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Weekly Press Briefing April 20, 2006

Multi-National Force-Iraq

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. EDT DATE: THURSDAY, APRIL 20 ,2006

Briefing Slides [PDF]


GEN. LYNCH: Thanks for joining me here today. As always, there's a lot I'd like to talk to you about, then I'll be glad to answer any of your questions.

But before I start, on the 22nd of April, 1931, was the founding of the Iraqi Air Force. And the Ministry of Defense has decided to celebrate that founding this coming Saturday. You know, back in 1931 when it started, the Iraqi Air Force had five pilots and 32 mechanics. Today it has over 800 folks in the Iraqi Air Force. It has a new air base that's been established in the vicinity of the Baghdad International Airport, Al Muthanna. It's got a C-130 fleet that's been used effectively over the last several months. And if you'll remember, back in the operations with Tall Afar, Operation Restoring Right, Iraqi C-130s were used to transport Iraqi security force members to that important mission. And just recently, the Iraqi Air Force used their C-130 to transport five children, five Iraqi children, up to Turkey for eye surgery. So let me be the first to congratulate the Iraqi Air Force on their 75th anniversary.

First graphic, please.

Operations continue across Iraq. Two hundred and fifty million trained and equipped -- correction -- 250,000 trained and equipped members of the Iraqi security force conducting operations in Iraq as we speak. We've now reached the point where there are two divisions, 16 brigades, and 58 battalions that have the lead in counterinsurgency operations in their respective areas of operation: two divisions, 16 brigades, and 58 battalions. That is a marked improvement over what we had a year ago, which is only three battalions that led operations in their respective area of operations.

So the Iraqi security force continues to make a dominate contribution for operations across Iraq. And we are at the point now where at least 25 percent of the day-to-day company-level-and-above operations are Iraqi independent operations. They plan them, they execute them, they review them at the conclusion -- 25 percent.

And think about this. We've talked about Scales of Justice now many times -- the operation to create a secure environment in Baghdad as we establish this national unity government with the Iraqi people. Yesterday there were 1,162 patrols in Baghdad alone, and 60 percent of those patrols were Iraqi security force independent patrols. And candidly, as I've said before, Iraqi security force independent operations are very fruitful for a variety of reasons. One is they're effective. Two is they're very familiar with the local surroundings. And three is the people of Iraq are willing to come forward to the Iraqi security forces and give actionable intelligence.

Let me start today with operations out west. As I've said repeated times, we see improvements in the security situation in Al Anbar. Last October, we were averaging about 27 attacks per day. Now we're down to about 17 attacks per day, and that was the number of attacks we had yesterday. But the problem that exists in Al Anbar exists in the town of Ramadi. That is still a location with significant insurgent activity. And we conduct operations daily with the Iraqi security forces to stabilize the city of Ramadi. And in the week that I'm talking about, there were significant military operations out there. And we find the insurgents using car bombs, RPGs, heavy machine guns, and small-arm fire to disrupt the situation in Ramadi. And our operations combat that.

What's happening now that is most troublesome is they're attacking the government center in Ramadi. They're trying to disrupt the formation of a stable government at the provincial level. So almost daily attacks against that government center. And the attacks a lot of times are coming from a mosque adjacent to the government site. The Marines and the people of Iraq are attacked from that mosque. In this last week, there were significant attacks from that mosque in Ramadi. In the last three and a half weeks, that mosque has been used for insurgent activities four times.

So this particular week, the Marines, acting as they can in accordance with our rules of engagement, returned fire to that mosque upon receiving direct fire from one of the minarets in the mosque. They used 120-mm tank main-gun round and machine-gun fire to silence the attack from that minaret and that mosque. Clearly within their rules of engagement, clearly intended to stop the attacks on the government center.

So operations in Ramadi continue, and that has been a location in Al Anbar where the insurgents continue to try to increase their level of control over that city.

Across Al Anbar, as I said, operations have continued to the point where we've reduced the number of attacks from about 27 a month to 17 a month, and last week, in that period of time, operations against insurgents netted 219 insurgents detained just in Al Anbar.

Let me talk about operations up north. I've told you before about Operation Cowpens, which is a joint operation, coalition forces and the 4th Division Iraqi Army. It started with an air assault operation followed by a ground assault on the Djibouti peninsula to disrupt insurgent activities. That operation concluded this week. Over the month, they indeed captured 19 insurgents in that area and uncovered significant weapons caches.

I'm not going to show you a picture of weapons caches today. I know it's disappointing to you all. I do that every time, but I'm not going to do that today. But that operation netted a significant amount of enemy munitions.

Of note, a battalion that was part of that operation is a battalion that took control of operations in their area now have the lead in counterinsurgency operations in their respective area -- one of the 58 battalions that I talked about.

Let's come down to Baghdad. As I said, just yesterday, 1,162 patrols, of which 60 percent were Iraqi security forces independent. Operation Scales of Justice continues and will continue until the national unity government is indeed formed, and the situation in Baghdad is stabilized.

So there's lots of operations that go on over the course of the day. During the past week, we had Operation Cobra Strike. This was planned and executed by the 8th Iraqi Army Division in the area of the North Babil Province around Iskandariyah. They had actual intelligence of a terrorist cell tied to murders and kidnappings and placing IEDs in Iskandariyah.

From the 8th Division, they planned, they executed this operation. All the coalition did was provided outer cordon, and they did indeed take down this terrorist cell. They captured the cell leader and a number of members of the cell in Operation Cobra Strike. So good operations there as well.

In Baghdad yesterday, there were 25 IEDs in place, of which 36 percent were found and cleared. I've talked to you about this before. We are reaching a point across Iraq where almost half of the IEDs that are in place by the insurgency are found and cleared before they detonate. But in Baghdad yesterday, 25 were there; 36 percent were found and cleared.

Next graphic, please.

Iraqi security forces continually taking the lead in operations. Here's another example. In this mosque, in the western portion of Baghdad, mosque caretakers called the Iraqi army and said, "Hey, there is a suspected IED in the vicinity of this mosque." The mosque wasn't an active mosque, but it clearly is a cultural site. The mosque caretakers called. The Iraqi army responded -- the 3rd Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army Division. They brought in that division's own explosive ordnance attachment to find the IED and to detonate the IED before it could detonate itself. Found and cleared. This one found and cleared based on a tip from a local Iraqi citizen who was concerned about operations in his area. Very important.

Next graphic, please.

I want to talk about four specific indicators on operations here in Iraq, and I don't want to talk about what happened yesterday. I want to talk over a period of time to give you a sense of the trend lines that we see.

And these are four that I've talked to you about before, but allow me to give you an update.

We believe that 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq are conducted by foreign fighters -- al Qaeda, Zarqawi commissioning foreign fighters to conduct these suicide attacks.

Last year this time, across Iraq, we were averaging about 75 suicide attacks a day. Now we're averaging about 24 a day.

One of the reasons for that drawdown is not that Zarqawi and al Qaeda doesn't want to do it anymore, but effective border operations have been capturing foreign nationals at the border.

And I talked you through last week in great detail what's happened on the Iraqi border. Last November the Iraqi government declared initial control of the borders, and over time they've placed Department of Border Enforcement personnel -- 20,000 people, on the borders, 258 border camps -- to stop this flow of foreign nationals into Iraq, some of which are coming in to be used as suicide bombers.

So if you look closely at what's happened, just before the first of the year, we were averaging about 44 captured foreign nationals per month, and now we're down to less than half of that.

The effect of that is reduction in the number of suicide attacks in Iraq: over 70 a year ago, 24 now.

I talked about IEDs and IEDs that are found and cleared. We have reached the point where almost 50 percent of the IEDs are found and cleared before they detonate. And people say, "Well, why is that?" A reason why that is, is the number of sophisticated bomb-makers we've been able to take off the battlefield here in Iraq.

There are indeed with -- people with talent and capability that can build a reliable IED, one that will function as designed. What we've been doing is a conscious effort with the Iraqi security forces to take those guys off the battlefield and either kill or capture them. And you can see that we took over -- took out 115 in the year 2005. And since the first of the year, we've taken out an additional 26.

The effect of that is, IEDs are produced that are less effective. And in many cases, we're finding the people that are emplacing the IEDs are killed by their own IEDs, or the IEDs that are emplaced don't go off as detonated. And that's because of the conscious decision to kill or capture bomb-makers.

I talk every Thursday about the weapons caches and weapons finds. And if you looked over the years 2005, we came across 2,880 weapons caches and since the first of the year almost 900 weapons caches.

Again, this goes to the effectiveness of the insurgents. In order to be able to create effective IEDs, he's got to have technical expertise, and he's got to have the proper munitions. A lot of these weapons caches we found had old munitions, but a lot of them had relatively new munitions that could build an effective bomb.

So as we look for bomb-makers and as we look for weapons caches to this level of effect, we are reducing the effectiveness of IEDs, VBIEDs and suicide car bombs, suicide vest packs, and also by taking out foreign nationals as they come across.

But I believe that the most important indicator on these charts, on this quad chart, is this one. And that's the number of tips, actionable tips, that we are receiving from the people of Iraq. They have indeed reached the point where they're tired of the insurgency, and they realize that they are indeed the target of attacks by the insurgency. The numbers of attacks against civilians, as I told you before, has doubled in the last four months, is up by 86 percent just in the last nine weeks.

So the people of Iraq are tired of the insurgency.

And what they're doing is calling in actionable tips or providing tips to the 250,000 members of the Iraqi security force that are patrolling the streets of Iraq. They're providing the information just like they did the IED on the mosque -- and I showed you that operation with the 6th Iraqi Army Division.

So significant improvement and increase and actual intelligence and information provided by the people of Iraq.

Can I get the first map back up, please?

Operations continue, attacks continue. The enemy still wants to disrupt the formation of this national unity government, and he's going to do everything he can, everything in his power to cause sectarian violence with the belief that if he creates sectarian violence, the Shi'as will turn against the Sunnis, the Sunnis against the Kurds, and they will not be able to come together and form a national unity government. So that's exactly what he's trying to do with attacks across Iraq, and our operations are designed to stop him from doing what he wants to do and provide an environment so that the people of Iraq can form this national unity government and then continue.

And with that, I'll be glad to answer any questions you might have today.

Q I have a question. Richard Engel from NBC News.

GEN. LYNCH: Hi, Richard. How are you?

Q How are you?

Today there's another meeting of this parliament, and it's been about four months that they've been discussing the formation of this government. Obviously not from a political point of view but from a military point of view, how difficult is this perceived power vacuum for your forces and the Iraqi forces you're working with?

GEN. LYNCH: It's extremely difficult. The absence of an effective national unity government is creating the conditions for the insurgency to do what he wants to do. And Zarqawi, who has the most to lose if a national unity government is formed -- because remember, he's been told to establish an Islamic caliphate here in Iraq and stop the growth of democracy -- he is full stop to keep this unity government from forming. The quicker it forms, the quicker we see a reduction in violence. So the Iraqi government does indeed need to form as quickly as possible to reduce this violence.

Q If I could just -- I have a follow-up.

GEN. LYNCH: Sure.

Q Is Zarqawi still really the problem? We're hearing that Zarqawi and al Qaeda and traditional insurgent groups that we've been talking about for the last three years are really not the problem anymore. It's now militia violence, sectarian violence, revenge killings, tribal killings, just the daily bloodshed that we see all the time, a lot of the bodies that are just found in bends in the Tigris River. Is this Zarqawi or is this a different phase of the conflict?

GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, Zarqawi is indeed the primary threat, and he's the threat that we're focused on. And he is the one that's conducting these acts of violence to enflame sectarian violence.

What you just described is indeed happening, and it needs to stop happening. You have Shi'as killing Sunnis and Sunnis killing Shi'as. But it's because Zarqawi is conducting acts to enflame this violence. He blew up the Golden Mosque in Samarra, he conducted attacks in Sadr City, and we see routinely his fingerprint on acts of violence, and the second- and third-order effect is sectarian violence that he enflamed.

So our primary target is still Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq.

Other questions?

Please.

Q Nelson Hernandez with The Washington Post.

GEN. LYNCH: Hi, Nelson.

Q There was two days of sort of what seemed like open street battles in the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya this week. I was wondering, is it any more clearer, now that a few days have passed, what exactly happened there?

GEN. LYNCH: Yeah. I worry about comments like "open street battle." There are clearly acts of violence across Iraq. And on the 17th and 18th of April in the area that you identified there were indeed attacks. And what we know to be true, early in the morning that day, an Iraqi checkpoint was attacked by anti-Iraqi forces. Now, who did that, whether it was Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq or local insurgents, we're not sure. And as a result of that attack, gunfire ensued. The insurgents themselves displaced to mosques and local buildings, and there was indeed a period of time when attacks continued. And that period of time was about five hours. But when that five hours completed, there were five insurgents killed and two Iraqi army or Iraqi police members wounded.

So what I'm seeing is a representation that that was a five-hour Dodge-City kind of activity where continuous gunfire took place. And that's not what happened.

The next morning, again anti-Iraqi forces, and we're not sure, about 20 conducted an attack. And as a result of that attack, QRF was launched and the situation was stabilized with minimal casualties. So that attack took place, but at the level I just described.

Please.

Q To continue on that, I mean, if one talks to the residents in the neighborhood, they seemed to believe it was local men from the neighborhood who were defending themselves from an attack from Interior Ministry police. Is there any truth to that, as far as you can tell?

GEN. LYNCH: Nelson, we've heard the same thing, that potentially what we saw was locals protecting themselves from a perceived threat. But we don't know what happened yet, and we're continuing to investigate that. Please.

Q Oftentimes -- just following up on that question -- we hear from Iraqis that rogue elements in the security forces are conducting death-squad-like operations. Repeatedly the Interior Ministry has come out and said that that is not the case, that these are people wearing false uniforms. I know that people in uniform -- in American uniforms have talked a lot about cleaning up the police. Has anything really been done about this issue? And how much truth is it? What -- can we get an idea of the percentage of -- even if it's rough -- about how -- how much percentage of the Iraqi forces can be trusted, how much are rogue elements, how much is being done to contain them?

GEN. LYNCH: Thank you for that. Because we have this going on all the time -- allegations that members of the Iraqi security force, particularly members of the Ministry of Interior forces, are conducting these kinds of attacks, the death squad phenomenon, if you will. And each time we get an allegation, we do an investigation to confirm or deny that that indeed happened.

And in the period of time over the last six months, if you will, the only one that we can confirm was rogue elements of the Iraqi security force was the highway patrol incident, where members of the Iraqi highway patrol were trying to assassinate a Sunni.

And then, there was one other incident where there was allegation that a Public Order Brigade commander was indeed using his office to do wrong things. The highway patrol was investigated, and four of those people are still detained four months later by the Iraqis. And the Public Order Brigade commander was immediately removed. His replacement went in and looked at the situation and fired 60 people on his staff that he believed had ties to insurgency.

So the two things we can confirm, Richard, are the two that we've taken action against with the Iraqi security forces. We continue to hear these allegations that the militia has infiltrated the Ministry of Interior Forces, and we can't confirm that.

Q Just so I have it right, I mean, because we hear these incidents every single day.

GEN. LYNCH: Sure. All the time. Right.

Q And you're saying in the last -- how long would that be? Four months?

GEN. LYNCH: Yes. Over the last four months.

Q (In) four months, you can only confirm two incidents. So that seems like quite a vote of confidence in the Iraqi Interior Ministry forces, unlike previous statements we've heard from senior American officers who have been much more skeptical and also people in the -- on the political front who keep saying that there has to be new leadership of the Interior Ministry that isn't sectarian. But it sounds like you're giving them quite a ringing endorsement.

GEN. LYNCH: Well, let's don't exaggerate.

Q Well, that's why -- that's why I wanted to make sure.

GEN. LYNCH: The -- this is the year of the police from the perspective of the coalition. What we have to do, like we did in the Iraqi army last year, is we have to turn our focus on the Ministry of Interior forces and the Iraqi police, and to improve their capability, we have to work better equipment, we have to work better training, and we have to work better personnel in the force. So vetting and screening of applicants, pulling out people that might have ties to militias or loyalties other than to the government of Iraq have to be removed from the police. So we've got major focus this year just to do that.

What I did to your question is give you specifically ones we can confirm this happened, and it happened my MOI forces. Last week, I showed a weapons cache in which we found Iraqi police uniforms, and I'm sure there are insurgents out there in order to be able to get access to areas are donning uniforms of Iraqi security forces and conducting horrendous acts.

So just know we're going to focus on the police this year, like we did on the army last year, to improve their capabilities and equipment and in training and in the right people. And we'll continue to work that.

Q Hi. Louise Roug, LA Times.

GEN. LYNCH: Hi.

Q Hi. Just sort of in the same note, the Jadriya bunker investigation and the report -- is that something that's going to -- that you can help us, you know -- I mean, what's the upshot of the investigation, I guess.

GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, if you remember, right after the incident, the prime minister came up with a six-point plan. One point was a detailed investigation of the bunker complex, and that indeed happened. It was a joint Iraqi/coalition investigation. And it went back to the person who chartered the investigation, and that was the prime minister. So he has the results of that investigation.

The other thing that he said is let's inspect other detention facilities across Iraq, declared detention facilities. And that's been going on ever since that announcement.

Q And -- but surely you have a copy of that report. I'm wondering if it could be made public.

GEN. LYNCH: Yeah, I'd ask the Iraqi government for the report, because they're the owners of that report. That's who did -- that's who commissioned the report. And I know you didn't like that answer.

Other questions?

Okay. Thank you for your time.

END.



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