands a vote on whether Kurdistan shall remain in Iraq or shall be independent. I'd like to know the view of the CPA on that issue.

MR. SENOR: Well, we believe strongly, as does the Governing Council, that in addressing issues such as ones relating to the concerns conveyed by our friends up north, the Kurds, the issue of federalism is what's at play here. And that is certainly what's enshrined in the November 15th agreement and is what we're working on right now to have enshrined in the transitional administrative law.

And that federalism should be based on geography, not ethnicity. That is our view. And certainly Mr. Talabani, Mr. Barzani and Ambassador Bremer have had very good discussions in that regard, and the discussions continue.

As far as this one particular movement you are referring to, I understand, based on the press release which I saw -- I didn't attend the event -- they want to meet with individuals involved with the drafting of the transitional administrative law. We think that's a good idea. We would encourage them to meet with Dr. Pachachi, who is the chairman of the Governing Council's drafting committee for the drafting of the transitional administrative law. They expressed interest in meeting with Ambassador Bremer and meeting with the Governing Council -- again, both positive ideas. Ambassador Bremer has met with multiple Kurdish leaders; he has traveled all throughout the north. He's met with Kurdish leaders up north, he's met with Kurdish leaders who have come down to Baghdad. He's in steady discussion with Kurdish leaders, literally from the moment he arrived here last May. In fact, his second week here he met with Kurdish leaders. So there hasn't been a lack of contact or communication. But if there are any Kurdish groups that seek contact, that feel that they haven't had an opportunity to discuss their views, we're open to it.

Yes, sir?

Q Halid Al-Favar (ph) from The Washington Post. General, in spite of the series of attacks against the Iraqi police and ICDC centers, I still have noticed that some police centers are still lightly defended. Now, the question is, is this due to lack of material such as cement blocks and so forth, or is it a lack of awareness on the part of the IP and the ICDC? Thank you.

GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah, we've got a very close relationship with the Ministry of the Interior. We have a very close relationship with Minister Badran and Minister Ibrahim -- General Ibrahim, and we constantly exchange information regarding which police stations, which facilities are at the most risk, the least risk. And it's a matter of just making sure that we get all of those force protection aspects put into place. We've got a lot of police stations out there. Many of them are very, very well protected. Some of them still need some improvements. It's just a matter of time before we get them all to acceptable force protection standards.

MR. SENOR: And I would just add, in the supplemental passed by the United States Congress last year, late last year, $3.2 billion is appropriated for purposes of security training of Iraqi forces, the build up of security infrastructure in Iraq, the equipping of Iraqi security forces, and addressing the sorts of issues that you're raising. So it is a very high priority for the U.S. and, broadly speaking, for the coalition.


Q (In Arabic, Through Translator) Good evening. Alisha Head from Habis (ph) News. After the resignation of David Kay has the American administration have enough courage to convince the world that the Iraqis do not have weapons of mass destruction and how far is this subject going to go on while there is no proof that the Iraqis do not have weapons of mass destruction.

MR. SENOR: I would refer you to Dr. Kay's own words in his own report, which is he said what Ambassador Bremer and what members of the administration have been saying for some time; that we would find evidence of chemical and biological weapons in this country. He continues to say that we have found some evidence. And we certainly have found evidence of violations of U.N. resolutions by the former regime on various areas, not the least of which is missile ranges.

But most importantly, the work of the Iraq Survey Group is not complete. And while Dr. Kay stepped down, he has a replacement. In fact, Ambassador Bremer has been in touch with the replacement, who's been in Iraq, Mr. Duelfer, and we look forward to their work carrying forward.

It's a long-term project. We aren't going to finish this effort on the Iraq Survey Group mission's effort in a matter of days, a matter of weeks, a matter of months. It takes time to search a country the size of California, a country this large, to find continued evidence, but we've already discovered some.

Yes, Mark?

Q Thanks. Mark Stone, ABC. Dan, could you comment on concerns raised to us by a member of the IGC that the Governing Council simply does not have legitimacy to take on the responsibility for many of the tasks given to it in the November agreement, the timeline for a constitutional framework, which I believe is due in a couple of days; that they simply don't have the legitimacy to do this?

MR. SENOR: I haven't seen this report. Who are you referring to?

Q Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

MR. SENOR: Okay. I don't know, I'd have to see the quote directly. But Mr. Rubaie has been very engaged in the drafting of the transitional administrative law. He's been very involved in almost all our political discussions, and we welcome that. We think he's made a very constructive contribution. We look forward to continue to work.

The Governing Council is making tremendous progress here on the drafting of this administrative law, this interim administrative law. They've indicated to us that they think it will be complete by the time that they have indicated in the November 15th agreement, February 28th. They're moving forward. They have been very clear that sovereignty should be handed over on June 30th; a key pillar in the November 15th agreement, sovereignty handover on June 30th. The Governing Council has been unbending on this front; so have we.

The issue of the U.S. role for security post-June 30th is something that the Governing Council has said they'd rather wait for a sovereign Iraqi government to address. We understand that. If they want to put that issue off and discuss it this summer, we're open to it. Most -- the majority of the pillars of the November 15th agreement have either been implemented or are being implemented, and the Governing Council, including Mr. Rubaie, have played an important role.

Q Sorry, can I just follow? Are you concerned by the perceived legitimacy of the Governing Council?

MR. SENOR: I'm sorry?

Q Are you concerned by the perceived legitimacy of the Governing Council?

MR. SENOR: I measure the Governing Council's effectiveness by the work they are doing. And they are engaging in very important work and they've made a lot of progress in very difficult circumstances. These are 25 individuals who have never worked together. It is a very diverse body in a country that has not experimented with effective government or free government or democracy in over three decades. It is a body that is the most representative body in Iraq's history and probably one of the most representative bodies in this entire region. And they are bordered with countries and governments, many of which are trying to undermine their work. They've got a tough challenge ahead of them and they've been doing and getting it done under difficult circumstances. I commend them.


Q (In Arabic, Through Translator) Halud Dezeadi (ph), from (inaudible) newspaper. Before the war there had been a statement to the Iraqi press that there would a Ministry of Defense for the and there will be an announcement for having the Minister of Defense. Can we understand that the visit of Mr. Rumsfeld to Iraq has affected the plan of the coalition forces of announcing the new Minister of Defense? Do you think the Iraqis do not deserve to be handed over these responsibilities while the Iraqis forces are the best to take over these responsibilities.

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, Mr. Rumsfeld visited; had numerous reasons for visiting. He was here to check on the status of the mission, the status of the coalition forces and the status of the progress we're making on the move towards governance. There will be a ministry of defense; there is a ministry of defense forming up now. There will be a ministry -- minister of defense. Secretary Rumsfeld's visit only encouraged continuation of this progress towards the handover of sovereignty, and so we took nothing away from his visit except affirmation that the mission continues. We're on the right track and there's no reason to change any of the significant aspects of where we're heading either, in any of the lines of operation.


Q (In Arabic, Through Translator) Fatha al Shaher (ph), (inaudible) newspaper. What is the legal status of the coalition forces after sovereignty is provided to Iraq.

MR. SENOR: That's an issue that will be worked out between the United States and most likely the sovereign government post-June 30th, as requested by members of the Governing Council. That would be addressed at that point.

We don't know the exact legal status at this point because, as I said, that's something to be negotiated and discussed, but we do know this. It seems that a majority of Iraqis, whether we're dealing with political leaders on the Governing Council or around the country, religious leaders, regional leaders or just regular Iraqis whose opinions we survey in our public opinion research, overwhelming majority of Iraqis want the U.S. security forces to be here post-June 30th. They recognize the security situation is not sufficiently stable for us to depart.

While Iraqis will increasingly play a lead role in their security affairs, and they already are starting to do that -- well over 150,000 Iraqis today in security positions in their own country, more than there are Americans in security positions in this country -- it's still important for Americans to have some responsibility here. And while Secretary Rumsfeld has said he would never want U.S. forces to be deployed anywhere where they're not welcome, it seems to us the overwhelming majority of Iraqis believe that American forces should be welcome here.


Q (In Arabic, Through Translator.) Husam Munaf (ph), (inaudible) news agency. We can see that most of the helicopters are flying low profile. So this might cause some panic and terrify the children of Iraq or are you intended to annoy the Iraqis by this action. Is it a challenge to the Iraqis especially since they are terrifying the children of Iraq?

GEN. KIMMITT: What we would tell the children of Iraq is that the noise they hear is the sound of freedom. Those helicopters are in the air to provide safety, provide security. Certainly our helicopter pilots do not fly at an altitude intentionally to distract the children of Iraq. They're there for their safety. They're there for their protection. And just as my wife, who is a schoolteacher, tells the children when they're sitting in the classroom that, when they hear the artillery rounds go off at Fort Bragg, she says, "Children, that's the sound of freedom." They seem to be quite pleased with that explanation. We would recommend that you tell the same thing to the children of Iraq, that that helicopter noise you hear above you ensures that they don't have to worry for the future.

MR. SENOR: We have time for one more. Yes, ma'am?

Q (Off mike.)

MR. SENOR: You got to turn on your microphone. There you go.

Q (In Arabic, Through Translator.) Zarah (inaudible) from (inaudible). I am a member of Iraqi people I notice that the presence of American soldiers especially when the American tanks pass or the American armored personnel carriers pass. We see a lot of confusion and the American soldiers behave improperly with the Iraqi people like calling them loudly or passing in wrong place. Our streets are damaged which leads to traffic congestion on the roads.

GEN. KIMMITT: And we certainly understand that there will be some measure of inconvenience that occurs as the coalition and the Iraqi security forces are working side by side in a partnership to protect the people of Iraq. We would certainly hope that all of us take a look at the larger purpose of what those soldiers represent and what those vehicles represent, which is to bring a safe and secure environment to the people of Iraq to ensure that we can move on to independence, sovereignty and a bright future for the people.

MR. SENOR: We'll wrap up. A reminder again, tomorrow opening of the press center is at 10:00 a.m. There will be some administrative items at that point, and then a backgrounder by a senior coalition official.

Thanks, everybody. Have a good evening.


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