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28 July 2004

Defense Department Report, July 28: Iraq Operations

Car bomb explosion in Baqubah kills at least 45, injures 94

A car bomb exploded outside a police-recruiting facility in Iraq July 28, killing at least 45 and wounding 94 Iraqis, according to a Defense Department official.

Briefing with Defense Department spokesman Lawrence Di Rita at the Pentagon July 28, Air Force Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz said the bombing occurred in Baqubah, and although there were no coalition forces involved, a number of the casualties were Iraqis who were interviewing for future employment as Iraqi police.

"We feel for those families that experienced loss of life," Schwartz, director for operations on the Joint Staff, said. "The strike on civilians underscores the insurgents' real intentions: to prevent a free and stable Iraq, even at the cost of innocent Iraqi lives." He said the attack is "part of the campaign to intimidate both Iraqi population generally, those who would serve in the security forces, and of course, the leadership of the country."

In other matters, Schwartz said coalition and Iraqi forces conducted about 1,700 patrols over the previous 24 hours, including several offensive operations. A detainee from one operation had information that led to the discovery of a weapons cache of 175 mortar rounds and 105 grenades, among other items, he said. During the same period, U.S. Marines searched a suspicious vehicle and found over 200 60-millimeter mortar rounds hidden inside wheat bags in the vehicle, he said.

"[W]e've discovered 10,000 or so such caches throughout the country and disposed [of] probably 9,900 of them" since the conclusion of major combat operations, Schwartz said. "At the moment, over 150,000 tons of captured enemy ammunition have been destroyed," he said.

Asked whether the pace of attacks has increased since returning sovereignty to Iraq, Schwartz replied, "[I]t seems to me that that is not entirely unpredictable. I mean, the development of Iraqi sovereignty is a threat to those who would like to see another arrangement. And so they are undertaking those efforts that they think might be effective in unhinging that transition."

Di Rita, asked to reconcile apparently differing statements by Defense officials on whether foreign fighters in Iraq are numerous or few, said, "[T]here is no question that there are foreign terrorists in Iraq. But I think it's equally true that there ... are Iraqis who are resisting the transition to Iraqi sovereignty...."

Questioned as to the likelihood of continued and even increasing attacks, Di Rita, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, replied, "It's a dangerous environment. There are people there very committed to stopping what's happening. But ... the general view from the prime minister and the other Iraqi officials ... is that there is a ... much larger number of people who are highly committed to seeing that sovereignty take root and that the government proceed."

Schwartz was asked if U.S. forces are trying to cut back on the number of patrols they perform as a way of reducing their visibility. He noted that coalition forces conduct about 12,000 total patrols per week. "So the implication that somehow -- that we have, quote, ‘reduced' our profile doesn't square with the numbers," he said.

Di Rita added that, "[W]e've been saying for the last year ... [that] our objective is to get Iraqi security forces trained and out there securing their own country, and over time that's happening. ... And we're a long way from the Iraqi security forces being able to secure that country ... but they are moving in the right direction."

Schwartz was asked how many Iraqi forces are fully trained and equipped. He said total numbers are roughly 225,000 to 230,000, with perhaps 5,000 in the Army trained and completely equipped. There are now also 29 battalions of the Iraqi National Guard totaling around 45,000, he said.

As for the police, Schwartz said the total is 75,000 or so, with about 6,000 having completed the eight-week academy training course. There are also about 25,000 former police who have gone through a three-week "refresher" course. "So that leaves about half of the Iraqi police still not having attended an academy course," he said.

In response to a non-Iraq question, Di Rita said the detainee status review tribunals in Guantanamo are expected to start soon -- "perhaps this week." Some matters of policy guidance and logistics still remain, he added.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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