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Government of Iraq, Multi-National Force - Iraq and Department of State press conference topic: Update following the Iraq Neighbors' Conference, May 6, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq

GOVERNMENT OF IRAQ, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ AND DEPARTMENT OF STATE PRESS CONFERENCE TOPIC: UPDATE FOLLOWING THE IRAQ NEIGHBORS' CONFERENCE BRIEFERS: ALI AL-DABBAGH, SPOKESMAN, GOVERNMENT OF IRAQ GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, SPOKESMAN AND DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR STRATEGIC EFFECTS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ DANIEL SPECKHARD, CHARGE D'AFFAIRES, U.S. EMBASSY, IRAQ LOCATION: THE COMBINED PRESS INFORMATION CENTER, BAGHDAD, IRAQ TIME: 6:00 A.M. EDT DATE: SUNDAY, MAY 6, 2007

(Note: Mr. al-Dabbagh's remarks are provided through interpreter.)

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Good afternoon. No doubt that the success of this conferences with neighboring countries that were held in Sharm el-Sheikh represents success for all Iraqis, a government and people as all; that it presents a commitment of an international commitment to support the military process and the democratic process in Iraq. And there's no alternative about that. And the stability of Iraq means the stability of the region itself, and that matters to the whole world, and also support for Iraq to build its abilities, so that the country can rise and be effective in its region, and to be an element of stability and not an element of violence. These are also commitments in front of the people itself.

As for the conference of the neighboring countries, there's a general feeling and a good intent that there are such good signs that will happen. This success should be supported by a national determination between all the political parties, so that we can pull Iraq out of this area of violence and give an example of -- as Iraq has a multicultural education and has a bright history, and it has -- (inaudible) -- could be also a meeting for all cultures and also some economic development with all countries and also an invitation with other countries to remove the area from all violence and conflicts that prevail (sic) the region, and that will stay like this unless the neighboring countries would move to help Iraq during this complex -- and to enter a new era that will serve the prosperity of Iraq.

This is a statement because of the two conferences. And now His Excellency Speckhard will give his opening statement, and General Caldwell also.

MR. SPECKHARD: Good afternoon. As-salaam aleikum. I want to follow up on Dr. al-Dabbagh's comments on the recent meetings in Sharm el-Sheikh. The international compact on Iraq's session began May 3rd, and it was followed by the neighbors ministerial conference on May 4th. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led the United States delegation to these important meetings. She was accompanied by the Treasury deputy secretary, Robert Kimmitt, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and senior adviser to the secretary, Ambassador David Satterfield.

As Secretary Rice has already said, the neighbors meeting marked the first time there has been a meeting on Iraq at this level with the participation from all the neighbors in the region. The participation of Iraq's neighbors and the participation of the Group of Eight and the permanent five members of the Security Council of the United Nations shows the promise for the goal of addressing Iraq's challenges by creating a stable, secure and prosperous Iraq with the support of the neighbors. Their presence also showed that the international community is uniting in realizing that the future of Iraq is of vital importance not only to the citizens of Iraq but for Iraq's neighbors, the Middle East and the world.

The international compact for Iraq laid the economic foundation for which progress can be built on. Under the compact, Iraq has agreed to important steps for economic reform and good governance. In return, Iraq's compact partners have agreed to help Iraq by providing substantial debt relief along with significant financial and technical assistance.

In addition, the compact recognizes the importance of additional steps in reconciliation and progress on the political and security fronts for Iraq's future success.

Now that the conferences are over, the attention is focused on participants turning words into actions. We call on all the conference's attendees to continue their support for the democratically elected government of Iraq through both acts and deeds, and as Secretary Rice stated, we want Iraq's neighbors to behave in a way that is consistent with a democratic and stable Iraq. Now will be an opportunity for these neighbors to actually carry out the obligations that they undertook at the conference and to cease activities that are increasing instability in Iraq.

At the same time, Iraq's leaders have to move forward with courage and boldness in bringing the country together through political action. The first constitutionally elected representative government will mark its first anniversary in the coming weeks. At the meeting in Sharm, the prime minister said that his government did not present the national reconciliation initiative as a passing political slogan but as a strategic vision and central objective which the government and all sincere forces are seeking to achieve. The program that Prime Minister Maliki and his government have developed is one that can bring about reconciliation, but as Secretary Rice has said, it needs to pursued urgently, and it needs to be pursued to its completion.

In the weeks and months ahead, Iraq leaders have a full plate of issues on their agenda, with progress needed in hydrocarbon legislation, de-Ba'athification reform, provincial elections and constitutional review, as well as ensuring the day-to-day business of government is contended with efficiently.

The United States remains firmly committed to supporting the government, the nation and the people of Iraq as they move ahead with this agenda which is of vital importance to all Iraqis.

Shukran. Thank you.

GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon. As-salaam aleikum. It's my privilege to be here today with our charge, Dan Speckhard, and (obviously ?) my good friend, Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, who's the prime minister's spokesman for the government of Iraq. They've talked to you about what's going on in Iraq right now. What I'd like to do is take a second to talk about what we're doing to help our Iraqi security partners to improve security here within the country of Iraq.

As we know, once security is improved, the Iraqi people will be able to move forward. They can continue to build their government. They can continue to deal with the challenging issues facing that government such as the charge laid out. They can continue to develop their own Iraqi security force so that they can assume responsibility for protecting themselves.

To set these conditions, as you all know, the Iraqi security forces and the multinational force have begun Operation Fard al-Qanun which is still being implemented. It depends on extra Iraqi and coalition forces to help secure the population of Baghdad from both terrorists and outlaws. Four of the five American reinforcement brigades are now in Iraq, and we should have the additional forces operating with our Iraqi counterparts all in place by the first of next month.

As we all know, the security situation is complex and challenging. Our efforts may get harder before life gets easier for the Iraqis. Continued progress requires commitment, perseverance, and some sacrifice. Success will depend on the Iraqi people. Military action is necessary to provide the opportunity to reach long-term political solutions, but it alone is not enough. General Petraeus has promised that by September he will give the Iraqi and American people a security assessment of what is going on in Iraq once all the reinforcing units have been employed here for about two months.

In the meantime, I can tell you a little more about some of the trends we have been seeing. First of all, we continue to see al Qaeda trying to decimate hope. They can only advance their agenda through chaos and fear and intimidation, so they keep trying to commit mass murders to discredit both this Iraqi government and to demoralize its people. Al Qaeda is a vicious and committed enemy. We see them use car bombs and suicide vests to try to dash hope and spark a cycle of violence.

They target symbols of progress, vital infrastructure and gatherings of innocent people.

Last week, coalition forces discovered artillery shells and propane tanks and explosives planted in a girls school in Tarmia. The planned massacre bears all the signs of an al Qaeda operation. It was designed to be a vicious, ugly, sophisticated, premeditated attack against the most vulnerable and innocent members of society -- girls trying to get an education. If it had been successful, al Qaeda would have lied and blamed probably coalition forces for that massacre.

We continue to kill and capture al Qaeda terrorists, but we continue to need the help of the Iraqi people to reject them as they have been rejected in other countries. That is why the sheikhs in Al Anbar who are fighting against foreign terrorists are a sign of promising hope. This rejection of terrorism is leading to the discovery of more and more stockpiles of weapons, explosives and ammunition. In the Ramadi area, Iraqi and coalition forces have already taken more bombs and guns out of the hand of murderers in the first four months of this year than in all of last year.

Across Iraq, we have seen a dramatic increase in reporting and discoveries of weapons caches. In January of this year, we found and cleared 336 stockpiles. Last month that number was 731, and increase of more than 100 percent. Of course this means there are still too many weapons for outlaws, but we assess that the increased finds are coming from improvements in our security operations, and more importantly from increased cooperation with the Iraqi people.

The key to General Petraeus's strategy to protect the people is that we must be with the people. We need to live with them and be a part of the communities to help them be safe. We are now operating in over 60 joint security stations and combat outposts.

The neighborhood base police and military centers are operating just like local police stations in my own country. People know the security forces are there, and they are there to protect the people. They see the bravery of these forces. They see these forces manning checkpoints, securing markets with temporary protective barriers and stopping car bombs at these barriers, even at the risk of their own lives.

Our job is to secure progress and provide hope for the Iraqi people, and I look forward to taking your questions about that. Q (Through interpreter.) Dr. Ali, in Sharm el-Sheikh conference, Syria has rejected relieving its debts. Is that true, that it didn't commit with its obligations?

What's the stance of other Arab countries?

This question is to General Caldwell. The Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government says that the Ayyub al-Masri has been killed, but Caldwell has no information, so that's your problem, but the American side says that al-Baghdadi has -- why these contradictions between information about al-Baghdadi?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: (Al Syria ?) has said that it will commit itself for the Paris conference, that it will give about 80 percent of debt relief. (Al Syria's ?) stance in this conference is good, and we expect that other countries will also follow their example in relieving the debts of Iraq because they have been contributed in a military operation years ago.

I just would like to comment about the second question. As far as the Iraqi government, there is no announcement about -- there is no official announcement about the death of al-Baghdadi, and these are not official information. And the Iraqi government did not announce officially about the death of those terrorists, of both terrorists, only after we have recognized their bodies or we found some sources that approved that. So there is no official information that al-Masri or al-Baghdadi has been killed. What we have are just information, they're not from the Iraqi government.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name off mike) -- he confirms that -- he was the spokesman of the Interior minister, and he said that there are evidence of killing of al-Masri and al-Baghdadi.

GEN. CALDWELL: What I can tell you is that we're aware of the same reporting from the tribes that they in fact said that they did kill Ayyub al-Masri, but we have been unable to confirm it independently. So I'm not saying their reporting is inaccurate; I'm just saying we have not been able to confirm that independently to make that same statement ourselves.

When they went back to, as I understand, to recover the body that they said was AAM, the body was not there anymore, that it had been removed. And so we were unable to do that type of confirmation that we would normally do through DNA testing and other analysis.

MR. AL-DABBAGH: The Iraqi government does not confirm nor deny this, that we're still waiting for more reliable information or sources.

Q (Through interpreter.) Doctor, concerning the neighboring countries' conference, the main objective was the security situation and stabilizing Iraq. Concerning the countries that took part, especially the neighboring countries, have they committed to work on their barriers and their borders, especially with Syria? Was that obvious concerning the borders with other countries?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Concerning the conference, we dealt with both the security and economical situations, and also (regaining ?) support from neighboring countries in the security situation and that it is a responsibility for both countries, because it's not -- because violence is not hitting only Iraq; that all countries -- the concluding statement has promised to help Iraq and to fight terrorism, and also confirmed that any support or any aid should come through the elected government democratically.

I think that this conference has (shared ?) some good intents and that these actions will be into action by the neighboring countries to protect the borders and also preventing any kind of support to the terrorists or any kind of infiltration or logistical infiltration by the terrorists.

Q (Through interpreter.) One of the countries has described the armed -- or the insurgents, saying that there is a national resistance in Iraq. How do you comment?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Yes, one of these -- yes, Ahmed Benhuli (ph) has said that, and he apologized for this comment. And he said there is no national resistance or any sort of thing.

We welcome any kind of resistance in Iraq, but when it reaches to armed resistancy, it is not acceptable.

MR. SPECKHARD: Let just add to that question, because I think it's so important to realize what was committed to at this conference. And in fact I've brought a copy of the communique with us, and all of the countries in the neighboring conference agreed to this communique. And what they said in that, if I could just tell you, is that they reaffirmed the obligation of all states, in accordance with international laws and relevant agreements and resolutions of the U.N. Security Council, to combat terrorist activities and prevent the use by terrorists of their territory for supplying, organizing and launching terrorist operations.

And specifically, they reiterated their call to prevent the transit of terrorists and arms to and from Iraq, and emphasized the importance of strengthening cooperation between Iraq and the neighboring countries to control their borders. So there's a very clear, precise obligation and commitment on all of the neighboring states and the participating countries in that conference to live up to their international obligations. And as I said earlier, the important part will be watching words become action.

Q Dr. al-Dabbagh, Paul Schemm from AFP. If I could just clarify your earlier response. In this case, both the deputy Interior minister and the chief of operations at the Interior Minister (sic/Ministry) announced on national television that Abu Omar al- Baghdadi had been killed, and I just wanted to double-check to see if that is or is not the official position of the Iraqi government.

And the second question is for General Caldwell. You mentioned the school bomb in Tarmia; I was wondering if any action had been taken against the contractors, especially since more Iraqi contractors are carrying out U.S. military reconstruction contracts at this time.

MR. AL-DABBAGH: I have confirmed that the Iraqi government does not deny or confirm that -- that is not an official statement by the government by saying that Baghdadi has been killed or not. The Iraqi government needs some time to confirm the identity of the deceased person, if it was Baghdadi or not.

GEN. CALDWELL: As far as the contractor, that he's building the school up there, there is an ongoing investigation to look into that, to establish exactly when and how those munitions, the wires, the propane tanks, all those were put into the school. Again, I don't want to prejudice anybody, but initial indications are that it may have been done separate than the contractor himself at a different point, but they're looking at that very closely, obviously. We're just as concerned as anybody else about that ourselves.

Q Doesn't bode well for future --

GEN. CALDWELL: Right. But the initial indications are that it was probably not associated with the contractor, that the school had open access at different points. It wasn't -- there was not like a 24 by 7, you know, observation or watch kept over this facility as it was being built, so there was plenty of opportunity for somebody to have done something unbeknownst to the people who were working on the school themselves. But we'll have more of an answer on that. Q (Through interpreter.) Question. Dr. Ali, you've mentioned that now you need national reconciliation and -- especially for those who are outside the political progress (sic), (one of international ?) accord and who has confirmed that there should be a national reconciliation.

What is your procedures about this?

And also, a question for Daniel, for Mr. Speckhard. You said that neighboring countries have made their commitments. Will there be some (reconnaissance ?) that will make these countries oblige to their commitments?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: (Inaudible) -- should take their chance to (save ?) Iraq. We feel that it is irresponsible of all the politicians to activate the national reconciliation. Of course, there should be a national accord from all parties so that we can make all political parties commitment to improve Iraq, so that there will be a unified national vision that will lead Iraq -- that will move Iraq from its current position to a much better position in the future.

MR. SPECKHARD: In terms of follow up to the commitments made as part of the communique, the ministers did agree to set up a number of working groups, including one on border security. So I think the hope is that through continued work in that working group issues related to border security and the flow of militants or arms across those borders can be addressed. And I think, in addition, this conference represents a first step in improving the cooperation between neighbors and Iraq more generally on the security front. And the commitment was made as part of this support the constitutionally elected government of Iraq, who has made the issue of border security a very high one, along with the coalition support, to enforce and strengthen through the Iraqi security forces the security of your borders.

So I think there's a number of measures to monitor and track and follow up and improve cooperation.

Q (Off mike) -- for the last five months now a new counterinsurgency policy. What can you tell us about the first results in terms, well, good news and disappointments?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, as you know, when General Petraeus came in, we did start that in the February time frame; a very deliberate effort to protect the people. I mean, that's probably the underpinning cornerstone behind the counterinsurgency strategy is that in order to protect, we have to live with the people, and so we initially had about six different -- two large bases and four smaller bases within the Baghdad area.

We now are up to, as you know, just over 60 of these facilities throughout the Baghdad area now, so that we can be there with the people all the time. The initial indications are that the levels of murders and executions, and this is not from car bombs but murders and executions, that have occurred in the city have come down quite a bit and have remained at much lower levels than they were beforehand.

We're still challenged however though by the car bombs. And therefore you see the focus on these temporary protective barriers being put up throughout the city, from marketplaces to hospitals to governmental institutions in some of the neighborhoods, too, in order to protect the people there themselves from the car bombs. And obviously as we adjust, much greater emphasis and focus being put going after the car bomb networks, deal with some dedicated intelligence assets and force assets to take them down.

So initial signs are promising. We're encouraged by what we see. We know that all the forces are still not here yet. They will arrive by the first of next month, and not only the five reinforcing brigades but the additional aviation brigade, which is going to give us considerable airlift and reconnaissance attack assets to support those ongoing military efforts, too.

Q Alissa Rubin, New York Times.

Question, I guess, for General Caldwell, we heard today that there was an attack on the police headquarters in Samarra. And a police chief had been assassinated and some other people, and there's now a curfew there. Do you know anything about what happened and how many people attacked, how serious it is? There are some conflicting reports. Anything you could shed on that would be great.

And then for you or Mr. Al-Dabbagh, what's the status of the Adhamiya wall? Is it still being built? Is it -- are they waiting to figure out a new plan? What's the -- where's it at right now?

GEN. CALDWELL: Alissa, as far as Samarra goes, I do not have those details right now, but I will get those right after this session and we'll get back to you and try to answer your questions.

MR. AL-DABBAGH: As far as what is called as the Adhamiya barrier, there are actually temporary barriers as to protect the people of Adhamiya from the terrorist attacks that they face. The prime minister has decided that in order to protect Adhamiya from one side -- I just would like to say something, that there isn't -- in one area in Rusafa that there are 3,200 barriers have been established to protect the hospitals and markets and schools from the attacks of the terrorists that they might face. The aim is not to isolate one district from another, but there are some procedures that are being taken to protect them.

But we are working on moving these barriers now, because we found much better and safer ways to protect these areas. So our aim is just to protect the people from any kind of threat they face.

Q (Through interpreter.) Ahmad Mahdi (sp), from Radio Sawa. Yesterday or the day before, there were some deportation and displaced family. We've seen some armed militias working in al-Baya district. How can you say -- how can you comment that there is no reaction for those armed forces in al-Baya place?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: These are one of the challenges that we are facing right now, and the Iraqi forces are also facing, that these operations that are adopted by the terrorists, by --- actually the government is dedicating good attention to what's going on in that district, which targets one sect there.

The security operation now is growing, and Fard al-Qanun is growing now. And they are just trying to make a scratch in the national unity and also in the government, so that they can make that impression in the people concerning this military operation. Those who are doing this have no -- these things just target innocent people, and we are doing our best to eliminate them.

Q (Through interpreter.) Question from Al Hurra to General Caldwell. What are the details that -- the details on attacks that you've made against al-Sadr city, that targeted more than six houses? Does the Iraqi government know about this attack in Sadr City?

GEN. CALDWELL: Yes, they do. Early this morning coalition forces and Iraqi security forces conducted an operation in Sadr City to go after -- it was an intelligence-driven operation to go after a known terrorist that was there. They did go into four different buildings during the course of this operation. They began sometime around zero -- about 1:30 in the morning, concluded about 6:00 this morning.

The force went in there to grab this known terrorist that they were looking for. In first two or three buildings there was -- he was not there. And the fourth building they went into -- that's when they found a very unstable situation there, very dangerous situation, because of the amount of munitions that were existent in that building. There was over 150 mortar rounds just literally stacked. You could see them stacked in there. They were in the walls. We found IED-making material. But probably most pronounced, we found a torture room in there, clearly a place that had been used to hold people and then to torture them -- again, all in this one building.

It was the fourth building they went into. They were taking small arms fire from the surrounding area there. There was a(n) ongoing exchange of fires. They did call in and use some aviation support to put some precision fires in on specific objectives that they were taking fire from. And then when the operation was complete, the decision was made -- this building was so full of munitions -- obviously you have the torture chamber too in there -- that they would go ahead and reduce the building.

So an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team came in. They methodically went through and cleared the other houses around there of any people. They then went ahead and did a controlled detonation on that building to go ahead and get rid of all that ammunition that was sitting in there. We've got some pictures, if you'd like to seem, of some of that ammunition as it was stacked. I don't know if you can see it there. I mean, this is literally how it was stacked inside the building, that fourth building they went into. And so the decision was made it was just so unsafe for the people living in that neighborhood to try to remove that stuff that they would do a controlled detonation and destroy it in place, which they did.

Q A question for General Caldwell, if I can. Can you give us anymore details about the nature of the torture room, what it was that indicated it was a torture room, what you found in there that was the methods of torture that you'd seen, or anything that might indicate on the numbers of people that might have been processed through?

And also, in doing the controlled detonation, was there damage to neighboring properties?

GEN. CALDWELL: Obviously, the force was in there in the middle of the night, and anybody who's been on a military operation, as many of us have -- you're not normally doing a forensic analysis of the location. They went in there and they found a room that clearly had bloodstains in it.

They found the handcuffs. They found at least one facial mask that was used to cover faces with, and it had all the signs and exhibited the conditions we've seen before in other rooms that have been used where they have held people and used -- and conducted tortures within there, and so that was -- that was that room in the building itself.

And in terms of the -- exploding the unstable ordnance that was there, the determination was made we could either try to implode it as best as possible -- that's the reason why the explosive ordnance disposable folks were brought in, the experts that do this type of thing -- so that it would not be accidentally detonated and then obviously cause horrific damage in that neighborhood, had it gone off by us trying to remove that stuff. And as you saw, it was stacked literally just wall-high. And then also we found lots of IED-making material in there, too. So as best they could, they did, you know, the detonation to implode that thing so that it would not cause exterior damage to the neighborhood.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, if anybody has ever been around any kind of explosion that occurs, you understand that nothing is ever done without some debris flying and everything else. I mean, they did it the absolute best -- that was specially trained personnel that were brought in to do it, using the techniques that we do to implode as best you can.

Had that thing gone off, it could have -- I mean, when you start talking about 150 artillery shells, the extensive damage that could have done in killing innocent civilians in Sadr City would have been horrific. And so they cleared the -- from the blast waves that would have been occurring, they cleared all the people out of those buildings to ensure that nobody would be affected in that respect and receive any kind of injuries from that controlled detonation of the unstable ordnance.

Q You said it was a known terrorist you were going after. From what group or organization was that? And are the mortar rounds believed to be involved in the mortars that had been coming into the Green Zone?

Also, I had one other question for both Dr. Dabbagh and General Caldwell. Does anybody know what Abu Omar al-Baghdadi actually looks like, where he's from? Is there any information on him other than a voice that comes on the Internet? GEN. CALDWELL: The member -- the person that we were after last night -- early this morning is a member of a -- what we refer to as a secret cell that is associated with and involved with the facilitation and movement of arms and munitions.

We know they are also associated with EFPs, too. But -- well, as best we know, this was some kind of a Shi'a extremist element, some sort of secret cell we believe is a -- but again, the person in question was not detained, so we hesitate to go too much further.

We do have a press release coming out on it, and we'll try to lay a little of that out and explain it, exactly who we were trying to go after without divulging exactly who the person was himself. What we say there is that intelligence reports indicate that the secret cell had ties to a kidnapping network that conducts attack (within ?) Iraq as well as interactions with rogue elements throughout Iraq and into Iran. And that's what the press release will say that's coming out.

Q The mortars -- (off mike)?

GEN. CALDWELL: I did not ask that question. From the way they were stacked, I can't tell, but I could go back and ask that question to see if we believe that that might be the case. I do know, you know, we did pick up a mortar team there about a week ago inside of Sadr City with a mortar tube, mortar ammunition, and detained some individuals. And I'll be glad to get you some information. But I can ask them if they can do the comparative analysis between the two types of munitions to see if that might be the case.

MR. AL-DABBAGH: As for Mr. al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi government has information about this man, and when he will be apprehended we will get more information, but until now we don't -- we can't afford to give any kind of information.

Q Terri (sp) -- (name inaudible), with Stars & Stripes. You spoke about the JSS and how they're working in Baghdad. I wanted to ask about the other major cities throughout the country, if you see that plan replicating there, or what other tactics we can expect with the build-up.

GEN. CALDWELL: Terri (sp), we have already begun. In fact, you know, out in Al Anbar province, they had already begun and were using this concept of living in the city before we even began doing it more, obviously, robustly here in Baghdad. So that was already being -- and there's other areas of the country where commanders had on their own gone ahead and realized that they wanted to establish a permanent presence within certain villages, towns, cities, and had already established some of these on their own. The biggest difference is, is that we now recognize that is a fundamental policy of how we want to operate within the country, which we have been fully implementing since February. But they already did exist beforehand. There were some in here. They were mostly used out west by the Multinational Force West out there. But we will only continue to see more of these be established. They prove to be so effective.

The greatest thing about them -- and again, I have been to many of the Joint Security Stations with inside of Baghdad itself and have visited them. And what you do, when you go in and you talk to them, they'll tell you that this close contact that they're having with the people, the daily contact, is leading to much greater confidence in each other. The people are more confident in the Iraqi security forces and their ability to protect them, and then the security forces themselves demonstrate their ability to respond to things. So that that close contact, which is leading to confidence, leads to tremendous cooperation.

And again, I've shared the story before, but I just -- every time I walk into one of these joint security stations, and last week in was in the one at Sadr City, the week before one of the ones down in the Karrada peninsula area. And you know, each time they -- most of them have gone ahead and established a local telephone, you know, cell phone. And in the neighborhood they pass that number out so that the people can call right to that local police station to pass on information, to receive assistance, to ask for help.

And the one down in Karrada was telling me that he gets about 25 phone calls a day on this cell phone. And out of that about five of them have some kind of action that they're going to need to take on a short kind of term notice. And out of that at least one a day produces something. And he said, you know, they'll call in and report, there's a water main broken; electrical power line is down; could somebody come help fix it?

But where we see the greatest difference is just the amount of weapons caches that we're finding throughout the city because of these phone calls. I mean, these are not because of U.S. and Iraqi security forces all the sudden having developed new techniques of finding caches. The majority of these are the result of Iraqi citizens who are reporting what they know, where some weapons may be stashed or munitions, and they want them removed.

So that has proven that this close cooperation that's occurring is really proving effective. I mean, we're seeing it too in the atmospherics when you talk to the people. Even over -- if you take the time period of February now to the month of April, there's been an increase, although not dramatically, it's not something we've really come out and talked about. But when you go out and talk to the people and we, you know, record the data and look at this real closely, it's very apparent that their levels of confidence in the security forces has risen by anywhere from, depending on the area within Baghdad you're talking, between five and 15 percent just over a 60-day period.

Q How do you measure that.

GEN. CALDWELL: Through going out and talking to the people and engaging with them. So we are seeing some very positive atmospherics developing as a result of these joint security stations, combat outposts, being inside the neighborhoods and working very closely with the people. Q (Off mike.)

Hi, I had a question for Mr. Dabbagh. It regards -- first I wanted to follow up on the question regarding the barrier. What did the prime minister decide on the barrier? And you mentioned that other barriers were being removed because alternatives were being found. What are some of those alternatives?

And the second question is, has the parliament decided yet what to do about taking its summer holiday?

MR. AL-DABBAGH: To remove these barriers -- in fact there are temporary barriers.

Some have been replaced by other barriers, by less higher, and some barbed wires. And also, the decision was made by prime minister to prevent one side of Al-Adhamiya from -- that was near to the highway. And our aim, of course, is not isolate this district from other districts because it is so (dear ?) to us.

As far as the summer -- this goes -- this is after the parliament and the executive. This has to do with the parliament, and it has -- (word inaudible) -- and it's up to the members of the parliament also. They have to say about this; they have to take the call. But of course, the government wants to see the parliament working on its schools.

Q (Through interpreter.) A question from a few days ago. Some of the satellite channels had shown some voiced tape recording about Muhajir saying that he controls most areas in Diyala. So where does the operation in Diyala is going now? Where has it reached?

GEN. CALDWELL: As far as operations within Diyala, I would just tell you that we obviously do not talk specifically about where operations will go next. There obviously are ongoing operations that are occurring right now as we speak. Our -- General Petraeus has always stated that as these additional reinforcing brigades arrive in country, he does remain flexible in their actual employment and where he wants to use them where he thinks they'd have the greatest impact on reducing the overall levels of violence here within Iraq to allow for all other conditions to take place, so that the people of Iraq can decide their future.

And so, as this fifth brigade does start arriving, he has retained that flexibility to employ it wherever he feels that it will achieve the greatest effect of reducing the levels of violence. So tentatively, it's planned to come into the Baghdad area, but that does not necessarily mean that's where he will employ it. He will wait in reserve to make that decision as the situation continues to develop here in Iraq and those forces arrive here in early June.

STAFF: We're going to have time for one more question.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. AL-DABBAGH: (Through interpreter.) Concerning the voice tape record (sic), we still haven't confirmed or checked the authenticity of this tape recording that has been produced over the satellite channels, whether it's new or old. And the Iraqi government cannot confirm that -- its authenticity. Even the al-Muhajer or al- Masri -- we can't confirm if he's dead or alive, or that this tape recording is new or old. We cannot confirm that.

STAFF: Last question.

Q About the success of the JSS strategy, I was curious, especially considering the amount of success you've been witnessing with it, why it was waited until the fifth year of the war to implement it.

GEN. CALDWELL: I can tell you that as we continued to look at the situation in Iraq and see what was developing, it became apparent that they had had some of those already out there, but obviously not anywhere near the numbers we do today, and that they proven to be very successful. And so when General Petraeus came in, he made the decision we were going to expand and use them at a lot -- much far greater numbers than we had previously.

Again, with -- the approach that we're taking is, you know, to protect the people, you have to live with the people. You have to be with the people. And --

Q So it was better than State not implementing them earlier to protect the people?

GEN. CALDWELL: Some were being used already before. They had proven to be effective. You know, the thing that you always do is, you continually adapt, adjust and modify whatever you're to fit the situation on the ground to achieve the greatest effect that you can.

And it was -- there was a determination made that the levels of violence were not coming down from the other methods that were being used at that point. And so where we had seen some success was starting to occur out west, where the local commanders out there had made the decision to establish these outposts within the city of Ramadi. And again, I think if you look from six -- a year ago to six months ago to today, it's just a dramatic reduction in the numbers of attacks, the number of casualties, the number of incidents that are occurring out in Ramadi. And those -- you can go back and directly start attributing those to these combat outposts that were formed and built as -- moved through the city, so that they were establishing a long-term, more permanent presence in the city.

And so as we look across the country, the determination was made -- hey, this is a tactic that's working well. It's producing some very positive results.

The thing we did, obviously, within Baghdad was ensure that they represent the Iraqi security forces, the police, the army, and the coalition forces, to work together as a combined team to move forward.

So there are some differences in that respect, and obviously in much, much -- far greater numbers than we've seen anywhere else within the country.

MR. AL-DABBAGH: Thank you. Thank you for all coming.

END.



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