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Press Briefing, Dec. 17, 2006

Multi-National Force-Iraq

Monday, 25 December 2006


(Note: Unless otherwise noted, Mr. al-Dabbagh's remarks and questions from the media are made through an interpreter.)

MR. AL-DABBAGH: I'm fortunate. Today, the conference will be focused on your questions about the announcement we made on next Wednesday that Iraqi security forces will assume security in Najaf. According to guidelines set by the Iraqi security forces and the multinational forces, any governorate which can meet these standards can assume security. And this demonstrates that the Iraqi security forces have reached a very good standard that is capable of taking on all of these governorates. This joint committee will continue its work in other governorates to study these guidelines and the capabilities of the governorates to assume security. 2007 will witness assuming security in many governorates in the south and north Iraq. This is something very good for the Iraqis to assume security. I will leave General Caldwell talking about assuming security in Najaf. Thank you.

GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon. "Salaam aleikum."

Also, I think many of you heard last week that our president, President Bush, noted that the coalition and Iraqi security forces have killed or captured over 1,000 of anti-Iraqi forces in the last several months. And although the terrorists and extremists are still capable of inflicting great pain and suffering on the Iraqi people, it is clear that coalition forces have not lost and will not lose a battle here in Iraq in our support of the Iraqi people.

However, I think we all know we cannot win this peace alone. The only long-term solution for Iraq's problems will come from Iraqis. And the reconciliation conference yesterday is a clear example of an important step that your prime minister has taken forward.

The best way to achieve a secure, stable and self-governing Iraq is by accelerating the training of the Iraqi security forces and to transition more of the authority for Iraq's security to the government of Iraq and its provincial councils. Iraq's forces have a greater understanding of the culture, the language and the geography than the coalition forces do. Once they are sufficiently trained and equipped and mentored, the Iraqi security forces can fight these anti-Iraqi elements, that are trying to tear Iraq apart, much more effectively and efficiently than coalition forces can.

I'd like to also congratulate the Iraqi people on their soccer team's outstanding performance in the Asian Games. Overcoming great odds, the silver medal demonstrates what Iraqis are capable of doing when they unite and work together as one nation.

We have great respect for all Iraq's athletes that have participated in these games. They have had to overcome great amount of adversity in the pursuit of excellence. And they serve as an inspiration not only to Iraqis but to all of us as what can be done when people work together to build a better future and put aside their differences. And it was incredible to us to watch them as they progressed forward, and we rooted for them each and every day.

Thank you.

Q (In Arabic.)

MR. AL-DABBAGH: We believe that these operations are terrorist operations. And these operations are conducted against the Iraqi people where there are officials in the government. In the incident of Senekada (ph), Interior Ministry was a response about the sector, and the ministry has investigated this issue. I haven't enough information about this, but the security forces are following up this issue, and the Iraqi security forces will give us more information about this issue today. Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Mr. Ali, the Iraq government has sent a message to the Security Council on the 11th of November asking for their extension of the multinational force's mandate. This has been done without going back to the parliament. What is the constitutional grounds for the prime minister to ask for the extension of the mandate without consulting the Iraqi parliament?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: The extension of the multinational forces have been tackled by the political council, and the leaders of the political blocs are represented in this council. The prime minister took the permission of the political council, and the political council approved this issue. We are not talking about a new agreement; we are only talking about an extension of a Security Council resolution. And the Iraqi government can take a decision about -- (off mike).

INTERPRETER: Microphone, please.

Q Has the political council (derived ?) to overpass the parliament?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: No, the political council has no authorities to overpass the parliament. But the leaders of the political blocs are represented in the political council, and these leaders did not object to this extension. And the extension of the mandate does not need the approval of the Iraqi parliament. It's only extension of the mandate.

Q Hossam Winah (ph) from Al-Sawat al-Iraq (ph).

Dr. Ali, there are more than 3,000 pilgrims on the Iraqi border. They have been denied access to Saudi Arabia by the Sunni authorities. Did the Iraqi government take any procedures toward this issue?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: There isn't any ban on the Iraqi pilgrims, but there have been some long procedures. Yesterday in the evening, I learned that there are some pilgrims in Arar and there have been long procedures on their entering to Saudi Arabia, and we have been contacting these authorities to speed up the entering of these pilgrims because this border outlet cannot handle all this number of pilgrims. We have urged them to speed up the visas for these pilgrims.

The Interior Ministry is following this issue, and we hope to solve this issue without any annoyance to the Iraqi pilgrims.

Q From the Radio of the Republic of Iraq.

President Bush postponed the announcement of his policy in Iraq in the light of the Baker-Hamilton report. Despite many popular and official reactions in Iraq --

MR. AL-DABBAGH: I apologize for not answering this issue. I am the spokesman of the Iraqi government. You can ask General Caldwell about that.

Q President Bush postponed the announcing the new strategy in Iraq. What's the purpose behind this?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, first of all, I'd tell you that the Baker- Hamilton report is just one of many inputs that our president is receiving. And all it is is a recommendation to him, too. He's also getting input from our senior military people and from the senior people in the White House along with talking to a lot of other folks. He's also continuing to consult with your prime minister. Just this past Friday night, the president talked again with your prime minister by secure video teleconference for a good period of time Friday night. So, their dialogue continues between the two of them, too, as he continues to decide what the American forward way ahead will be here in Iraq.

And so, we look at this as a good thing that he's getting as much input as he can before he makes a decision or any type of announcement. And he will continue to consult with, obviously, your prime minister as he moves forward in this process before he makes any public announcement.

Q Salah Hanasawi (ph) from Radio Sawa.

General Caldwell, there have been some views in the United States which says that the political situation in Iraq might collapse in five months if the multinational forces cannot clear the country of the armed forces. My question is this: Does this mean that the multinational forces have taken the necessary measures to clear and clean Iraq of the armed forces after five months?

My next question, to Dr. Ali about assuming security in Najaf. We have also heard about the guidelines of assuming security. My question is, what about the weapons and arms? When a police station is attacked, we discover that there is only one rifle for 20 policemen. How will you tackle this? Because the Iraqi security forces are not trained well.

GEN. CALDWELL: First of all, just so you know, our president of the United States has stated many times we're committed to remain here and support the Iraqi people as long as your government wants us to remain here. He's been very clear and very emphatic on that. As he says, we started together, we're going to stay together, and we're going to finish together. So, as long as your prime minister and your government want us to be present, we'll be present here to continue to help.

We continue to work to build up the Iraqi security forces. They're going to be the key to the future of this country. They have become more capable and more proficient. Just in the last eight months that I've been here in your country, we have seen a very noticeable progress in them. There's an ongoing effort to put military teams -- U.S. military coalition teams -- inside your Iraqi units to provide assistance and advice. And they will work very closely with Iraqi forces. They'll live with them and remain with them so that as they become more independent and conduct independent operations, there's still people there to help with the assistance with your forces. And we would predict by the middle of next summer all the Iraqi security forces in this country will be under the control of the prime minister. Already some -- about 30 percent -- are, and that will just continue over the next six, seven months. More of them will be coming under his control so that he can directly and immediately influence security within this country.

We also continue to equip the Iraqi security forces with more, better and new equipment. There are some handouts that we have that show about 100 BMPs, little track vehicles, that just came in that went to the 9th Iraqi Army Division. And each month over the next seven months, there's more equipment coming in. There will be more helicopters, more armored personnel carriers, more up-armored humvees, or humvees that have all the additional security plating on them. More of those are coming in. I have some numbers if you'd want me to share those with you, but it's quite a bit. We have -- there's 600 more up-armored humvees coming in. There's 300 more armored personnel carriers coming in. There's more helicopters coming in, and that's in addition to the helicopters that you already have. You already have 10 Mi-17 helicopters, and you're going to get more of these super Huey helicopters coming in.

So, there is more new equipment still coming in over the next six to eight months for the Iraqi army as it becomes more independent so that it's more capable to conduct operations.

MR. AL-DABBAGH: According to the Security Council resolution and according to the security operations and the defense of Iraq, Iraq is assuming these files and assuming responsibility from the multinational forces. One of the problems facing the Iraqi police is that they need more organization and armament, and this is a big issue and a problem, the shortage of weapons. And also we have a problem in the quantity of these weapons. The Iraqi security forces have medium- range weapons, and some terrorists have more sophisticated weapons than the Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi government is trying to tackle this problem by speeding up the training of the Iraqi security forces to enable them to face the terrorist groups. As for the governorates who don't have these modern equipments, the security will be delayed -- assuming security will be delayed in these governorates. The Iraqi government does not want to hand security to some security forces that are not capable of protecting these areas.

Q My question to Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh about the reconciliation conference. During the last month, there have been some reports about contacts held with 28 armed groups. Are you still continuing the dialogue with these armed groups? Some political blocs wanted reconciliation, and they didn't take part in the reconciliation conference.

My question to Dr. (sic) Caldwell. I think that -- about the armament, I think that the armored vehicles are not good armored vehicles. Even the rifles of the Iraqi army, we want to change these rifles because there is a psychological barrier between the Iraqi people and these rifles because these rifles were used by the former Iraqi army.

MR. AL-DABBAGH: As for these armed groups, these armed groups are not identified, and to talk about 28 armed groups is only a media report. There have been some contacts between the government and some armed groups. But any group which wants to enter into dialogue, we welcome such groups, except the groups which are banned. You know them. These are well-known groups.

No bloc has withdrawn from the reconciliation conference because they didn't attend the conference. The conference is continuing its meetings today. This is the first conference of the political movements, and there will be more conferences which will include the groups and individuals who didn't have the opportunity to take part in reconciliation. And we are going to enlarge the circle of reconciliation. We are not going to exclude anyone from this reconciliation. We will only exclude those who chose violence and crimes. This country is open for everybody, and Iraq does not belong to any particular group or particular party. It belongs to all the Iraqis, and this is our fixed principle.

GEN. CALDWELL: I would also say, if I may, behind Dr. al- Dabbagh, about the reconciliation conference, we very much applaud the prime minister and your government by being so open and willing to bring so many diverse groups together to try to solve Iraqi problems. It was very encouraging to us to see this kind of outreach by Iraqis to all Iraqis to form a unified conference where they could come and discuss their differences. So, that was actually very encouraging to us to watch that yesterday and see it go on today and to hear of the four new subcommittees being formed that will also continue to have dialogue, even after this weekend.

As far as the equipment goes, the decisions on the weapons I'd have to go back and check on. I know there's a lot of -- there was initially some older weapons, but I know they've been replaced by a lot of newer weapons at this point. And as far as the armored vehicles go, the armored humvees that are coming in are the latest kind that are built right now. And they're the same ones that our soldiers are also operating in, along with -- there are some other vehicles that your government has bought called Cougars, and they carry quite a few people inside, and they're very heavily up-armored, too. So, there is some excellent armored equipment that your country has being delivered to it already and a lot more coming in the next six to eight months, which is the exact same kind, some even a little better, than what our soldiers are currently using.

Q Ayadam Ahmed (ph) from Al Hurriyah.

My question, Dr. Ali, someone says that the reconciliation conference have been formed according to the American pressures because the Americans want the Iraqi government to contain the problems.

My question is to Caldwell. Do you think that this conference will put an end to the violence?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Much is said about Iraq, but the most important thing is what the Iraqis want, what the Iraqis agree upon. This is the most important thing, and this will get Iraq out of this crisis. The question is, what is the suitable thing for the Iraqis? And these conferences are held to discuss this question. What do we want for this country?

As for the plan of national reconciliation, it has been launched since the beginning of the Iraqi government. And everybody has agreed that this is a positive step, and this step should be supported by national unity.

And to talk about American pressures, we don't want to talk about that because these are premeditated accusations. And we, as Iraqis, we decide for ourselves. This is not only the responsibility of the government of Iraq; this is the responsibility of all the Iraqi people. They should decide for themselves how they want to build their country.

GEN. CALDWELL: Dr. al-Dabbagh said it better than I possibly could. But your prime minister, back in June, said he was going to do this conference at some point. This was a decision he made many months ago. It had nothing to do with us at all. And we're just very encouraged to see him continuing to work very diligently at trying to bring the country back together. Because Dr. al-Dabbagh's right, we in America will win when the Iraqis win. When your country is back together and unified, then we will have been successful. That's what success is for us, and nothing else. So, we win when you win.

Q Dr. Ali, you said that there are some governorates in the south of Iraq which will assume security soon. Do you consider this as a gradual withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq? My question to Caldwell. Assuming security from Najaf on next Thursday, would this mean that you will withdraw from this governorate?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: The multinational forces will withdraw when there is no need for them. If the Security Council decides that there is no need for the presence of the multinational forces when the Iraqi security forces become more capable and more efficient so that it can protect the Iraqi people and protect Iraq from the terrorist groups, at that time, we are going to ask the multinational forces to depart from Iraq. This is something related to sovereignty.

And to your next question, to General Caldwell.

Q My question to General Caldwell. You said that on next Thursday Najaf will assume security?

GEN. CALDWELL: Yes. That is correct, yes.

Q When this happens, does this mean the multinational forces will withdraw from Najaf? Or will there be any troops which will stay with the Iraqi forces?

GEN. CALDWELL: The way that your government has set it up is we will no longer conduct any really visible presence or active patrols. We move back into our operating bases, and we are available to provide assistance if the prime minister asks us. If something happens in the Najaf Province and the governor needs help, he goes to his local police. If that's not sufficient, he'll go to the national police. If that's not sufficient, he goes to the Iraqi army. And if he needs even more help, then he will go to the prime minister and ask for coalition forces to help. But otherwise, we will not conduct routine operations in the Najaf Province. The only time you would see coalition forces doing an operation, if it was against an al Qaeda target that everybody has discussed, and we're going in to go and hit the target and come right back out.

Q Ali Haider (ph) from al-Massa (ph).

What's the opinion of the government of the reconciliation conference? The Iraqi people want many answers for its questions, but we didn't find any answer to these questions at all. What's your opinion about the statement made by Adnan al-Dulaimi?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: The reconciliation conference held before this conference were included in this procedure. We have some goals and we have some tactics. The tactics were the tribal leaders, the clergymen, and this has been culminated by a conference of the political movements to study these recommendations by these conferences. This conference, which was held yesterday and is continuing today, is a very important conference. It is the first conference of the political blocs, and there will be more conferences. The resume is that these conferences will be turned into plans for reconciliation. The government will depend on these conferences to refer responsibility on some people. We want to clarify everything. What do the Iraqis want? And this question can be translated into laws and can be submitted to the parliament for legislations.
We made a statement on Thursday. I think that such statements provoke violence and contribute to the killing of Iraqis without any exception. These conferences, which claim they defend some people or certain movements, are affected. I think that these statements provoke violence and terrorism, and also provoke sectarian violence. The politicians should understand that this is not the suitable way to tackle the situation in Iraq. Iraq is going through a very critical phase, and all the Iraqis think that such conferences are held against the will of the Iraqi people. This is a wrong message against Iraqi people.

Q My question to General Caldwell and Dr. al-Dabbagh, what's the opinion of the government and the American military leadership about the joint operations carried out by the multinational forces and the Iraqi forces, which target some wanted people, but these military operations claim the lives of many innocent people? How are you going to tackle this problem in the future?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: As for the Iraqi government, we regret any such incidents. When a terrorist group hides in any area, the government does not feel happy about anybody killed or injured because of some of these outlawed groups. I call on the Iraqi people not to provide any safe haven for these people, because this will endanger the lives of all Iraqis. Any house which provides a safe haven for these terrorists will endanger the lives of others, and we regret any such incidents.

GEN. CALDWELL: What I would tell you is that, as Dr. al-Dabbagh said, any time there's the loss of an innocent life, we find that terribly sad, and we express our condolences to those families. What I would say is that every operation we conduct, we do just as surgical as possible with as minimal amount of force as possible so as to not endanger the lives of any innocent civilians. Unfortunately, a lot of the terrorists surround themselves and put themselves in the middle of innocent civilians. And so, they in fact are putting the people at harm here by their very actions. And I am like Dr. al-Dabbagh and would ask that people report when there's terrorists out there so that we can go and deal with them. And that they don't allow themselves to be put in harm's way by these people, these terrorists, these anti- Iraqi forces that want to just seek and destroy this country instead of pulling it together and unifying this country. But every operation we conduct, we do very carefully. We always take into consideration where it is and if there's any innocent civilians in the area. And we use what we call a proportional amount of force to ensure we minimize any kind of damage to property and, most importantly, to people. Q Dr. Ali, we hear that the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Human Rights are working to release some of the detainees who have been held for more than one year. Can you please give us more information?

My question to General Caldwell. The air raid carried out against al-Sadr City yesterday, did the multinational forces could have avoid this by another plan?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: There is a decision taken by the Iraq government to review the files of all those held in prisons, and this legal responsibility has been referred to the Ministry of Justice. And all the detention facilities of the Interior Ministry should be handled to the Ministry of Justice according to the principles of human rights, and those who are proved innocent should be freed and released. And you know that we have a great number of defendants, and we have to review their cases to make sure whether they need to be kept in these prisons or released.

Q Could you please give us the number of those who will be released?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Nobody can give you this number because this depends on the results of investigations, but I assure you that these cases are being studied by objective people to decide for legal action.

GEN. CALDWELL: On the raid that was conducted in Sadr City, it went after three individuals who had been responsible for assassinations, kidnappings and murders. These were three murderers. They were living there in that building in Sadr City. We had very good evidence -- military and civilian intelligence -- provided that showed us exactly where they were. And that operation was conducted by Iraqi security forces, not coalition forces. They had coalition force advisers, but the Iraqi special forces went in and very heroically and very deliberately conducted that operation with minimal damage. These three murderers they were after not only had been murdering Sunnis, they had been murdering Shi'a, too, that lived in that vicinity that did not want them there anymore. And I think that was part of the way we got the information that they were there. And so, they went in and in fact did detain them, along with three other people, and brought them out. And now, they will face the criminal justice system of Iraq.

On their way out, they did take heavy fire, and they requested some support from aircraft to help them get out safely, which was used very proportionally. And then they left and came back to their base camp.

Q "Shukran jazilan."

MR. AL-DABBAGH: "Shukran." END.

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