UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Military

Press Briefing, March 14, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq


Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Operational Update with MNF-I Spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV and Daniel Speckhard, Charge d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Baghdad, March 14, 2007.

COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER BRIEFING WITH MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM B. CALDWELL IV, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ; DANIEL SPECKHARD, CHARGE D'AFFAIRES, U.S. EMBASSY BAGHDAD TOPIC: OPERATIONAL UPDATE LOCATION: THE COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ DATE: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14, 2007

GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon. (Inaudible.) It's my privilege to be here with you today and to bring my good teammate with me.

As you all know, the Multinational Force is in a new phase of operations. We're working with the Iraqi people to secure progress and provide hope.

As General Petraeus shared with you last week, achieving these goals requires both patience and determination. We have seen tangible progress, but this is the work that will not be accomplished in days or weeks but will require a sustained effort over the course of many months.

We are seeing positive signs in the streets, signs that life is improving for the people of Iraq. We know that there has been a decrease in violence, but things still need to get better. We still need to be patient. The additional coalition forces required to fully implement Operation Fard al-Qanun are still being deployed, will not be in place for several months.

Two of the five additional American brigades that we have committed to this effort are currently in place and conducting daily operations here within the city of Baghdad. The flow and movement of the Third Brigade is moving into Kuwait as we speak, and troops are continuing to arrive every day.

Each day, Iraqi troops demonstrate their commitment to become a more effective force. The Iraqi people are being served by a more professional and reliable army. There are concrete examples of this commitment and their resolve.

On Saturday, a terrorist attempted to commit mass murder with a car bomb in the Sadr City area of Baghdad. His attack was foiled by an Iraqi checkpoint. Seven Iraqi soldiers sacrificed their lives to prevent him from getting through that checkpoint to attack innocent civilians. We honor their bravery and we send our condolences to their families.

On Monday we saw another example of how Iraqi forces are protecting their people, this time in Ramadi. Again, a murderer tried to take another car bomb through a checkpoint, again trying to spark that cycle of violence by creating another high-profile massacre. Iraqi security forces did not let him succeed. They stopped him at the gate with small arms fire, causing him to prematurely detonate his car bomb. Three Iraqi soldiers and eight civilians, including two children, were wounded. But their commitment prevented a greater tragedy.

For decades, the Iraqi army was used to divide and oppress the Iraqi people. Now the Iraqi people are being protected by an army that is demonstrating great resolve and is starting to prove its loyalty to all. We know that people are seeing this growth and gaining new confidence.

The decrease in violence has created an opportunity for political progress. Yesterday Prime Minister Maliki took a historic step, reaching out in one of the most challenging areas of his nation. This is an important beginning. But as the prime minister stated, there is still much to be done. And I quote him when he said, "We still need to make other breakthroughs in other areas, including paying compensation to the governance citizens, restoring certain facilities, factories and firms that can provide unemployed local citizens with job opportunities," unquote.

We are working with the Iraqi forces to create an environment that will secure progress and provide hope. General Petraeus says the way forward will take more than military success. We can and we will win every battle, but we cannot win the peace alone. In the end, Iraq needs political and economic solutions. The Multinational Force is committed to creating the security that is necessary for this progress. The United States embassy is equally committed to supporting the Iraqi government's efforts to build a secure, stable and self-governing nation.

Ambassador Dan Speckhard is here with us today. Dan is our charge d'affaires for the American embassy here in Baghdad.

And with that, Dan, we're honored to have you, and I'll turn it over to you.

MR. SPECKHARD: Well, thanks, General Caldwell. As-salaam aleikum. Good afternoon, everyone.

The last 30 days have seen important developments in the history of Iraq. The government has taken vital steps in economic development, governance and ensuring the security of the Iraqi people.

At the end of February, the Council of Ministers approved a new hydrocarbon law which outlined the equitable sharing of the revenues from production and export of oil and gas. Not only does this lay the groundwork for the future prosperity of all Iraqis, but it is notable that in the midst of the continuing violence, Iraqi leaders across sectarian and ethnic lines continue to come together in support of a unified, democratic and inclusive Iraq and the development of its resources and the sharing of its wealth.

Last month the government of Iraq passed a comprehensive new budget that resulted in earmarking $7 billion for security-related expenses and committing a record $10 billion to vital infrastructure and reconstruction projects. Passing budgets is politically challenging even in developed democracies, so it's all the more notable for a unity government less than a year old to pass such legislation.

The Iraqi government also marked its growing maturation when it hosted a Neighbors' Conference here in Baghdad just days ago. This is the first international conference in Baghdad since 1990. The conference ended with regional and international partners endorsing a pledge to fight terrorism and enhance security in support of the goal of peace and stability for the people of Iraq.

This was an important first step for the government of Iraq in building cooperation from all its neighbors and stemming the violence, supporting reconciliation and addressing economic concerns.

In my nearly two years here, I sense for the first time a renewed sense of hope among Iraqis, whether in Baghdad, where we see increasing confidence in the Baghdad security plan, or in Anbar, where tribal sheikhs are banding together to join Iraqi government forces to fight al Qaeda, or in Karbala, where we have seen a record number of religious pilgrims experiencing the freedom of democracy. Of course, there are still many reasons to be concerned. Violence continues, and extremists have only been more frantic in trying to disrupt progress. There's no magic bullet that will solve all of Iraq's problems. It will take time. These challenges will require Iraqi solutions. And from what we have seen in the last month, the government of Iraq is honestly facing these challenges.

Thank you. I think General Caldwell and I will now take your questions.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Inaudible.)

Mr. Ambassador, what is the result of the negotiations between the American ambassador and the Iranian delegation?

My question to General Caldwell: What are the results of -- (inaudible) -- in Baghdad operation, and how do you assess the performance of the Iraqi security forces during the carrying out of this plan?

MR. SPECKHARD: Well, the results of that discussion was shown in the conference itself and the producing of a statement where all the participants pledged to support security and stability in Iraq. And that was the result of the discussions around the table with all the neighbors and the United States.

GEN. CALDWELL: Ali, what I would tell you from the initial month here in the Operation Fard al-Qanun -- again, I continue to stress the patience that's required, because all the forces are not here and will not be until the end of May. But the initial indications from the forces that are here and the ongoing activities that are occurring within Baghdad clearly demonstrate that there has been a reduction in the overall levels of murders and executions.

We have seen marketplaces that had previously been closed. Some have opened up and, in fact, are becoming more -- we're seeing a lot more activity each day of the week in them. We're seeing some positive indicators of what can be within the city of Baghdad. And we're looking forward to this continuing.

I know my good friend, General (Qassim ?), talked a couple of hours ago about the difference between January 13th and February 13th and February 13th and March 14th. He compared those two months. And by the indicators that the government of Iraq has, it's been extremely positive. But I would again caution everybody about patience, about diligence. This is going to take many months, not weeks. But the indicators are all very positive right now. Q Alexandra Zavos (sp) from the LA Times.

Ambassador, what was the problem of reading on a date and venue for the next conference? Wasn't this the whole point of this particular meeting, to plan the next one? And on the security side, like you, we've noted some declines or slight declines in some of the execution-style killings and so on.

But in the past few days it seems that those numbers might be starting to creep up a little bit. In the past 24 hours there have been a couple of attacks on Sunni mosques in particular, which would seem to point to at least some frustration perhaps within the Shi'a community to persist in attacks. Is this a source of concern? What do you think is going on?

MR. SPECKHARD: On the conference, I think it's not unusual for international conferences, as you know, to have multiple countries vying for the honor of hosting subsequent conferences. So what you saw in this particular one is that Iraq is very interested that the next conference at the ministerial take place in Iraq, while Egypt has offered to host the Neighbors' Conference and Turkey has offered to host Neighbors with an expanded format conference as well.

So that was the discussion around the table as to whether or not we could decide there. It was basically decided that this is the decision that needs to be referred back to the ministers.

GEN. CALDWELL: As far as the numbers go, these past seven days did see a slight increase in the number of murders and executions from the week before that. But we're very careful, as we continue monitoring this, to understand that it's going to take some time to see a real trend.

As we've gone back and done the analysis between the two previous Baghdad security plans, this past week is when normally the levels of murders and executions have gone right back to their previous levels, when we've done that analysis over a number of weeks. And so we've been very encouraged by the fact that, although there was a very slight uptick, it was not of any great significance as compared to what we have previously seen.

We're also very encouraged by the fact that there's ongoing cooperation and dialogue occurring as we've established that joint security station within Sadr City. Operations are continuing there. As we speak, that kind of dialogue had not occurred previously as the coalition and Iraqi security forces continue to operate throughout all of Baghdad.

We are concerned about any levels of violence that would seem to indicate it's back on the rise versus decreasing. And we're going to continue to focus on it. And again, as these additional forces still flow into the city, there are plans to take and employ them both within Baghdad and the belts around Baghdad. We know that's where some of the violence originates from and then works their way into the city. So we are watching it very carefully. But again, we urge everybody just real patience in the plan until we fully get all the forces in place that truly can make a real difference there.

Q Kim Gamel, Associated Press.

General Caldwell, you said that we need -- you're urging patience, and you said this is going to be a matter of months and not weeks. Can you give us a more specific idea of the time frame in which you expect to see progress?

GEN. CALDWELL: Kim, we've obviously seen little positive indicators at the moment already. As General Petraeus has said, once all the forces are in place, he, in fact, expects to start seeing a more significant difference in the levels of violence and activities that occur within the city of Baghdad and the surrounding area.

By the fall time frame, we would anticipate that we, in fact, will be able to see a discernible difference between today what you see in Baghdad and in the fall time frame what you would see. And it won't just be because of the additional coalition forces. It will also be because of the professionalization that's going to be continuing, both within the Iraqi security forces, the police and the army as we move to more transition teams, both larger numbers of them and in greater quantity in each of the teams to be embedded and to assist and advise the Iraqi forces.

So it's going to be a combination of factors, not the least of which is obviously going to be the political spectrum. And, you know, the prime minister has taken some very positive steps already. We're very encouraged by that, what we've seen. And in the economic aspect of this plan, it should have also then had the opportunity to have taken hold and start making a difference.

Q I'm sorry; a follow-up to the ambassador -- the same question for the political progress, if you could give us an idea of the specific time frame. Some have expressed concern that the U.S. is expecting to see concrete progress by June 30th when the Parliament recesses, for example.

MR. SPECKHARD: I think it's important to note here, because I've seen all the speculation in the press, that the time frame is really being set by the government of Iraq. And what we have been doing is encouraging them to stay on course with their own time frame and benchmarks.

So what we're looking at and what we'd like to see them follow through on is their commitment on de-Ba'athification, on the hydrocarbon legislation, on the militia mobilization issue, and following through on some of the legislation related to fuel liberalization and so forth, because these are important things for our security effort in combination with the Iraqis. And it's important that they make progress in these areas to see the Baghdad security plan succeed.

So that's why you see a lot of emphasis on these things. But it's really following through on their own commitments that we're talking about. It's not something that's being set by the U.S. government.

Q (Through interpreter.) To Ambassador Speckhard -- (inaudible).

Mr. Dan, the conference made a decision to take care of the Iraqi refugees in the neighboring countries. These refugees are also from other countries.

You, as the United States, what did you do to solve this problem?

My question to Caldwell: There has been some violence -- (inaudible) -- areas. How do you explain this surge of violence in both areas?

MR. SPECKHARD: With respect to your question on refugees, what the conference did is basically draw attention to the importance of that issue. And it was recognized by really all the participants around the table as being simply where more attention needed to be focused, given the numbers of refugees, particularly in the neighboring countries, as well as some of the displaced -- issues of displaced persons inside of Iraq.

So what was agreed is that this is something they could solve at the table but that the government from Iraq would set up a working group where they would come up with constructive proposals, concrete proposals, for how to deal with improving the situation of refugees in neighboring countries, the government of Iraq taking responsibility for some of that.

And the international community was recognized as having a role to play in that issue as well. So these are challenging issues that are going to take a lot of work and a fair amount of study to be able to come up with constructive solutions. Over time our hope obviously is that the situation improves in Iraq in a way that will allow many of these refugees to return home.

Q (Through interpreter.)

MR. SPECKHARD: I need interpretation.

Q (Through interpreter.) You, as the U.S. embassy and American embassy, will you receive 7,000 refugees, or is it only mere words and promises?

MR. SPECKHARD: Well, I think you've probably seen reports already that the Department of State is looking at this issue and is expecting to come up with a proposal that would increase from the past significantly our refugee intake.

GEN. CALDWELL: With respect to your question about the level of violence within Baghdad itself, we share the exact same concern, watching that very closely. But obviously each week that goes by, this is closely tracked. We're very encouraged by the amount of Iraqi citizens that are coming forth and providing information, tips.

The levels in February were the highest that we've ever seen, you know, with about 10,000 tips nationwide coming in on the national tip lines, providing the ability to go out and take actionable -- conduct military operations, you know, in response to some of these tips.

We're also seeing the people become much more involved in the neighborhood advisory councils now that there's, in fact, been the 10 districts within Baghdad with forces now operating full-time in each of these 10 districts and remaining there through these joint security stations.

You know, we've got about 24 up and operational now. We're going to almost triple that number by the time all the forces are in place, (and each one ?) being manned by Iraqi security forces, police and army, and coalition forces, working together as one team in the neighborhood with the people to reduce the levels of violence.

So all those stations are not in place yet. But again, there are some very encouraging signs as we continue to watch the interaction of the people with these forces that are down in their neighborhoods, knowing that the intent is to maintain a presence there but not just conduct military operations and then leave and move on to another part of the city.

Q Good afternoon. (Inaudible) -- from the Italian press -- (inaudible).

Ambassador Speckhard, I think this is the first time you have a briefing by an American diplomat after the conference in Baghdad, since the conference last Friday -- Saturday.

Let me ask you, what is your evaluation? Many of us wrote it was a kind of timid beginning on a new level of contact between Washington and Tehran -- (inaudible) -- Iraqi dimension. Would you share this impression, this point of view?

And secondly, when is going to be -- is it true it's going to be mid-April, Istanbul? That's what many of us wrote.

And to General Caldwell, if possible, can you tell us, where is Muqtada al-Sadr? One month ago you told many of us -- many of you told us that you thought that he was in Tehran. In the last two or three days the Iraqi press said he was seen in Karbala. Do we know where is he? Thank you.

MR. SPECKHARD: On the conference, actually Ambassador Khalilzad did a press briefing right after the conference, but we haven't had a chance to do a background briefing or a press briefing since then. I guess I wouldn't agree with your characterization. I think it was actually a very significant beginning and was not at all timid in terms of it being the first time that those countries sat around the table; the fact that they did that here in Baghdad, the fact that they all came and that they were represented at fairly senior levels, on the sub-cabinet levels, that it was actually a fairly strong start to that initiative by the Iraqi government.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. SPECKHARD: In terms of the dates, they have not agreed yet on a date or a venue. And that's what's going to be discussed amongst the ministers through discussions via the telephone.

GEN. CALDWELL: As far as Sadr goes, as of 24 hours ago he was not here in Iraq. And all indications are that he is still in Iran.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Inaudible.)

My question to Ambassador Speckhard. You, the Americans, are really important player in bringing the conference of Baghdad (success ?). And in addition to the neighboring countries, the neighboring countries depend on the American role in bringing this conference to success.

The committees formed during the conference. Are you members in these committees? And the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr -- my question to Ambassador Dan, does the American administration follow up or track down al-Sadr? What is the attitude of the American administration towards the issue of Muqtada al-Sadr, whether he is in Iraq or outside Iraq?

MR. SPECKHARD: On the question of the conference and the working groups, I think it was understood at the conference that the working groups -- the core membership of the working groups would be the neighbors, since it's a Neighbors' Conference, but that on individual issues related to those are particular working groups.

The core members may want to have additional membership or participation -- I should put it that way, not membership but participation -- by those who bring additional expertise or an important role to the table. So on the case of security, you may want the coalition to be represented on that particular one.

On the case of refugees, you would probably want the U.N. organization that deals with refugees involved in that or some other major donors, because to solve some of these problems, it's recognized that the neighbors by themselves perhaps can't bring to the table all the necessary instruments to be successful.

So it was basically understood that the Iraqis are in the lead on that. It would be the Iraqi government calling for the next steps for those working groups in putting those together. Oh, and on your second question, where we stand on that is we have always said that we are open to all those reconcilable elements within the political process that want to be part of a democratic Iraq and are participating constructively in stemming the violence and recognizing the government as the only legitimate sole power for the use of force in this country and supporting a stable Iraq. So that's sort of where we stand on that issue.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. SPECKHARD: I'm sorry --

Q (Through interpreter.) The question was, what is the United States diplomacy concerning Muqtada al-Sadr? What the American embassy, not the American military, what about Muqtada al-Sadr? Because the Iraqi government is saying that Muqtada al-Sadr is not wanted. So what is the American diplomacy says about it?

MR. SPECKHARD: Well, what we are looking on the diplomatic side is to make sure that the Iraqis are in the lead on their own political discussions and negotiations that build the political blocs, the parties, the constructive coalitions that allow Iraq to solve its own problems.

And so the important thing on this issue is, are individual leaders on the side of nonviolent, democratic participatory solutions that allow inclusivity in Iraq, that cuts across sectarian lines and ethnic lines. And if they are, they should be part of that process. If they're not, obviously Iraq as a government and the security forces that deal with them have to be concerned about any who propose, support or are involved in violent activities.

In the case of Muqtada al-Sadr, I think people know in the past we've been very concerned about the Jaish al-Mahdi. I think we've been pleased with some of the statements we've heard in recent months about the desire for that organization to no longer be a militia and the leadership to say that they have called for constructive engagement and an end to military or militant roles for those organizations.

The proof is in the pudding and in actions, and I think now is the time for the government of Iraq to be watching closely how militias and organizations in the political leadership and that support those act. And our role is a supportive one where the military is involved in assisting Iraqi security forces in providing security.

And so I think, from our perspective, that's how we're approaching this problem, watching the activities on the ground, seeing what those are resulting in, and seeing if the political statements are being followed up by actions.

Q Claudia Parsons from Reuters.

I had a similar question for General Caldwell about Sadr and why exactly you're tracking his whereabouts closely unless you're actually looking for him. And why does it matter if he's in Iran or here?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, obviously he's a very significant part of this entire political process here within the government of Iraq. We are, in fact, tracking his whereabouts. We do stay concerned. But again, as the ambassador said, we're very encouraged by what we're seeing on the ground right now in Sadr City. There is a tremendous amount of cooperation and dialogue ongoing. It's proven to be very beneficial to both sides. It's allowed us to talk with the mayor there and establish projects that the people there from Sadr City want to see have implemented and executed.

We're taking those. Those are being worked through the process, both with the U.S. process and the one we work jointly with our Iraqi counterparts, everything from playgrounds to some other activities that he has stated that he would like to see developed there within Sadr City. And the funding is being made available to start some of those immediately, per his request.

So there is the ongoing dialogue, and that's very, very important and one we're encouraged with and would like to see continue. I mean, obviously we've had to conduct deliberate operations against some of the Jaish al-Mahdi. There's probably close to 700 that we've put in detention in the last six months through focused military operations of those that we found mostly associated with activities, illegal activities, some including death squad activities; you know, the real extremist elements of it. And so we will target those if we find those type people. But right now there's a good cooperation ongoing.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Inaudible.)

According to the statistics provided by the government, according to your statements, the security plan is going well. Why do we hear that the American administration is putting an alternative plan? If this plan is successful, why do you plan for alternative plans?

GEN. CALDWELL: What I'll tell you, back in Washington people always plan for everything. But here in Iraq, the Multinational Force has one focus. That focus is on achieving the objectives that were set forth by the prime minister and the Operation Fard al-Qanun. That's our number one effort. That's all where we're putting our energy. And we are not looking at any alternatives.

So what they do in Washington, they can do in Washington. What we're doing here is following through and very vigorously, in close cooperation with the U.S. mission here, working to make the Operation Fard al-Qanun able to achieve the objectives that it was set out to accomplish.

MR. SPECKHARD: And I would just like to add, you shouldn't read in anything to that Washington planning if it is taking place. I'm not even aware of it.

GEN. CALDWELL: I'm not either.

MR. SPECKHARD: But it's normal, prudent planning by any Defense Department in any nation to do contingency planning. But this is not something that, as General Caldwell said, has any particular impact or import on what we're doing out here.

Q General Caldwell, Rob Northern (sp) from Newsweek.

Are there -- one specific question. There have been a lot of operations recently in the last few days in Dora Farms area, and I wonder if you could tell us what's happening there. We haven't really seen much information come out.

And then, just more broadly, are there any plans for a commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the invasion, which is in not too many days?

GEN. CALDWELL: Rob, I'll tell you, a lot of the ongoing operations right now are very much focused towards looking for a vehicle -- (inaudible) -- provides explosive device factories or car bomb factories; a tremendous amount of effort being put forth to locate the source of those things so that we can stop them before they even had a chance to get into Baghdad.

The Iraqi people have demonstrated incredible restraint right now in the face of these sensational high-profile car bombs that have continued to go off in the Baghdad area. Though they've been down a little in the last two weeks, you know, we reached an all-time high there in February. And so we are concerned and are putting a lot of effort to go after the source of those car bombs that we think are being developed. And we've had some success in finding some and taking them out so far. We'll continue that focused effort.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: A portion there, yes.

Q (Inaudible) -- from the --

GEN. CALDWELL: I'm sorry.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: I mean, there's nothing special that -- I mean, we obviously have a focus right now on supporting Operation Fard al- Qanun and making that successful. We have an ongoing effort up in Diyala, where we're moving some additional forces as we speak up there to provide some additional support with the increased level of violence that we've noted up there, and then, of course, just the regular ongoing operations across the country with our Iraqi counterparts.

Q Damian Kay (sp) from The New York Times.

I just wanted to see if you could go into a little bit more detail about the projects that are moving forward in Sadr City. The mayor at one point suggested building an amusement park like Luna Park. I wanted to see if you were specifically funding that.

And the second part of the question is, the Iraqi side has given us numbers for the number of people detained over the course of this operation, and the numbers are very high. And I wanted to get an idea of what kind of oversight the American military has over detainees detained by Iraqi forces.

GEN. CALDWELL: You know, Damian, I'll have to come back to this; 12 specific projects that we've sat down at our joint reconstruction operations center and have sat and talked with the mayor from Sadr City about. We have briefed him on those. I say briefed him; he came in with the request and we've had the ongoing dialogue with respect to them. And I know they're moving forward to implement and make those 12 that he requested happen. And I'll get back to you with the specifics on those.

MR. SPECKHARD: Can I highlight on that, General Caldwell, that we do have a lot of work going on. I think there are 16 just individual. Some of these have been ongoing before these 12, but sewage projects to try to improve the sewage system. And really, if anybody's been to Sadr City two or three years ago and then today, you'll see a noticeable difference in terms of water building up on the streets and so forth. So there has been progress in that area.

Electricity is another priority, and I can say that we've just completed a distribution project in Sadr City that connects and provides a network for 120,000 homes. Obviously that's just a fraction of what's there. But it is constructive, real on-the-ground results that are happening inside Sadr City, as well as in other parts of the city when you take some of these individual projects.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: I'd have to get back to you. We obviously -- the Iraqi security forces, if they pick up and detain people, they're held at their detention system and their processing. It's not something that we -- we're aware of it, but it's not -- you know, we don't -- they provide their own command and control, their own oversight, with respect to that.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Inaudible.)

My question to General Caldwell. A few days ago the American forces raided a number of houses of Iraqi lawmakers. This came simultaneously with reports that there is a list of people wanted of Iraqi officials. Is it an Iraqi list or an American list?

My question to the Ambassador Speckhard: We can say that Baghdad international conference was an ice-breaker. How are you going to enlarge this process in Iraq?

MR. SPECKHARD: On the conference issue, I agree with you. This was an important ice-breaking in the process of a new format to deal with Iraq security issues, building the neighbors and the key members of the international community together.

In terms of the follow-up, I think we are very interested in seeing expeditiously a follow-on conference at the ministerial level that actually can take forth some of the ideas hopefully that will be coming out of these working groups on practical areas of trying to build constructive results on the ground here in Iraq.

So I think what we will be watching is if everybody comes together constructively and actually follows through on some of these issues, we think it'll be important for Iraq. But the challenge is making sure those follow-up steps are taking place by the neighbors.

GEN. CALDWELL: As far as lists, obviously there are lists that are done in coordination with the government of Iraq, going after what we call significant personnel that are operating outside of the law. But it's an open list that's maintained between us and the government of Iraq. It's a (known ?) list.

It's like the most-wanted list that you would find in any country that identifies those who are not conforming to the rules and the laws as put forth by the government of Iraq. So there is a list out there that we do consult with and talk about. Basically you can call it the most-wanted list of people that they have.

And then, as far as the raids, I'd have to get some more specifics from you. I can tell you, no particular individual is being targeted nor particular group is being targeted in any of these ongoing operations that are occurring within the city. Each one is done when there is, in fact, intelligence that's made available that says that somebody is operating outside of the law. And then at that point military operations are being conducted.

And again, the whole purpose of what we're doing inside the city is to protect the people. It's all about providing greater security for the people of Baghdad, the Iraqi citizens. And so those who are not conforming to the law are subject to military operations being conducted against them, whoever that may be.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Inaudible) -- of this list and how many people are included in this list? Are there any lawmakers and Iraqi officials in this list?

GEN. CALDWELL: I'd really have to refer you to the government of Iraq. It's a list we do in coordination with them. They're the ones who ultimately have the final decision on this list. But it's done in close cooperation with them, and I really need to refer you back to the government of Iraq on that one. This is really a sovereignty issue. It's their nation. We're here as the guest of Iraq, operating in their country under U.N. mandate. So if I could, I'd like to refer you back to them on that one.

MR. : We have time for one more question on this side of the room.

Q Hi. (Inaudible) -- The Washington Post.

Just following up on the Sadr issue as well, have you noticed any attacks that can be directly related to the Mahdi Army since the Baghdad security plan started?

And my second question is, you faced -- the U.S. military has faced basically no resistance at all in Sadr City. What do you think -- what does this say about Sadr's ability to control his forces? What do you think is behind the fact that you've seen absolutely no resistance in Sadr City?

GEN. CALDWELL: (Inaudible) -- I'll tell you, it's a complex situation and it's involving many factors; there's no question. There's not one single thing that you can lay your finger on and say it's because of this or that that occurred.

I would start off by saying it's because I think the people of Iraq have listened to what the prime minister has said, the council representatives have said, as they began the operation Fard al-Qanun. And it was said that this was going to be applied equally across the board in Baghdad and that no area is off-limits and that everybody is subject to the law. That was an important first step to have that acknowledged and stated up front.

I think the people of Iraq, especially in Baghdad, as we go around and talk to them, are tired of the levels of violence that were occurring there. I mean, the vast, overwhelming majority of people in Iraq do not want to live with this level of violence. They do not want it. They want to live with a peaceful -- they want to live in a secure, stable, self-governing nation. And they want to remain as one nation. I mean, that's very clear to us too. So the people themselves are making a lot of decisions, the Iraqi people. I mean, they're taking much greater control of their destiny than they have in the past and they're exerting tremendous amounts more influence in their neighborhoods than they have to bring down the levels of violence and stop the discord that has occurred previously down there.

I would also say that there is a lot of ongoing discussion and dialogue and cooperation that occurred as we talked about conducting operations throughout the city. We did it with all 10 districts. Every place we've gone into -- when I say we, this is the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces in all 10 districts -- we are engaging with the neighborhood advisory councils and talking to them about military forces coming in there, that they're going to conduct military operations.

We're looking to cooperate with them. We want to have a dialogue. We want to tell them when something happens. If there's a question about a military operation that was conducted, we want them to bring that to the local military, the Iraqi military and coalition force commanders in that area, and dialogue with them and resolve it at that level. And Sadr City was no exception. That was one of the 10 districts. And that same kind of dialogue went on too before operations were conducted there.

So it is a multitude of factors. And I think we're seeing across the board, in all sects and parties, that they want to see the levels of violence come down. And it's because of that; it's because the Iraqis have made that decision. Military force can only do so much, and after that it's the political will of the people that really will determine their destiny. And we're seeing them decide that they don't want to live in these levels of violence.

Q What about the Mahdi Army attacks? Have you seen any attacks at all the past four weeks that you can directly attribute to the Mahdi Army?

GEN. CALDWELL: Boy, that'd be a tough thing to try to attribute direct attacks to any one particular group that's going on. But there clearly is a reduced level of violence occurring in the city; there's no question. So whatever -- when we have seen casualties occur, it's occurring mostly against civilians. It's occurring as a result of the high-profile car bombs.

That's what, in fact -- if the high-profile car bombs can be stopped or brought down to a much lower level, we'll just see an incredible difference in the city overall. I mean, the murders and executions have come down, you know, by over 50 percent and have stayed down at a fairly low level, although we saw a slight increase last week. We would hope to see that come back down again next week. You know, it wasn't any kind of dramatic increase. But the high- profile car bombs is the one we're really focused on, because that's what will start that whole cycle of violence again.

The Iraqis truly have shown tremendous, like we said, restraint in the face of this. They're not taking retribution for what's occurring. And that's being caused by extremist elements. Sunni extremist elements, al Qaeda, are directly attributable to those car bombs. And we will continue to put a lot of effort, both the Iraqi security forces and us, to find and stop those before they can get to the city.

MR. SPECKHARD: Okay, thanks, everybody, for coming. We appreciate you taking the time with us today.

END.



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list