Press Briefing, March 28, 2007
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
Multi-National Force - Iraq operational update briefing by Rear Admiral Mark I. Fox, Communications Division Chief for Strategic Effects, MNF-I; James L. Santelle, Justice Attache, U.S. Embassy-Baghdad.
MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ OPERATIONAL UPDATE BRIEFING BY REAR ADMIRAL MARK I. FOX, COMMUNICATIONS DIVISION CHIEF FOR STRATEGIC EFFECTS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ; JAMES L. SANTELLE, JUSTICE ATTACHE, U.S. EMBASSY-BAGHDAD. LOCATION: COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ. TIME: 8:00 A.M. EDT. DATE: WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28, 2007.
ADM. FOX: Good afternoon. "As-Salaam aleikum."
General Petraeus issued a statement earlier today that I would like to read to begin this press conference:
"The coalition forces in Iraq join leaders of all communities in Iraq in condemning the barbaric bombing that took place in Tall Afar market yesterday. This cowardly and inhumane attack is another example of attempts by extremists to reignite violence between people who have lived in peace despite being from different sectarian and ethnic groups.
"The coalition calls on all national, provincial and local Iraqi leaders and citizens to join hands in condemning this barbaric attack, and in working to help the victims and their families, and in vowing to remain united to reject violence and to bring justice to those responsible for such a horrific attack on innocent civilians."
Our commitment to provide security for the people of Iraq remains unshaken -- that's the end of the statement there by General Petraeus -- our commitment to provide security for the people of Iraq remains unshaken. Operation Fard al-Qanun has now been under way for over a month. Together, Iraqi and coalition forces are clearing the streets of insurgent activity and taking back the neighborhoods of Baghdad, block by block. We are holding our positions, living and developing relationships with the people of Baghdad instead of commuting from forward operating bases. We are working hard to secure progress, provide hope for the people of Iraq in order to begin the process of building better communities. And we're seeing preliminary signs of progress.
The people of Iraq continue to be the best source of intelligence. Tips provided to Iraqi security and coalition forces help us find and clear more caches. Living in the neighborhoods, building relationships, it's making a difference.
Last week, clearing operations began in the Baghdad neighborhoods of southern Ghazalia and Amiriyah. Approximately 1,600 Iraqi security and coalition force soldiers conducted precision raids against multiple known terrorist targets and then quickly transitioned to clearing neighborhoods house by house. Over the course of the operation, 31 individuals were detained, two weapons caches were discovered, along with containers of nitric acid and chlorine.
Providing security is more than just seizing weapons from the hands of murderers and terrorists; it's providing basic services to begin building a community. Saturday, Iraqi security forces and coalition forces used an Amadiyah (ph) city schoolhouse as a temporary medical clinic, providing medical treatment to more than 100 local residents. This was the first large-scale humanitarian aid project conducted in Adhamiya city since Fard al-Qanun operations began.
Continuing to build on the progress will not come easy. It will take patience, resolve and commitment. It will not be measured in days or weeks, but rather months. And to be sure, there are still rough days ahead. Progress does not come without a cost. Like backing a rat into a corner, increasing pressure on extremists by limiting their available resources and places to hide leads to desperate changes in tactics. This is best illustrated by the actions of the Iraqi police in Ramadi last Friday when they apprehended a suicide truck bomber and captured his vehicle containing a large quantity of chlorine and explosives when it failed to detonate. Upon further investigation, the truck contained five 1,000-gallon barrels filled with chlorine and more than two tons of explosives camouflaged by 55-gallon drums.
Securing progress and providing hope will take more than military success. We can, and will, win every battle, but we cannot win the peace alone. Evenhanded justice is an essential part of every democratic society. After decades of a brutal dictator's repressive regime, the Iraqi government is creating an independent judicial system to ensure that the rule of law applies to everyone.
Today we're joined by Jim Santelle, Justice attache here at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, to discuss the rule of law efforts in Baghdad. Jim and I visited the Central Criminal Court of Iraq yesterday, the CCCI. It was a very interesting and illuminating visit. And I'd like to welcome Jim Santelle to our press conference today.
MR. SANTELLE: Admiral, thank you very much.
It's a pleasure to be with you here today and it's a pleasure to be with the media here, both Iraqi and Western.
As the admiral just said, rule of law is a critically important part of the united Iraqi-coalition force effort to preserve the peace, and to ensure the safety and security for all Iraqis here in this nation.
What I'd like to do today is illuminate a bit more about what the admiral has said already. And that is, what is rule of law here in Iraq? What kinds of things are the Iraqis and the coalition forces doing together to preserve rule of law and to promote its important missions? And as the admiral simply indicated just a moment or so ago, I'd like to focus in particular upon the judiciary and the prisons and the police aspects of rule of law because those are the cornerstones, if you will, of a good criminal justice system in any country.
Before I get to that, however, let me describe for you what the Iraqi government and the coalition forces -- military, civilian entities both -- have acknowledged is critical to any good rule-of-law operation and commitment in the country. And fundamentally it means a commitment to confidence in the institutions of government, ensuring a civil society, making certain its citizens have access to the established institutions of government. And that means courts. It means reliance upon police. It means confidence in the city and confidence in the province, confidence in your elected officials. It ensures guaranteeing fundamental rights, civil liberties in all of those institutions. And it also posits a fundamental focus on legislative enactments that promote rule of law, that guarantee civil rights and fundamental liberties, again, in all of those institutions.
In addition to those broad concepts, the rule of law also envisions that the nongovernmental entities in Iraq -- in any nation like this one that embraces rule of law -- supports nongovernmental entities. And by that I mean bar associations, law schools, private institutions that ensure access of all Iraqis to the fundamental trappings of a just society. That is a critical portion of our rule of law commitment, both Iraqi and coalition force combined. And finally, as I've indicated, there's a fundamental commitment that we have to ensure that the Council of Representatives is enacting laws that are fair, that are equitable, that ensure that all Iraqis and all who would come to this country are properly regarded and that they have access to those institutions. And that means constitutional integrity, that means legislative integrity, and that those fundamental rights are incorporated into the basic legal framework of this country.
Admiral Fox indicated that he and I were at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq just yesterday. And if there is any illustration of rule of law in operation here today in Iraqi it is just that. This is an institution that is operating. It is functioning, and it is functioning well. There are a combination there of police, law enforcement agents and officers, judicial officers and, frankly, even corrections officers who, as a part of that -- that tri-part team of rule of law -- are working together at that institution and in others throughout Baghdad and other provinces to ensure that rule of law is promoted.
What specifically is going on there at that all-important court and, frankly in other criminal courts around the country? It is at that institution that Admiral Fox, yesterday, and I had an opportunity to witness investigative hearings by some very brave and courageous judges, investigative judges, who are hearing evidence of crimes -- serious crimes -- being committed here in Iraq and other places. That is a reflection of a civilized society. That is a reflection of a rule of law operation that does, in fact, work. And the fact that there are investigative judges who are putting together as detectives and as statement takers and as gatherers of evidence the packages and files that are then reviewed by trial-court judges to review in final form the offenses that are committed by those who would promote unrest and civil disobedience and other signs of disarray in this country, the fact that this is going on at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq is once again a sign of an institution that is working, and that the Iraqi government and all Iraqis can and should be very proud of.
Recently -- recently, through a collaborative effort of Iraqi officials, judicial officials and other governmental officials, and coalition forces and embassy representatives, that institution -- the Central Criminal Court -- was expanded to Mosul. And it's at that place as well that these important prosecutions/investigations are proceeding today against those who once again would undermine the fundamental rights and the fundamental safety and security of Iraqis in that part of the nation and in other locations.
As a part of the outreach that we are doing with the Iraqi government, we're also doing a huge amount of training with judges, investigative judges, trial judges, police and corrections officials. What does that look like?
Quite literally, these are collaborative efforts that we are working on to ensure that the fundamental message is about rule of law, about acknowledging the sanctity of fundamental rights, the significance of civil liberties are invested in our new corrections officers, who are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of those the government chooses to incarcerate because of their crimes. We are ensuring that judges understand, likewise, the importance of due process and fundamental rights in that system. And perhaps just as important, that police officers --who are out there, again, attempting as they always should to ensure the safety and security of the communities -- that they also have those fundamental understandings about rights, civil process, and their role in the overall criminal justice system.
In addition to the strengthening that is going on right now -- very much supported by the Iraqis and by all of us participating together -- there are some wonderful things going on to support, simply, the infrastructure. I can tell you today that any collaborative effort the Iraqi government and the United States government, including military and civilians, are assembling -- constructing, quite literarily, five brand new courthouses in various cities around the country. One of those we're expecting to open in the spring of this year. Institutions, once again, where civil and criminal litigations can proceed, and where Iraqis can feel confident in the process that they can go to their government and seek redress of grievances and pursue their claims. That's what rule of law is all about, and that is the good message of what we have collaboratively accomplished at this point.
You should also know that in addition to those new courthouses, as a part of our collaborative work, we are right now renovating and ensuring the safety and security of existing courthouses that have been here for many years. That, too, is ensuring rule of law.
I mentioned previously the corrections programs. It is certainly the case that the corrections system has been and continues to be a critical part of the rule-of-law structure. Today, again in collaboration with the Iraqi government, the United States Department of Justice, the United States Department of Defense and others are putting together programs that teach Iraqi corrections service officers -- sometimes referred to as ICOs -- in the fundamental ways of not only administering a prison -- a pretrial detention facility effectively, ensuring that incarcerated detainees are properly fed, properly cared for and that their basic rights are observed, but also that the basic administrative functions of a prison, of a detainee facility, are safeguarded; that the facility themselves are secure, and that the corrections program in this country is collaboratively administered in cooperation with the courts and the police -- the three touchstones, if you will, of good and sound rule of law operation.
I mentioned previously that rule of law is not just about the criminal process, although that is certainly at the cornerstone. That's the bedrock of any sound rule-of-law operation, and it's for that reason I welcome your comments, in just a few moments and your questions about specific aspects of the things that we have done with the Iraqi government to ensure that that rule-of-law program and that rule-of-law structure is strengthened.
I do not, however, in any way mean to denigrate the significant importance of nongovernmental work in this equally significant area. And I indicated before that that includes private citizens, who are ensuring that individuals have access to the courts; that bar associations -- the Iraqi Bar Association, that law schools are promoting academically and practically on a day-to-day basis opportunities for citizens to have access to legal counsel, legal representation, not just in the criminal form, but also in the civil arena as well.
It is the case -- it is the case -- that every day in this country we have not only criminal prosecutions, but civil litigation of all types. And that is a thing about which the Iraqi government can and should be very proud and the Iraqis citizenship -- citizenry likewise takes great pride in, appropriately.
We are very, very pleased and honored to work together with all of those institutions -- governmental and nongovernmental -- to ensure that all of those entities -- private and governmental both -- collaboratively have a unified vision about ensuring that the rule of law here in Iraq is established, that it is promoted, not just for today, not just for tomorrow, but for generations to come.
My final formal comment before we take questions and answer other inquiries that you might have about our specific efforts is this. On both the private side and the governmental side, it is my view that there are some tremendously courageous Iraqi leaders who are in these various areas -- judges, prison officials, police officers, nongovernmental organizations and entities -- that are in the midst of a violent situation, incredibly proud and incredibly courageous to be doing the important kinds of things to ensure that all Iraqis have access to justice, their fundamental rights are being preserved and observed. That is a sign of tremendous promise and future of this country. And the fact that we can build and identify not just a few of those people, but great numbers of those people in the rule-of-law community who are citizens of Iraq, governmental and nongovernmental, who are committed to that mission speaks very well not only for the present generation, but also those to come. It is a pleasure to be with you here today to talk more about the ways in which collaboratively we're working rule-of-law missions. I would be happy to take your questions about any of this. And, again, appreciate your thoughts and comments about any of the general observations that I've made up to this point.
ADM. FOX: And with that, we'll be glad to take any questions you may have.
Q Salaam aleikum. (Continues through interpreter.) My question to Mr. James.
You talked about law and confidence, but we have two important issues. The coalition forces in the south stormed one prison of the Interior Ministry without taking into consideration the opinion of the Iraqi government. They released the prisoners and we didn't know why this happened.
And the issue of the former minister, Ayham al-Samarrai, who fled from the prison; he fled with an American passport, he went to another country. How do you explain this from the legal point of view?
Jalal Haidi (ph) from the Iranian television.
MR. SANTELLE: Thank you for the question because it really once again goes to the institutions that we're working to preserve. There is no doubt that there are great challenges out there in the Iraqi corrections service and the police and the courts as well. I do not mean to indicate by my initial comments that in any nation, including Iraq, our situation is precisely as we would like to be.
Every day -- every day -- in a wartime environment there are great challenges and disappointments, even as we're working toward a better and stronger Iraq. The kinds of things that you, sir, have appropriately identified are perhaps among those types of things.
I am not sufficiently familiar with this specific incident that you're talking about in the south, but I do know that there are challenges that the Iraqi corrections service officers are facing every day. That is precisely the reason why we're putting in place the training programs we discussed just a moment or so ago. And that includes, frankly, very recently a renewed effort by the Ministry of Justice, by the other institutions of government to train effectively and intelligently even more ICOs -- Iraqi correction officers -- on the kinds of things to ensure that the sort of thing that you just described does not recur.
As to Mr. al-Samarrai, the situation there is plainly one in which Mr. al-Samarrai is not presently here in Iraq. The institution of the Iraqi courts system did, in fact, adjudicate him as a -- did find him guilty for the offenses for which he was charged. The fact that he has fled is plainly not something that the United States government, the coalition forces in any way supported. And with respect to just the process itself, though, the very fact that Mr. al- Samarrai, a former member of the Iraqi government, was brought to justice through a good law enforcement and was charged and convicted of those offenses is, even in the imperfect scenario that ultimately played out, is a reflection of the way in which the court system and the law enforcement systems do, in fact, work together.
ADM. FOX: I can add just a little bit of information to the context of the question that you asked.
It was during the evening of Saturday, March the 3rd that Iraqi special forces unit -- under Iraqi command, but with the multinational force unit in support -- carried out an operation in Basra to contain a known terrorist. The NIIA was not deliberately targeted. The building was entered purely as a result of information gained during the course of that operation. And because of the volatile nature of the operation, it was not possible for either the Iraqi units or the multinational force to pre-warn the relevant provincial authorities. They were informed of the operation as soon as it was practical, in the early morning hours.
There is an investigation that is ongoing of this event, and we are fully cooperating with the investigation that's being conducted by the government of Iraq.
Q (Through interpreter.) Shame to both of you, to Admiral Fox and Mr. James, sometimes the houses of the journalists during the night and the multinational forces are carrying out such operations during the night. To carry out such operations during the night will cause great damages, and some journalists are wounded and the forces don't take into consideration any humanitarian principles or releasing any news about the journalists. We have a journalist. His name is Farras (sp). He was detained in 20 March. Farras (ph) had -- he was detained during the night and he was shot and he was seriously wounded, according to the American report. After that, there were many statements issued by the humanitarian committees about the destiny of this wounded journalist, who was certified and we were disappointed by a report that has many legal contradictions. The legal contradiction is that it said that the journalist was shooting at the American forces. This is not true because I -- although I -- my question is a little bit long, but I want to explain some things. How can a journalist be detained while he was unarmed and defenseless?
The second question is the humanitarian principles. It is in the report -- it said that he is in serious condition and stable condition, when his family hears that he is in unstable condition and they haven't seen him for many, many months and for many days. Please, I call on you not to carry out these raids during the night.
ADM. FOX: I'll take that one.
The -- I don't have the specific details of the incident that you describe. I would remind you and in fact emphasize the fact that a free journalistic environment, and in fact a free media is key and essential to a free society and that we and the multinational force and in our interactions with the Iraqi government are committed to just that, of having a free and open media. I don't have the details and I can't answer your specifics. I -- we will definitely check into the details of your question about the specific individual that you've asked about. I can't answer that specific question right now. But I will tell you, in principle, we are committed to journalistic integrity and the freedom of the press and the even-handed rule of law.
MR. SANTELLE: Sir.
Q (Through interpreter.) Ahmed Jawad (ph) from Zawa (ph).
There has been some complaints about non-cooperation with the Minister of Human Rights to make sure that the detainees are treated well, and Mr. James has talked about the hearings in the Iraqi courts. But it is noted that many detainees are kept for a long time in the prisons of the Interior and Defense Ministry. And even in the multinational prisons, they are kept for a long time without being tried. How do you comment on that?
MR. SANTELLE: I'll take that question, Admiral.
I have two responsive thoughts for you on that. One is, I am aware that the minister of Human Rights actually has been at the forefront recently in attempts to ensure that detention facilities -- admittedly not every detention facility, not every jail facility throughout the country -- but many of them are the focus and the target of inspections. And by that, I mean opportunities for representatives of the government to be present to examine the circumstances under which detainees are being held and, in those situations where there are identified abuses of any kind, that they are brought to the attention of the proper authorities and that there are remedies that are undertaken as promptly as possible to address them.
I can tell you from personal experience that in dealing with members of the Iraqi government -- the minister of Human Rights, other ministries including the courts as well, that these are matters of great concern and when those situations are identified, as they have been historically and recently, that they receive a great deal of attention. There are times when we are not able to respond to them quite as quickly as we would like, but that is not because there is a lack of will but rather simply a matter of coordinating all the necessary forces and all the necessary participants to remedy those situations. Your question goes to, again, a central feature of rule of law, which is ensuring that any sort of mistreatment -- maltreatment of detainees is first identified and corrected.
The fact that there are increasing numbers of detainees is also a part of that challenge, and one of the -- again, the significant responses to the fact that there are detainees who are -- have been detained for significant periods of time before getting to trial is also the focus of attention by government. The chief justice, for example, to use one illustration, has over the period of the last six to eight months has increased dramatically the number of judges who are available, civil and criminal both, to address grievances and to adjudicate claims. And so right now there are in excess of 1,000 judges. That is in part a reflection of the fact that the chief justice and other top leaders of the Iraqi government have appointed approximately 160 judges -- new judges in the past six months or so. The chief justice has deployed those judges to various areas -- provinces not just here in Baghdad, but throughout the country to address precisely the kinds of things that you are talking about.
This coming summer, as a result of a two-year program that is happening at the Judicial Training Institute, a class of approximately 179 new judges will also graduate. Every time there are more judges who are schooled well, who are instructed thoughtfully on all of these kinds of things, the system is enhanced and the integrity of the Rule of Law Program and initiatives here in Iraq is improved by investing over time in good, thoughtful people -- those courageous people that I was talking about before. We are hopeful and have every reason to expect that the kinds of things that you've described will be addressed. In the midst of an environment like the present when it is in fact necessary to ensure that those who would undermine those good systems of government are brought into the criminal justice system, there will be stresses and there will be strains. But know with absolute confidence that the aspects -- the three portions if you will of the Rule of Law community -- the police, the correction service, the ministries that are responsible for those and the chief justice himself and many judges who are equally committed to this process are addressing those.
And let me, if I could, Admiral, just give you one more illustration of that. On a regular basis today, there are judges who, in cooperation with the MNFI forces and the Iraqi forces are visiting specific institutions -- specific detainee pre-trial detention facilities where some of the concerns about great numbers of detainees who have not yet seen a judge are being addressed. Judges are not simply staying at the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. They're not simply staying in their chambers in their courthouses. They are literally going out the past several weeks and months, and frankly, this is continuing into the future to address precisely what you're -- I've identified. That is a direct response to that kind of issue and it is assigned to be greatly encouraged about the possibility for future remedies of that -- those kinds of situations.
MR. : Yes, sir?
Q (Jay from the FP ?)
This is a question on this recent development and something which is potentially going to be a big issue a few months down the line -- the Accountability and Reconciliation law, which is now being drafted and forwarded to the Cabinet and Parliament for approval. Now a very specific thing in this law is basically trying to bring back the former regime officials into the mainstream, giving them back jobs. It also specifies that any Iraqi can file a lawsuit against any other formal regime officials even if he or she was working in the police or security forces in the former regime. Now it gives a six-months period for such kind of claims and lawsuits. One, is that period enough? And two, is the Iraqi judiciary, as you have been describing and the way things are happening on that side, is in a position to really tackle potential unaccounted personal or vengeance-related claims which come out of this against these former Ba'athist members? And we are talking here of nearly 2 (million) to 3 million people who probably are out there who need to come back into the system, and correct me on the figure if I am wrong. But the whole thing is going to be one big issue a few months down the line, and how will the Iraqi judiciary and you guys try to sort this thing out?
MR. SANTELLE: Thank you very much for the question.
Again, a couple of observations in response to your specific inquiry. One is, what a wonderful thing that the Council or Representatives -- elected officials in this country -- are not only wrestling with a problem of the regime, but also addressing it squarely and putting in place a process whereby Iraqis can, in fact, seek redress in courts. That is a huge initial step, and it's more than initial, it comes after a good deal of foundational work.
And so if there is a story, a message to be gleaned from that legislation process -- like all nations, probably imperfect, the result of compromise, the result of democratic review and deliberation, and the conciliation, to some extent -- the very fact the legislation is being considered and discussed is significant in and of itself.
The specific question about whether or not a six-month period is sufficient, that is not for me to say; that is for the Iraqis to say. That is a part of, once again, of any good legislative process. And it is fully assumed and presumed that, as a part of the deliberation, the debate that will happen in the Council of Representatives, that thoughts about whether the length of that is too great, too small, will come out of that process.
It is also a regular part of the legislative process that, if in practice -- if in practice, after that period is established and there are Iraqis who feel that their rights and their claims have not been redressed -- one re-petitions government and goes back to the parliament and says, we need to have an expansion of that.
I'm not advocating that today. I'm simply saying the institution is there to identity the issue, to wrestle with it and to make certain that it is responsive.
With respect to the courts, I will tell you that it's no surprise, from what I have said today, that I am a very strong supporter of the rule-of-law institutions in this country and I have great encouragement that the future is very bright. You have a chief justice in this country who is animated, who is energized. And by the appointment of judges -- by endorsing and supporting, literally, even the development and the construction of the courts that I described -- he is, both in terms of bricks-and-mortar and also personnel and human resources, committed to ensuring that the Iraqi judiciary here is able to respond, not just to increased detainee populations, but also the kinds of things that you're describing.
If, if -- let me suggest, if it turns out that the number of claims that are coming in are quite great, that, again, is a challenge of a good, sound, rule-of-law-based government. And in cooperation with legislature, with the executive branch, the prime minister and the ministries that work for him and on behalf of the citizens of Iraq, that will then be addressed at that time. It is too difficult to know right now what the future will bring. The good news is that the institutions are there today, in the future, to address that problem.
Q Josh Partlow with the Washington Post. This is a question for Admiral Fox. I just wanted to see if you had any more details available about the mortar attack in the Green Zone yesterday -- if there's anything else to say. And do you see a -- have you seen an increase, I guess, in mortar activity in the Green Zone in the last few weeks? And does this -- and -- basically that's the question.
ADM. FOX: The -- in a macro sense, if you look at the total numbers of what we call indirect-fire attacks -- actually March is on a trend to actually be relatively lower than a number of months, I think, dating back probably to the October timeframe of last year.
That said, it's clear that there have been increasing targeting attacks against the International Zone. And there are a number of -- I'll kind of summarize the injuries and the fatalities that we've suffered in the recent days.
On the 25th -- on the 25th of March, we had four people injured in the International Zone. There were two U.S. contractors and two third-country nationals that were injured. And then on the 26th, there were four individuals injured, one member of the Coalition Force, one local national and two third-country nationals. And then on the 27th, there was one coalition force soldier that was injured and ultimately died of wounds; there was one civilian contractor -- U.S. civilian contractor -- that was killed; and there were three people injured -- one civilian wounded and two third-country nationals.
I would extend, first of all, my condolences to the families of those members who lost their lives and also express the condolence of those who went through the process of injury. I would also point out, though, that the functioning of the government of Iraq, the U.S. embassy and the Multinational Force -- Iraq, here in the International Zone, is unimpeded and our operations continue.
This is another example I think that you can point to of an overall strategy, but a change in tactics, if you will, with an increasing number of attempts -- of indirect fire in this particular case, against the International Zone. But our function and our mission remains unchanged.
Q One quick follow-up to that. Are there any -- in response, has there been any changes that have, in terms of the security of the Green Zone that you guys have been -- you can talk about?
ADM. FOX: Not that I can talk about. I mean, we're obviously taking some very careful steps -- and also scrutinizing the points of origin and the nature of, you know, any of the patterns and that sort of thing. But it'd be inappropriate for me to talk about that. Q Last week's assassination bid on the deputy prime minister, Mr. Al-Zubaie -- and most of the reports coming are that the act was probably, in all possibility, committed by someone very close -- from his own security detail. After that, has there been any drastic change in offering security to these top leaders of the presidency, or the cabinet, and stuff like that. I mean, what exactly -- or who you think was also responsible for the attack on Zubaie?
ADM. FOX: Well, the first part of your question is that's actually -- it's a government of Iraq issue. in terms of the security for their senior officials. It certainly meets the pattern, I think, of al-Qaeda, of a suicide attack. It's another, I think, very revealing type of thing that the attack occurred during prayers on Friday. And so here's an example of -- I think you can at least label it as an AQI pattern. I can't necessarily tell you for certain because I don't have that fact, but it certainly fits the pattern. And during a time of prayer from a -- against a senior member of the Iraqi government who has very bravely stepped into a moderate position of trying to create this unity government.
Q (Off mike.) -- the deep -- the depth with which al-Qaeda has literally penetrated -- got so close to Zubaie, his inner circle of security. If it seems -- I mean, what it seems from the statements from the Iraqi people -- I mean, isn't that really, what is, in fact, or for even the U.S. authorities for that matter because they need to -- I mean, if Iraqi government has to survive in the long-term, the leaders are to survive, basically. And if the security is not really that up-to-the-mark, I mean, that's a real big, worrisome question -- even for the U.S. authorities in that sense.
ADM. FOX: Actually, I think it would. The way I would respond the that is, it's indicative that al-Qaeda will attack anyone in its efforts to divide the country. And you've seen cases of Sunni mosques being attacked. And in al-Anbar there have been attacks that are very clearly al-Qaeda, originated with a focus against the Sunni (technical difficulty). Or, on the other hand, you see a case of, I think, evidence of (rogue jam ?) attacking the mayor of Sadr City. So I think what you're seeing right now is a demonstration of the war between extremists on either side of the spectrum, using innocent people in the middle as their victims. Whether they're -- whatever sect they come from, there are innocent people who are being victimized by these extremists on either end of the spectrum. So the attempt to inflame and to incite sectarian violence by these -- it's a relatively small number of people, but it's their -- they will stop at nothing to create these kinds of high-profile and really reprehensible kinds of attacks.
Q (Through interpreter.) (Haidar ?) from (inaudible) Press. Some lawmakers said that you use the presidential palace and you are exploiting the presidential palace. How do you comment on that? What's your legal and practical attitude toward this? ADM. FOX: Well, I would say that we are focused on protecting all the citizens of Baghdad. And, in fact, that's the very reason that Fard Al-Kanoon, in its -- in its operational form, has been crafted the way that it has.
There is not an overemphasis on any specific place or any specific individual. But, similar to the rule of law, the operations that we're undertaking, number one, represent a very high level of commitment on the part of the Iraqi government, and they also represent an increasing profile and level of activity in competence on the part of the Iraqi security forces.
And as we've pointed out before, now we're finally reaching the point where as we are moving through and we're clearing these neighborhoods, we're seeing diminished numbers of murders and kidnappings and execution-style murders that we've seen. So, in short answer to your question, we're taking appropriate measures for all the institutions here within the government of Iraq, within Baghdad, and -- but we're also focusing -- we understand that the people of Baghdad are really the center of gravity in this effort. And the people of Iraq deserve to live in freedom and they deserve to live in security. And our measure of success is when the people of Baghdad will feel secure in their own homes.
Q (Through interpreter.) In case you detain any suspected person, he is taken to Abu Ghraib, for example. A Shi'ite detainee, for example, cannot be released from Abu Ghraib without being harmed by some extremist groups. Some lawmakers today said that American forces detained 10 suspects and they released them in Abu Ghraib, and these people were targeted and they were physically liquidated in this area. How do you deal with these detainees? You released them; you should release them in a neutral area, and they shouldn't be released in an area where the militias are taking control.
ADM. FOX: We are committed to the evenhanded application of the rule of law. Even in -- in all the cases, in terms of how we deal with the detainees that are naturally brought out of the operations that we're conducting -- I don't have a specific -- I'm not familiar with your specific example of the allegation of the fact that these detainees may be let off in a place -- and I'm going to have to get back to you in terms of answering that specific part of your question. But I can tell you that it's important to understand that there is a process in place and that there is a -- even though we're in an early stage of a growing capability of applying the rule of law, you do see -- even though there may be mistakes or there may be even horrible things that are done by people, there's a process by which accountability is applied.
And you've seen cases in the Western press where, you know, former members of the coalition have been taken to trial and have actually gone to jail for their conduct that's outside the rule of law. So as reprehensible as some of the activities that have occurred in the past have been, there is a process and there is a way. And it is an unfortunate example, but it is an example even so, of the fact that when mistakes are made or when people conduct themselves outside the rule of law, then they will suffer the consequences for that.
Q (Through interpreter.) Recently, the U.S. administration announced it will accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees. Have you started accepting these refugees?
Ayad al-Abboudi (ph) from -- (affiliation inaudible).
ADM. FOX: The answer to your question is that's outside the scope of my level of expertise and also authority as the spokesman for the multinational force. I'd refer you to the State Department for -- not the lawyer, but the public affairs folks, I think, that they deal with that issue. I don't have the answer in terms of how the number of people in Iraq that have applied for visas or that sort of thing to the States. I don't have that information available.
MR. SANTELLE: I think that's exactly right, Admiral. I know that there is a process -- I, likewise, don't have the information directly available to me today. There's a process. The consular office and the State Department are working through that. And perhaps we can provide you with some more information afterwards about how that will proceed.
MODERATOR: Sir, we have time for one more question.
MR. SANTELLE: Okay.
Q (Through interpreter.) My question to Mr. James, as my colleague said, we know that American embassy is now in the presidential palace. And many Iraqis official concerned that part of the Iraqi sovereignty is to restore and return the presidential palace to the Iraqi government. From the legal point of view, has the American embassy find itself a new location other than that of the presidential palace?
MR. SANTELLE: The answer is yes. Without going into detail about locations and timing and those kinds of things, the -- this have long been a part of Ambassador Negroponte's plan to return to the Iraqi government some of the fundamental institutions, including the palace and other buildings here in the international zone.
In this forum, I don't think the Admiral or I would be in a position to tell you exactly when that's going to happen and the circumstances under which that's going to happen, but that has long been a part of the coalition force, the admission force -- remission plan to return to the Iraqis and to the Iraqi government and the citizens of Iraq those institutions. It is a matter of public record that the United States government is also constructing right now an alternative location at which the embassy will be relocating at some point in the future. That is a part of this government's commitment -- our United States government's commitment -- to ensure both a continued presence, an active presence in support of the legitimate and strong Iraqi government, but also acknowledging that those buildings, including the palace itself, will be returned to the Iraqis in the future.
ADM. FOX: Okay, we'll take one more. We're too easy here.
Q Are you still tracking -- you as in the U.S. military -- still tracking Muqtada al-Sadr? And what's the latest? Where is he? Is he still in Tehran?
ADM. FOX: He's not -- he's not in Iraq. And we do maintain an awareness, but he's not in Iraq right now.
Thank you very much. We appreciate the time this afternoon.
MR. SANTELLE: Thank you very much. "Shukran jazilan."
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