IRAQ OPERATIONAL UPDATE BRIEFING
IRAQ OPERATIONAL UPDATE BRIEFING BRIEFER: MAJOR GENERAL RICK LYNCH, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 8:00 A.M. EST DATE: THURSDAY, MARCH 30, 2006
GEN. LYNCH: Got a lot to talk about today, so let me get right into it.
Today's going to be a little different, because after about 20 minutes. I'm going to be joined by Ambassador Khalilzad, and we'll talk some more. So allow us to kind of break it after 20 minutes and get into more detail.
(To staff.) First graphic, please.
Our operations continue across Iraq towards the identified end state: an Iraq that's at peace with its neighbors, that's an ally in the war on terror, that has a representative government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, that has a security force that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terror. And we're making progress there every day.
And allow me to talk you through the progress during this period of time, 18 March to 24 March, and allow me to zoom in specifically in the last 24 hours and operations that are going on today.
Today throughout Iraq, 242,000 members of the Iraqi security forces, trained and equipped, and an additional 16,000 in training now.
Two Iraqi army divisions, 13 brigades, 49 battalions, actually control battlespace. They have the lead in counterinsurgency operations in their respective area.
We're at the point now across Iraq where 12 of the 18 provinces are experiencing less than two attacks a day. And the attacks are really isolated in three provinces: Baghdad, Al Anbar and Salahuddin. Let me talk through those specifics.
Up north, attacks during this period of time were down 10 percent. Yesterday we experienced 19 attacks up north, of which only 10 were effective.
The enemy -- specifically, the terrorists and foreign fighters; specifically, al Qaeda in Iraq, the face of which is Zarqawi -- is now specifically targeting Iraqi security force members and Iraqi civilians. In fact, the number of attacks against the Iraqi security force members has increased 35 percent in the last four weeks, compared to the previous six months. And that is by design. The enemy knows the Iraqi security force is increasing in capability, and he's now targeting the Iraqi security force.
And he tried to do that on Monday, up north, at the Al Kasik military training facility. Sunni Arabs trying to join the Iraqi army, in line at a pre-screening area. Suicide bomber, the trademark signature attack of Zarqawi, gets out of a vehicle and walks a kilometer to this pre-screening area.
Inside this area is all these recruits, these Sunni Arab recruits to the Iraqi army. They see him. They yell, "Bomber!" They try to scatter. He detonates his vest.
All told, 65 recruits either killed or wounded. Thirty-two were air evacuated for medical care.
Of interest: There were already 141 of the recruits that already made it through the pre-screening area. And rather than say, "Okay, based on that attack, I'm out of here, I'm not going to join the army," they continue to be part of the Iraqi army.
And the very next day, even though there was a suicide bomber attack at that location by a mobile recruiting training team on Monday, the very next day, another long line of recruits trying to join the Iraqi army.
Now, if that's not a testimony to the courage and conviction of the Iraqi people, I don't know what is. They're uniting against Zarqawi. As we've talked about before, counter-insurgency operations average nine years. The people that are going to win this counter-insurgency battle against Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq are the Iraqi people, and indications like that show their courage, their conviction and their commitment to a democratic future. Amazing story.
Out west, attacks are down. We only experienced 16 attacks in the last 24 hours out in the vicinity of Ramadi and Fallujah. Operations out there continue, specifically with the 7th Iraqi Army Division in the lead doing detailed operations against Zarqawi and the insurgency.
In the south, all the south, during this period of time there were only eight attacks, six of which were ineffective, throughout this entire area. And in Baghdad operations continue. Attacks did increase during this period of time. And yesterday, yesterday we had 36 attacks in Baghdad alone, and I'll talk about that in some level of detail.
Two hundred forty-two thousand members of the Iraqi security force trained and equipped, and look what's happening. During that period of time 31 percent of the operation, company level and above, were Iraqi security force independent operations. They determined the operation, they planned it, they executed it and they led it. And if you look at the total between Iraqi security force independent and combined operations during that week-long period, 65 percent. And only 35 percent were coalition force only. So, great progress with the Iraqi security force and great progress to our end-state here inside Iraq based on our detailed operations.
Let me give you another example. If you remember last June we identified our primary threat, Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq, using the Euphrates River Valley as his access into Baghdad. His primary conduit was the Euphrates River Valley. We shut that down. The Iraqis have reestablished control of their border with Syria, and they continue operations out there.
Here is an indication. Last year, May to July we averaged 50 suicide attacks per month inside of Iraq; this year, January to March, 24 per month; from 50 to 24. It shows the effects of the operations. We do day-to-day operations here in Iraq focused on a lot of things, to include operations focused on kidnapping cells. Let me talk about one in detail.
(To staff) Could I get the picture, please?
Last Sunday the Iraqi special operations forces had indications that a kidnapping cell was working out of this target complex. We have seen a rash of kidnappings in Iraq.
Last Thursday, I talked to you about the hostage rescue of the Christian Peacemakers team and how we had planned in detailed operation to release those hostages. This is exactly the same. This was led, planned and executed by the Iraqi special operations forces, based on detailed intelligence that a kidnapping cell was occupying this complex.
The operation consisted of about 50 members of the Iraqi special operations forces and about 25 U.S. advisors. But the U.S. advisors were there purely in an advisory role. They did none of the fighting; there wasn't a shot fired from a U.S. servicemember during the conduct of this operation.
They surveyed the battlefield in advance, looking for sensitive areas, and they said, "Okay, there are mosques in the area, but the nearest mosque is about six blocks from the target point complex." So a decision was made to do the operation -- focus on this kidnapping cell and try to rescue a hostage, an Iraqi hostage -- an operation planned, led and executed by Iraqi special operations forces.
As they got in the area with their vehicles, they immediately started taking fire from this compound. Now, remember, there are many buildings in that compound and many rooms in the building. They took fire right away; they returned fire. Went into the specific building of choice, they had additional gunfire exchange.
All told, 16 insurgents were killed, 18 were detained. We found over 32 weapons and we found the hostage -- the innocent Iraqi, who just 12 hours before was walking the streets of Baghdad. He was walking the streets of Baghdad en route to a hospital to visit his brother, who had gunshot wounds. He was kidnapped and beaten in the car en route to this complex. When he got there, they emptied his pockets, they took out his wallet, and in the wallet was a picture of his daughter. And he asked for one thing -- he said, "Please, before you kill me, allow me to kiss the picture of my daughter. That's all I ask." The kidnappers told him, "Hey, we got you, and if we don't get $20,000 sometime soon, you're dead." And they showed him the bare electrical wires that they were going to use to torture him and then kill him. And they said, "We're going to go away and do some drugs, and when we come back, we're going to kill you." He was beaten, he was tortured. He was tortured with an electrical drill.
Twelve hours after he was kidnapped, he was rescued by his Iraqi special operation force rescue unit. He is indeed most grateful. He's most grateful to be alive, and he's most grateful to the Iraqi special operations forces.
The closest mosque was six blocks away.
When they got close to the compound, they took fire, and they returned fire. When they got inside the room, a room in this compound, they realized that this could have been a Hussainiyah, a prayer room. They saw a prayer rug. They saw a minaret. They didn't know about that in advance, but from that room and from that compound, they were taking fire. In that room and in that compound the enemy was holding a hostage and torturing a hostage, and in that room and in that compound they were storing weapons, munitions and IED explosive devices. Very, very effective operation, planned and executed by Iraqi special operations forces.
Next graphic, please.
Let's talk about Baghdad -- a very, very sensitive time as the Iraqis try to form this national unity government, and it's the time where the enemy is saying, "They have a vulnerability. Maybe, just maybe, I can derail the democratic process. I couldn't do it in 2005. I couldn't stop the January elections. I couldn't stop them drafting or ratifying a constitution in October, and I couldn't stop the December elections. So maybe, just maybe, during this period of time, I can inflame sectarian violence and delay the formation of a national unity government."
We saw that coming with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces, so we planned Operation Scales of Justice inside of Baghdad to create a stable environment in Baghdad so this national unity government can indeed form. We started about four weeks ago. There were about 26,000 members of the Iraqi security force there at the beginning and 10,000 coalition. We added an additional 3,700 members of the security forces. That allowed us to increase patrols by a hundred a day. That allowed us to increase the number of checkpoints and led to our effectiveness.
Remember, the enemy still wants to increase attack levels. He still wants to inflame sectarian violence, but see the effect we've had in the operation. In these particular areas inside of Iraq, inside of Baghdad specifically, you can see we've been able to reduce the daily attack average from almost 20 down to 16. And there is indeed in Baghdad an increased perception of security because the people of Baghdad are seeing increased security force presence: Iraqi army, Iraqi police and indeed coalition forces.
That operation will continue, and it will not stop until the national unity government is formed. And we did indeed bring a battalion forward from Kuwait. Our Cal Forward Brigade brought up a battalion of about 650 soldiers, and they're actively involved in operations to create a secure environment here in Baghdad.
Next graphic, please.
We're facing a cowardly enemy. Terrorists and foreign fighters have declared war against democracy. And what we're seeing them now do is shift his target from the coalition forces to Iraqi civilians and Iraqi security forces. In this past week, if you look at casualties, 50 percent of the casualties were innocent Iraqi civilians -- men, women and children simply trying to have a life, to go to work, go to school, go to the store; and they were the casualties, 50 percent. Thirty percent were members of the Iraqi security forces, and only 20 percent of the casualties last week were members of the coalition forces.
This is by design. And if you look at the graphic, what you see since January '04 till now is you see a decrease in the number of casualties of the coalition forces and a significant increase in Iraqi casualties, both security forces and innocent men, women and children of Iraq. The enemy is trying to stop the formation of this national unity government, he's trying to inflame sectarian violence, and he's attacking casualties -- he's attacking civilians for that effect.
Next graphic, please.
I wanted to give you a sense graphically of what I talk about when I talk about cycles of violence. Samarra golden mosque bombing on the 22nd of February. In yellow you see VBIED and suicide VBIED civilian deaths. You see, in green, civilian casualties, and in blue you see murders and executions.
Last January in Baghdad we averaged 11 murders or executions per day. We peaked at one point in time recently with an average of 36 per day. Based on detailed operations with Scales of Justice, we reduced that back to 25 murders and executions per day, still twice as much as the average before the Samarra mosque bombing.
Zarqawi wants to continue to inflame sectarian violence. He wants the Shi'as to fight the Sunnis. He wants the Sunnis to fight the Shi'as. He wants this continual tension. And he's using VBIEDs and IEDs and some murders and executions to inflame that sectarian violence.
So you see what I'm talking about with cycles of violence. Now we believe, based on Operation Scales of Justice, the amount of violent activity is significantly reduced.
Next graphic, please. I try to keep you posted on things that we've talked about in the past that I know you're still interested in.
And I'd like to talk about inspections of detention facilities, known detention facilities across Iraq -- MOI, MOD, and Ministry of Justice detention facilities.
Remember, back in December the prime minister announced the six- point plan, part of which was unannounced inspections of all detention facilities. And that has been occurring since his announcement. A team was formed, a bilateral team -- Iraqi military, Iraqi civilian, and coalition force. This team has experts in a variety of areas: detention operations, medical operations, those kinds of things. And they do random inspections of facilities. And since December, they've inspected over seven facilities -- 5 MOI facilities, and an MOD facility in Baghdad, and an MOI facility in Tall Afar. And the most recent inspection by this team was Sunday here in Baghdad. These facilities were all declared detention facilities. The inspection was unannounced, but they were declared facilities -- either MOD, MOI or MOJ.
We received intelligence, and shared it with the Iraqi authorities, of an undeclared detention facility here in Baghdad. Together with the Iraqi government, we planned an operation to raid that facility, and that took place on Sunday night. Remember, this was in cooperation with the prime minister and the minister of Interior. Inside the facility we found 17 foreign nationals -- 16 Sudanese, one Egyptian. They weren't being tortured; they were, indeed, well cared for, but it was an undeclared detention facility of 17 foreign nationals. Those individuals were taken away for medical care to make sure they were okay, and they were indeed okay. Individuals in the MOI that were on the site -- and there were, indeed, MOI personnel at the site -- were questioned. And then the operation there continued, and the detention facility was turned back over to the appropriate authorities.
So that is working across Iraq and will continue. Every detention facility that the government of Iraq is aware of, or that we, the coalition force, are aware of, will be inspected by this team. It will be an unannounced inspection. The results of the inspection will be given directly to the Iraqi leadership, to the prime minister and the appropriate minister, for their action.
In these facilities that we did inspect unannounced, we saw no signs of abuse. No one was being tortured. The facilities were, by our standards, overcrowded, but the people being held at those facilities were being properly taken care of; they were being fed, they had water, they were taken care of. So no abuse, no evidence of torture in those facilities.
So those inspections will continue as part of the prime minister's six-point plan.
Put up the first graphic again, please? (Pause.)
We continue operations towards an established end state. There's two things in which the Iraqi people have to be successful with to accomplish that end state. One is to build a security force that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists. And that's happening in spades: 242,000 on the streets today. The other is progress in the political world. And, indeed, we saw the elections in January and then again in December. We see a constitution that has been ratified by the people of Iraq, and we see them forming a national unity government. Is it taking a while to do that? Yes, it is. And Ambassador Khalilzad will talk about that in more detail.
Okay, with that, is the ambassador -- has the ambassador arrived? (Pause.) Okay.
The ambassador's going to come in and he's going to talk specifically about the Jill Caroll release. So I'd ask you to defer any questions about that to him and after he gets a chance to talk to you. But I'd be glad now while we're waiting on the ambassador to take any questions on the things I've talked about.
Q (Name and affiliation off mike.)
GEN. LYNCH: Hi.
Q Hi. Could you give us some more specifics about just who they were in that complex that was in a mosque, and specifically were they or were they not Mahdi army people or followers of Muqtada al- Sadr?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, we -- we have no indication -- specific indication of what organization these people were from. This was clearly a kidnapping cell that we'd watched for a period of time. There were indications that it was an active cell, and that's why the operation was planned by the members of the Iraqi central operations forces. But I can't tell you specifically from which -- which particular unit, or if they were from the Mahdi militia. I don't know. Please. Tom.
Q Thanks. Tom Frank from USA Today. Can you talk about these kidnapping cells? Do you know how many there are, and what they're linked to, if they're linked to the Sunnis, to any of the insurgent groups? And then also I wanted to ask about your statement that there's an increased perception of safety and security in Baghdad. What's the -- what makes you say that?
GEN. LYNCH: Okay. First question first. Extremists, terrorists and criminals -- and it's all intertwined. We have reason to believe and evidence to support that the terrorists and foreign fighters are, indeed, using kidnapping as a way to finance their operations. And the story that I told about Sunday night's kidnapping can be told many more times: innocent civilian taken off the street, ransomed for $20,000 and returned to his family. So we do see a tie between criminal activities like kidnapping and terrorist and extremist activity as well.
And we do have a sense that kidnapping is on the rise and the numbers of kidnapping cells are out there not increasing, but they are indeed very active. So we look at each and every one and take appropriate action. That's what we did last week with the kidnappers who held the Christian Peacemakers team, and that's what we did this past Sunday with the kidnappers who held that individual Iraqi.
We now have almost 40,000 members of the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces patrolling the streets of Iraq. And they're not out there just actively patrolling. They are engaging with the population. They're talking to the people on the streets of Baghdad.
Put the Baghdad graphic back up, please?
Yeah, that's fine.
At each of these -- (word inaudible) --, there are tactical commanders -- Iraqi security force, coalition forces -- and they've got the task to do patrolling, establish checkpoints and most importantly, talk to the people and get a sense of what's their concerns. And we get a sense, based on those conversations -- and some polling data as well -- that the people of Baghdad sense greater security. They know that attack levels are down. They know that there's increased presence because they see it every day.
Next question. Please.
Q Thank you. Vanessa Arrington with the Associated Press.
GEN. LYNCH: Hi, Vanessa.
Q Two questions, please.
GEN. LYNCH: Sure.
GEN. LYNCH: Give me one and let me answer it, then I'll get the second one.
Q Okay. Great.
I guess on this same -- actually, first with the mosque, if we could go back to that. GEN. LYNCH: Sure.
Can we have the picture, please?
Q Just to -- just to clarify, when you said that the troops did find prayer rugs and a minaret and what appeared to be a mosque space or --
GEN. LYNCH: Hussainiyah.
Q Yes. The torture actually took place in that same room? Is that what you're saying? In that same space, they tortured the hostage?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, if you look at the picture, you can see that this target complex had many buildings and many rooms in those buildings. We had, nor did the Iraqi special operations forces have any indication that there was a hussainiyah inside this target complex. We had none.
When they entered the compound -- remember, after they had been fired upon and returned fire -- when they entered the compound and entered a specific building, they came across this room that indeed had weapons stored in it. Now, whether or not that hostage was in that exact room, I'm not sure, I'm not sure.
But there was a room that looked to be a prayer room. It had a prayer rug and a minaret. It was there. We didn't know about it in advance, nor did the Iraqi special operation force know about it in advance. But we were in a situation that in accordance to rules of engagement we could return fire and conduct operations. We looked very closely in advance -- where is the nearest mosque? The one we were aware of was the one that was six blocks away.
Q Had you known that it was there, would that have affected the operation?
Had you known there was --
GEN. LYNCH: Sure. Yeah.
Q In what way?
GEN. LYNCH: I mean, we're very sensitive in all of our operations to specific areas, specific landmarks, specific religious facilities. And we intentionally do not target areas where there are -- is indeed religious sensitivity.
Having said that, the enemy does just the opposite. He's occupying mosques. He's occupying these buildings with husseniyahs (sp) and using that as places to store his weapons, store his munitions, shoot from, keep hostages that he's captured. When he does that, then it becomes a different situation. We don't plan operations against mosques. We don't plan operations against husseniyahs (sp). But if we're in an area and we're getting shot at from this building, then we indeed return fire and attack.
Q So is it considered a mistake to have invaded this area --
GEN. LYNCH: Not at all. Not at all. Ask the hostage if it was a mistake. Ask this guy who has been there for 12 hours, had been beaten, had been drilled, saw the picture of his daughter and was convinced he's never going to see her, and ask him if that was a mistake. It was an operation to conduct -- to rescue this hostage, and it was an effective operation.
I mean, people ought to be focused on the fact that 50 members of the Iraqi special operation forces planned and conducted this execution. And it was flawless, flawless. They killed 16 insurgents. They captured 18 more. They took no casualties, except for one of their soldiers was wounded. It was a perfect military operation.
Q Why, then, do you think it's having such an emotional effect with not insurgents but actual religious leaders in Baghdad, of the Shi'ite community?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah. Zawahiri, who's Zarqawi's boss, Osama bin Laden's deputy -- he wrote Zarqawi a letter a few months back, and he said: Hey, half the battle is in the battlefield of the media. Take advantage of the media to exaggerate your capabilities. Take advantage of the media to make it look like you're more powerful than you are. So what we saw here was someone made a conscious decision to make this look like something that it wasn't: that it was an attack against a mosque, it was an attack against innocent civilians who were praying. And none of that is true. It was attack against an area that had kidnappers in it, had a hostage in it. It wasn't a mosque. And when we got in there, we did find indeed a prayer room.
Q Thanks, General. Aamer Madhani from The Chicago Tribune.
GEN. LYNCH: Hi.
Q On that complex issue, the governor of Baghdad soon after said that he was cutting off relations with the U.S. military, as well as the embassy.
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah.
Q With what you're telling us, has any of -- has there been any attempts to sort of repair the relationship?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah --
Q And what's sort of the status of the relationship between the coalition forces and the embassy with the Baghdad province?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, we believe that when people woke up Monday morning, they were misled by what was in the media. And a lot of people took action based on misinformation in the media, to include the governor of Baghdad and the members of the provincial council.
Today at 1400 the governor and the provincial council chairman sat down with the commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division and his leadership, and they walked them through in detail what took place to clean up that misinformation and to open those lines of communication.
It's so very important. The engagement operations that we do day to day with the Iraqi civilians, the Iraqi leadership, the Iraqi politicians, is so very important, so we work very hard to keep those lines open. Unfortunately, they were closed for a short period of time. And I hope as a result of today's meeting, that those lines are open again.
Q A follow-up. But is the relationship, I guess, repaired? Are they cooperating now? Or what's sort of that status?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, you know, call me in a couple of hours, after I talk to General Thurman, and I'll let you know how that worked out. They met today.
Q John Johnson, Los Angeles Times.
GEN. LYNCH: Hi, John.
Q Hi. Looking at your chart here on average daily casualties, you broke it down as, you know, that attacks are down on the coalition but up on the Iraqis. But if you just add the total, it's clear that there's more casualties happening on a daily basis now than any time in history.
GEN. LYNCH: You mean overall casualties?
Q Overall casualties. How does that square with your portrait that things are getting better?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, 12 of the 18 provinces average less than two attacks a day. We are having combat operations daily in Baghdad, in Al Anbar and Salahuddin -- that's where 75 percent of the attacks are taking place. So if you zoom out of those three provinces and look across Iraq, you see significant portions of Iraq that are relatively peaceful. Are they perfectly peaceful? No. But find someplace else in the world that's perfectly peaceful.
The majority of those casualties, John, that you see there occurred in Baghdad and Salahuddin or in Al Anbar. So there's progress being made. And we're working very hard to make the same progress here in Baghdad, and that's why Scales of Justice is currently ongoing. And we had Operation Hunter to calm down the situation in Al Anbar. I mean, you've been around for a while, so you know in Al Anbar we used to experience about 27 attacks a day. Now we're down to 16, on average.
Q If I can just follow up --
GEN. LYNCH: Sure.
Q The one region you're talking about attacks being down is in the north. Does that include places like Baqubah and Samarra?
GEN. LYNCH: No, there are specific areas where we're watching very closely to see whether or not we're seeing spikes in attacks. We are most concerned about the area around Samarra -- we are. And that's why we had Operation Swarmer, in the past couple of weeks, specifically focused in that area. And we're watching Baqubah very closely.
Good questions. Thank you.
STAFF: In the back here, sir. And then (Paul ?).
Q Courtney Kealy, Fox News.
GEN. LYNCH: Hi.
Q Hi. You showed a graphic of VBIEDs, IEDs, and the murders. Could you go back to that?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, sure.
(To staff) Somebody keep an eye open for the ambassador.
Q Have the murders and executions -- I'm being a little bit slow on the graph -- reading the graph. But can you tell me, especially after Samarra, in terms of murders and executions, a lot of people -- you're saying that the Iraqis are feeling better on the ground. People are saying that they're fearing what they see as death squads. And how would you be combatting that now?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah. Zarqawi, he says, "Hey, I'm going to inflame sectarian violence," so he blew up the Golden Mosque right here on this day.
And immediately there was retaliation. The Shi'as retaliated against the Sunni population, and that's this spike. As the time progressed, there were indeed Sunni attacks against the Shi'a population, and that's the cycle that you see those attacks.
So it's a function of militias, it's a function of angry civilians, but it's all grouped in their retaliation.
Q Are you're talking about Iraqis -- you're talking about the effectiveness of Iraqi soldiers, but we're not hearing much from the Iraqi police. And we are hearing that these murders are taking place. Civilians are saying they're seeing people in police commando uniforms.
GEN. LYNCH: We focused in 2005 on the Iraqi army, and we've now built an army that has two divisions, 13 brigades, 49 battalions that control battlespace; 2006 is the year of the police. We're working very hard with the Iraqi authorities to improve the capability of their police, specifically in three areas. One is detention operations. The second is the infiltration of militias, and the third is overall effectiveness. So we brought in about a hundred extra trainers for the Iraqi police. We're bringing in additional U.S. soldiers to partner with local police stations to improve their capability.
So there is indeed a problem with the police that we're working through with the Iraqi government. We hear the same stories that you just cited. We investigate each one, and the ones that look like there's grounds, we work with the Iraqi authorities to take appropriate action.
Q Paul Shemayth (sp).
GEN. LYNCH: Hi, Paul.
Q How are you doing?
GEN. LYNCH: I haven't seen you in a while. You know they make me stand on this X here. I don't -- they won't let me wander. (Light laughter.)
Q Let's go back to the operation that rescued the hostage.
GEN. LYNCH: Sure. Bring that picture back, please. Q Up until this point, most of the information coming out about this operation has been coming from the U.S. military, but it was an Iraqi-led, conceived, organized, implemented operation. At some point, will the Iraqi Defense Ministry talk about this? And to put an extra on that, generals from that ministry have actually denied all knowledge of the operation, so it seems like that might be part of your public relations disaster that's going to come out of this, is that only the U.S. military seems to be presenting a version of events.
GEN. LYNCH: Minor correction. Yesterday, when the hostage was interviewed, the commander of the Iraqi special operation forces was also interviewed and gave his rendition of the story, and that is indeed the only member of the Iraqi military that's been out talking about what took place. Both the president and the prime minister have decided that an appropriate investigation is in order, and we're part of that investigation team, because there are indeed conflicting stories that need to be worked through. And once that investigation's completed, I'm sure you'll see the Iraqi government come up and say: Here's what we found out, and here's what think needs to be done.
Q And about this graph that's up here now, when you showed it to us you talked -- you mentioned Zarqawi a few times. The line that's murders and executions, about how much of that would you estimate is not terrorists and foreign fighters, but actually, say, death squads -- Shi'a death squads?
GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, it's -- it's -- this is a wild guess, but let me give you a sense of what we think.
We don't think that Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq is (sic) saying, Let's go out and kill a bunch of innocent civilians by murders and executions. We think he's still saying, Hey, let's use that suicide vest, let's use that car bomb, that's use that suicide car bomb. But we believe that he's doing selective murders and executions of specific people. I've talked to you about this before. Folks that he knows are gathering together against him; he's now targeted with assassinations and executions. So a lot of that has taken place. But we believe he's smart enough to say, okay, exactly where, and exactly who, and exactly when, if I murder or execute them, can I have the most effect, can I have the most effect with the Iraqi population AND I can have the most effect in the media? So he's doing some.
A lot of it just retaliation. It's the Shi'a militias. It's the Sunni armed groups that are taking retaliatory action.
STAFF: We've got time for two more questions. We've got one here --
GEN. LYNCH: But remember, all this was inflamed by Zarqawi.
See, here's what I picture. I picture a fire that's dying down, and all there are are embers -- a fire dying down and there's embers, and then there's Zarqawi with this poker. And he's poking those embers to ignite the flame.
STAFF: Two more questions. One here.
Q Charles Ferguson, Boston Review and Representational Pictures.
GEN. LYNCH: Hi, Charles. Hi.
Q Hi. I have a question about the daily casualties chart again. If we could see that, I'd be grateful.
GEN. LYNCH: Yep.
Q And it's, I guess, a two-part question. One is, if I read the chart correctly, I think that it shows that there's been a very consistent growth in total casualties which have approximately tripled in the last three months per day. And so my first question, I guess, is how -- I would look at that and think that you're facing a rapidly deteriorating security situation and that anybody who was aware of total danger levels would think that things were getting much less secure. And I guess the other part of that is what do you think about the effect of possible coalition force reductions on what will happen with regard to the casualties?
GEN. LYNCH: We're -- we're fighting a cowardly enemy. And he's turned his focus in the last three months to the softest target he can find, and that's the innocent men, women and children of Iraq. That's what he's doing. He's attacking the bus stops, he's attacking the stores, he's attacking them in hotels, and that's where you're seeing this fight. And he's also turned his attacks against the Iraqi security forces, because he sees them as his primary threat, to derail a democratic process. So this spike, indeed, is happening. And in the last three months, since the elections, it's been most pronounced. That's why our operations of the Iraqi security force have to work to focus on his attack against innocent civilians. And the people of Iraq have to unite against them as well.
Q Thank you -- thank you for the microphone. So, sir, you do in fact agree that the security situation has been deteriorating over the last three months?
GEN. LYNCH: No, not at all. In Baghdad, in Al Anbar and in Salahuddin there is indeed significant numbers of attacks. The majority of those attacks are directed against innocent civilians. Full stop. No question that's happening.
Twelve of the 18 provinces across Iraq are averaging less than two attacks a day, and some of them average none. I showed you the entire southern portion of Iraq in that reporting period had eight attacks total, of which six were ineffective.
So I don't agree that the security situation across Iraq has deteriorated. I am concerned about Baghdad and Al Anbar and Salahuddin, and that's why our operations are focused there.
STAFF: Last brief question.
Q Hi, Mike George (sp) from Reuters. That operation you just had up there was described as a result of extensive intelligence. So surely you must have some idea of who these 16 guys are that you killed.
And can you give us an idea of U.S. casualties, casualty rates over the last few months?
GEN. LYNCH: I don't have the U.S. casualty rates with me. I know they're down; I know they're as low as they've ever been. Major Glenn (sp) can give you those numbers at the end of this press conference because he brought those with him. I just don't have them right now.
It was indeed an intelligence-led operation. There were 16 people killed, 18 people detained. All that has taken place as we speak, the interrogation is taking place. And we'll get a sense of the affiliation of those people. But right now, if I were to tell you something, I'd be hazarding a guess; it wouldn't do you a service nor any of us a service. As we find out who they were, I'll let you know.
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