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News Transcript

Presenter: Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and DanSenor, CPA Spokesman
Monday, May 31, 2004 10:30 a.m. EDT

Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

MR. SENOR: Good afternoon. General Kimmitt has an opening statement, and then we will be happy to take your questions.

GEN. KIMMITT: Good afternoon. The coalition continues offensive operations to establish a stable Iraq.To that end, in the past 24 hours, the coalition conducted 1,845 patrols, 16 offensive operations, 42 Air Force and Navy sorties, and released 12 detainees.

In the north-central zone of operations, three persons in a black Opel opened fire on an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps checkpoint northeast of Baghdad. The attack resulted in one ICDC soldier killed and one ICDC soldier wounded. The wounded soldier was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

In Baghdad, coalition forces were reopening multiple traffic control points in the southeastern area when they were attacked by an improvised explosive device. One coalition soldier was killed, and one other soldier later died of wounds. An explosive ordnance team later assessed the IED to be a 500-pound bomb.

Yesterday personnel from a private security company were traveling on Route Irish when their convoy was attacked in northwest Baghdad from an overpass by (crew served ?) weapons. One Iraqi security guard was killed and one was wounded. The wounded Iraqi citizen is receiving treatment at a coalition medical facility.

Today at 13:12, a remote detonated car bomb exploded 400 meters west of the clock tower in central Baghdad. Iraqi ambulances and police were on site shortly after the incident. According to the Department of Health, there were four Iraqi citizens killed and 25 wounded. Four vehicles were destroyed, including the car bomb.

In the western zone of operations, Fallujah remains calm. Coalition forces are executing reconstruction and clean-up projects with over 1,400 Iraqis employed in those projects. Yesterday coalition forces conducted a raid against an anti-Iraqi cell leader in Barwanah. The target is suspected of being involved in multiple attacks against the Al Asad Airbase, and the placement of numerous IEDs along military convoy routes. Coalition forces detained one suspect and confiscated weapons and ammunition, various documents and passports.

In the central-south zone of operations, Muqtada militia continues to attack coalition forces in Kufa. There were three incident last night. In two of those incidents, coalition forces were attacked by small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. And in a third incident one mortar round impacted near a coalition base camp.

Yesterday coalition forces continued the renovation of the Al Hillal Jail at a total cost of $65,000. The Philippine CMIC battalion conducted a MEDCAP at the Al Imirah (ph) Health Center, in coordination with Irbil Ministry of Health, and approximately 400 patients were seen during that MEDCAP.

In the southeastern zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 308 patrols and captured one anti-coalition suspect. Last night enemy forces attacked coalition forces in Al Amara. There were a number attacks over the last 24 hours, with the concentration of engagements in the vicinity of the CMIC House. Coalition patrols through the city were attacked with RPGs and small arms fire seven times as they were conducting search operations to locate possible mortar firing points. Coalition forces returned fire in each event, forcing the enemy to break contact. And in the nine engagements there were no coalition casualties.

MR. SENOR: And with that we'll be happy to take your questions. Charlie, go ahead.

Q Thanks, Dan. I wonder if you could comment on something that Mahmoud Ahman (ph) told Reuters today, which is that the Americans asked for the meeting today, the Governing Council meeting to be delayed, and that there's been interference from the U.S. in trying to figure out who's going to be in the new interim government.

MR. SENOR: Interference with whom?

Q With their process.

MR. SENOR: With the GC process?

Q Yeah, and trying to figure out --

MR. SENOR: I'm not familiar, Charlie, with the GC process. I can tell you about the broader process that the U.N. is leading. As you've heard me say many times from this podium, the U.N. process has been designed and has been executed to reach out to Iraqis from all corners of the country, all regions, all ethnic groups, all religions, all communities, to try and build the consensus around an interim government to take control here on June 30th when we hand over sovereignty, for the seven months between June 30th and when there are direct elections in Iraq in January 2005.

And Mr. Brahimi, who is leading this effort, has met with dozens and dozens and dozens of organizations across the country -- he's probably met with hundreds if not thousands of Iraqis. I'll let him speak to the stats and facts of his consultations over the last several months But one thing is certain: Iraq is not a free country, and many individuals and many organizations will have different views about who should govern this country during the interim period and beyond. And they will express those views, whether in formal endorsement processes like the GC has done, or just in informal consultations with Mr. Brahimi, where they just make known who they think should be leading the government, or what kind of profile the individual should serve as prime minister, or any of the respective ministers. And so part of a broad discussion, in that Mr. Brahimi is hearing from many individuals and many groups, including the Governing Council. And when he's ready to make a formal announcement, he will. He's indicated that he thinks we'll be in a position in the next several days here to make a formal announcement based on the recommendation he's making now to the U.N.

Q Could I just follow up on that and ask if Ambassador Bremer has asked the GC to prepare to dissolve itself once the interim government is named?

MR. SENOR: Well, actually the GC has -- agrees to dissolve itself based on the November 15th -- if you look at the November 15th political agreement, it is that when an interim government is announced, the Governing Council dissolves, so there aren't two competing political institutions in Iraq.

And also if you look at the transitional administrative law, it makes clear -- which the Governing Council signed -- all the members of the Governing Council signed, which makes clear that the Governing Council dissolves before June 30th to allow an interim government to take over. So it is the Governing Council that on two separate occasions in two separate political agreements, in two distinct documents, has signed on for their dissolution in preparation for the June 30th handover.


Q Stephanie Halasz from CNN. I was wondering if you -- or what you can tell us about these 100 Iraqi policemen who arrived in Najaf over the weekend for joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols, and who apparently deserted after not being given flak jackets or shelter.

MR. SENOR: They certainly didn't desert. There are some logistics problems that hadn't been worked through by the time they got down there. They took a look at the situation down there and the accommodations that had not been properly orchestrated -- the whole organization was going to be put together for them in terms of sheltering them, so on and so forth, just wasn't ready by the time they got there. We expect that over the next day or two after those arrangements were made -- will be made -- that they'll be done there. But to suggest that somehow they were deserting is just not consistent with the facts.

Yes, go ahead, right behind you.

Q Just -- General Kimmitt, just wanted to ask you with regard to the events in Najaf and Kufa, do coalition forces consider it possible that forces beyond Sadr's control are responsible for some or all of the attacks? And I guess another question related to that is: How would you assess or how would you figure out whether it's Sadr ordering these attacks or some other group maybe that wants to make it look like it's Sadr?

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, it doesn't really matter who is causing the attacks. If they are taking up arms against Iraqis, or if they are taking up arms against the coalition, they will be taken care of -- it's that simple.

Now, with regards to your specific question about are these people defying Muqtada, not listening to him, and that could be what's causing some of the fights in Najaf? Could be. Could it be some people that just haven't gotten the word? We don't think so. It's pretty clear that there's not a lot of fighting going on inside of Najaf right now. There is some fighting going on in Kufa. Could these be other organizations coming down, loosely affiliating themselves with Muqtada, or somehow coming down, causing trouble, hope to blame goes on Muqtada? It doesn't really matter. If these people are taking up arms, aiming weapons, shooting weapons at coalition soldiers or Iraqi citizens, we've got to take care of them. We have an obligation to provide a safe and secure environment here in Iraq, and we will.

MR. SENOR: I would just add while General Kimmitt has made the point that we will do what we have to do, we should also not lose sight of the fact that on the political side, on the civilian side of this, there continues to be serious leadership and serious initiative by Shi'a political and religious leaders that want a peaceful resolution to this process. They want to minimize bloodshed. And we should not take our eye off of the initiative that they took several days ago -- many days ago -- to seek a peaceful resolution here -- Iraqis dealing with Iraqis. This is -- obviously regardless of where this goes, it's very important to remember that we have real progress that was launched last week by virtue of the initiative that Iraqis are taking to reach resolution here. It's an important -- that in and of itself is an important first step.

GEN. KIMMITT: And it's important the way you ask the question --not to suggest that somehow we are going after these forces. And the way you ask the question, I responded we have to, when we get shot at, respond. But we continue to stay focused on a peaceful solution. We are encouraging a peaceful solution. We are looking forward to the political side coming forward with a set of mechanisms so that we can stop this fighting that's going on down in Kufa, because at the end of the day you'd much rather solve this peacefully and quietly than with a lot of noise and with a lot of weapons.

MR. SENOR: Yes. Go ahead.

Q (Allahuddin ?) from NBC News, American Television. Despite the truce being called in Najaf and Kufa, you know we have seen fighting over the last couple of days in both regions -- did the truce actually have any effect at all? Did it come into effect?

And also another question. Was Murfaq Al Rubaie (ph) the intended target of today's car bomb? And can this be seen as an increase in the violence towards IGC members while they have discussions about selecting a new president?

MR. SENOR: No, there's no indication that Murfaq al Rubaie (ph) was the target of any car bomb today. That was on the side of the street. As we understand, Murfaq al Rubaie (ph) was nowhere nea that location when it went off, and there's certainly no idea -- no intent -- no evidence that suggests who the specific target was. The bomb went off, and there was certainly no significant Iraqi leaders in the area when that bomb went off.

You say there was a lot of fighting going on in Najaf and Kufa. I need to correct you: there's been very little fighting going on in the vicinity of Najaf. As we have shown from the posterboards over the last couple of nights, every night since the unilateral suspension of offensive operations on the part of the coalition, I think we've seen one activity, one engagement in Najaf. All the rest of them were in Kufa.

Q And in terms of the truce, what would you say?

GEN. KIMMITT: First of all, the truce was a declaration put forth from Muqtada to the Shi'a House, which said we will stop the armed manifestation in Najaf. Those of my fighters who are not from Najaf will leave, everybody else will disarm, and life will get back to normal in Najaf. Well, we certainly haven't seen his fighters leave, nor have we seen any turning in of weapons. But there have not been in Najaf proper any armed manifestations. But, as we said a number of times, we expect that this paper he put forward at Shi'a House does not just narrowly define itself to the city of Najaf, but the entire Najaf governorate. That does include Kufa, it does include the entire middle Euphrates. We've got to stop this fighting, and because it's leading nowhere for these young people who are falling under the trance of Muqtada, and all they're doing is getting themselves hurt, getting themselves wounded, getting themselves killed.


Q (Through interpreter.) Farouk (ph) Newspaper -- (inaudible) -- bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Abu Zarqawi and Muqtada al-Sadr were heroes of the terrorism series. So who is the candidate after Zarqawi? Why did you fail to announce anything about your procedures in your surveillance? Thank you. The question is that all these names -- bin Laden, Zarqawi -- Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and al Zarqawi, Izzat al-Douri, Muqtada al-Sadr were all heroes of the terrorism in the American dictionary. They are terrorists that threaten the stability in Iraq and the world according to the Americans. After Muqtada al-Sadr and the Najaf (Five ?), who is going to be the next name?s Why is there silence with regard to Izzat al-Douri?

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, I think first of all if you want to suggest that Osama, Saddam, Zarqawi, Muqtada al-Sadr are heroes of terrorism, I wouldn't disagree with you. Nor -- but I would also tell you that it's not just the Americans who feel this way -- it's everyone in this world who has been affected by al Qaeda, who has been affected by the attacks by al Qaeda, everyone who has seen what al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups can do -- whether it's in Bali, whether it's in Spain, whether it's Istanbul. So I'm not certain why we would want to be considering them heroes, because they're anything but.

Now, in terms of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri -- we don't know where he is. We continue to place a large reward for him. We suspect that he has some measure of involvement in anti-Iraqi activities that we see on a day-to-day basis, and we would suspect that he is responsible for the deaths of many Iraqis over these past few months. So we will continue to hunt him, to bring him to justice.

In terms of who is going to be the next hero of terrorism, hopefully no one.


Q Bill Glauber with the Chicago Tribune. I have a question for each of you. For General Kimmitt, could you review the three incidents in Kufa, and were any of them one of the 16 offensive operations that you described, and also casualty figures on those incidents?

And, for Mr. Senor, we've heard that Mr. Bremer may have called off the GC meeting today, and that some of the GC believe that an outside candidate will be appointed for president. Could you clarify that?

GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah, on the first question, certainly what was happening down in Kufa were not offensive operations. The technical term "force oriented zone reconnaissance" -- these were reconnaissance missions being run by the elements that you know well, having just come up from there. These units were going through the town of Kufa, ensuring a safe and secure environment. They were not conducting specific offensive operations, targeting a certain objective, targeting a certain leader, targeting a certain person. So, no, they were just conducting reconnaissance at these two locations, and the one, 23:35 and the one 22:48, and in each of those an American soldier was killed at them, and on this Memorial Day we grieve for their loss and we grieve for their families that are just getting that news now that their sons will not be coming back from this country, because they were conducting those operations.

MR. SENOR: To answer your question, I think anybody who has been an observer of the Governing Council over the past year would know that we are certainly not in a position to control their schedule and determine when they meet or when they don't meet. So, Ambassador Bremer doesn't call their meetings; Ambassador Bremer doesn't cancel their meetings.

As for the candidates for various positions, I really would defer to Mr. Brahimi, who has indicated that in the days ahead he will be in a position to make a formal announcement. I know there's a lot of interest in the press to engage in all sorts of speculation about who may be a candidate, who may not be a candidate, who is going to be in which position, who is not going to be in which position. The good news is that you will know for certainty very soon, and so you won't have to write lots of copy with speculation. You'll have answers soon. Mr. Brahimi has taken the lead on this. We have been quite clear this is a U.N.-led initiative. It is an initiative that was at the request of the Iraqi Governing Council and the request of the coalition when last January we jointly went to meet with the secretary general of the United Nations and asked that he send his experts into Iraq and make a determination as to whether or not direct elections could be held in Iraq between now and June 30th, and if not, when could they be held; and if not, what should be the interim government to take over, what form of government should take over during that period between sovereignty handover and when direct elections take place. The U.N. has been in the lead. The U.N. continues to be in the lead. And part of the responsibility of being the lead is making a formal announcement, which Mr. Brahimi will do when he's ready to do. I won't break the news to you beforehand; certainly I don't have all the information that he will have. So I would wait for him.


Q Yes, General Kimmitt, Mike Georgy from Reuters. A few weeks ago you spoke a very hard line on Muqtada al-Sadr, and then you accepted this offer he made, which basically didn't meet some of your demands. And now you say you're concerned about young youth. So why aren't you going after this guy and arresting him?

And secondly, have you gathered any intelligence which suggests that the insurgents are going to change their tactics as June 30 comes along, as the CPA melts away, and as the GC remains as a target for killing?

GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah. On the second question, there are sort of two strains of thought that says -- and that would suggest that after June 30th, things will start to quiet down a bit; that the terrorists will no longer have the opportunity to suggest that "we're going after the occupation forces, and the Iraqi forces that are wearing the uniform are nothing but collaborators with the occupation," because on June 30th, quite simply, the occupation will end.

After that point, we would have to ask the terrorists, and the former regime elements, and those who want to turn the clock back on this country, why they want to do this. The people of Iraq have spoken. The people of Iraq have said we want to move on to -- we have freedom, we earned that a year ago, and we want to move on to sovereignty ourselves. And that's exactly what's going to happen.

There's another school of thought that says in the period after June 30th, as the fledgling government is setting up, as the institutions are setting up, as the military continues to work with the coalition but is setting itself up a little more than it already has, that this might be seen by some terrorists as an opportunity, while the government is still young, while the military forces are still young, to try to make one last effort, to try to make one last push to see if we can topple this great experiment. Certainly, should that be the decision made by the terrorists, by the former regime elements, by the extremists, they will find a determined Iraqi government, they will find a determined Iraqi military, and they'll find a determined multinational force working in partnership with that military ready to respond.

Now, you also mentioned in your first question that somehow we have changed or relented on our demands. Our demands for Muqtada have not changed. Our objective, our end state remains that Muqtada must face Iraqi justice for his connection in the murder of Ayatollah Majid al-Khoei, one of the leading human rights activists in the country of Iraq. That has not changed. We have also said that his militia must disarm and disband. That objective has not changed. But the way we are intending to achieve that objective may have changed. Rather than use simply military force, we are now also exploring the use of the political methods, the diplomatic methods, to try to use Iraqi leadership to be part of the solution to this problem. But just because our ways have changed, our end state has not changed, our objectives have not changed, nor will they change. Muqtada al-Sadr must face Iraqi justice, and his illegal militia must disband.

MR. SENOR: I would just add, it's only common-sensical that if Iraqis step forward and say, "We want to help you reach a resolution, we want to help you meet your objectives," that we would embrace that. That is certainly in the spirit of the path we are heading towards for June 30th, when Iraqis will be in charge of their own destiny, Iraqis will be in charge and control their own political future. In that spirit, when Iraqis, in advance of June 30th, step forward to take initiative and reach a peaceful resolution in this situation, it would be ludicrous for us to at least not welcome that and figure out if there's a constructive contribution to be made by these Iraqi leaders stepping forward.


Q (Through interpreter.) Bagram Mohammed Ali (ph) from the Mashnuk (ph) newspaper. Dan, today more than one member of the GC said that Ambassador Bremer yesterday requested from one of the candidates for the president, that is -- (inaudible) -- he asked one of them to decline, but the GC did not vote on this. Today we heard that Ambassador Bremer raised four names or one name -- anyway, there is a new name that is a candidate for the presidency of Iraq. How accurate are these informations? And what is your opinion about it?

MR. SENOR: I'll tell you that the discussions that occur, whether they occur between Ambassador Bremer and Mr. Brahimi and the Governing Council or between Mr. Brahimi and the dozens and dozens of groups he's been meeting with all over the country, are very fluid. This is a very consultative process, very iterative, very interactive, and it's probably not wise to take one snapshot in time while these discussions are going on and try to draw a great analysis from a static moment in these discussions. It is a very fluid process. And I guarantee you any discussion you refer to that has occurred in the last 24 hours, there have probably been 10 or 12 more such discussions between the same parties since that time, and there will probably be another 10 or 12 discussions in the days ahead. The only moment that I think truly matters is when a final decision is made and a formal recommendation is made by Mr. Brahimi because it is a U.N.-led initiative, and that will be when he's prepared to do so, and as I said my understanding is that will be in the days ahead.


Q (Through interpreter.) Thank you, Mr. Dan. We know that the negotiations and the consultations was between CPA and the GC and Lakhdar Al-Brahimi. But specifically, what is the entity that have full authorities to accept the presidential Cabinet? What is the entity that had the final say with regard to this issue?

MR. SENOR: Coalition, technically. As a technical matter, under international law, the coalition has ultimate authority in this country during the occupational period to make all decisions involving governmental authority. That's a technical point.

As a practical matter, though, over the past year Ambassador Bremer on repeated occasions has delegated that authority to various institutions and individuals. An example is de-Ba'athification. Last fall, in October, Ambassador Bremer delegated the authority for designing a thorough de-Ba'athification policy to the Iraqi Governing Council because he believed that was one of the areas where Iraqis have a better sense of the best way to implement a de-Ba'athification policy than foreigners do. They have a better sense for the local culture. They have a better sense for the rhythm of life. They have a better sense for the personalities that may or may not have been involved with the Ba'ath Party over the past three decades. So he delegated, he used his responsibilities and obligations under international law to effectively be the executive authority here and delegated that specific authority to the Governing Council. I can come up with a number of other occasions if you're interested afterwards of where he's delegated authority to others.

As far as the U.N. is concerned, we made a decision and an acknowledgement that the U.N. has experience all over the world in setting up the requisite electoral infrastructure for direct elections. The U.N. has experience all over the world in forming transitional or interim governments in post-conflict situations, not the least of which was Afghanistan, where Mr. Brahimi played the central role in engineering that diplomatic success of forming a government there. And so with that, against that backdrop, Ambassador Bremer requested that the U.N. play the lead role here in Iraq in forming the interim government. They are in charge of this process now.


Q (In Arabic.)

MR. SENOR: Let him go. Go ahead.

Q (Through interpreter.) Mr. Senor, Dr. Fakhri Kurihad (ph) from the Qatar News Agency. Allow me to ask two questions.

There is a large number of detained people by the CPA from the Arabs and foreigners. Some of them are Jordanians. What is the fate of those detainees? Will they be released before the 30th of June, or will be they handed to their governments, or the coming Iraqi government will be responsible for them? Particularly with regard to the Jordanians, how many are they, if you can tell me, please?

Second question: We heard that you have released some Palestinian diplomats yesterday. Were these people detained for any reasons? And diplomatic immunity did not protect them? Thank you.

GEN. KIMMITT: The Jordanians who were held were being held for some very specific anti-coalition activities. As we've said time after time, those who no longer present themselves as security threats to the coalition, to the people of Iraq, are released. And that's exactly what happened in this case.

MR. SENOR: Yeah? The last question. Go ahead.

Q Adi Raval, ABC News. There was at least one report indicating that the U.S. may have fired on a mosque in Kufa. I'd like you to comment on that, General Kimmitt.

And secondly, what is your understanding of Mr. Chalabi's role down in that region right now? Apparently he's trying to serve as some sort of mediator. I was wondering if you could clarify, perhaps, his position.

And lastly, is it still the American position -- this is a question for Dan Senor -- that the position of the presidency for the interim government still has a largely ceremonial aspect to it, rather than a actual powerful position? Thank you

MR. SENOR: On your second two questions, I don't know what various individuals are involved in down in the south, dealing with the Sadr situation now. I can tell you that when the letter that Muqtada al-Sadr issued to the house of Shi'a, to the Shi'a -- prominent Shi'a leaders on the Governing Council last week -- it was a group of, as I said, Shi'a members of the Governing Council -- that Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie announced -- he went before the press and announced that they'd reached a resolution.

So I am familiar with what he has done, and I think Dr. Chalabi was part of the group that was down there last week working on this resolution. I don't know what the current activities are.

As for the presidency of the interim government, the term that is used is "head of state," that the prime minister will be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Iraqi government and the prime minister will be in charge of the day-to-day management of the government. Primary responsibilities obviously include dealing with the security situation on behalf of the Iraqis, but also preparing for the 2005 budget, getting Iraq on a path for its first direct elections, and managing the ministries. And the presidency will be the official head of state. I haven't used -- heard the term "ceremonial" bandied about, but it is the equivalent of the head of state, one that sort of has a longer-term vision and greets and receives officials from foreign governments, dignitaries, and helps sort of oversee and has influence in legislative authorities that the prime minister would execute.

GEN. KIMMITT; The coalition forces did not intentionally fire on a mosque in Kufa. We have no reports that we fired on a mosque in Kufa. We go out of our way to avoid any situation that would cause us to be in a position where we could be provoked and, in the response, fire on a mosque or fire anywhere near a mosque. So, haven't seen those reports, don't think it happened.

MR. SENOR: Thank you everybody.

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