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Press conference with Maj. Gen. Willian Caldwell IV, spokesman, MNF-I, and Brig. Gen. Marck Gurganus, commander, Ground Combat Element, MNF- West, on operations in Al Anbar province, May 16, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq


GEN. CALDWELL: Good afternoon. "As-salaam aleikum." It's my privilege again to be here today with you on behalf of the men and women of the Multinational Force-Iraq. Today I've got my good friend, Brigadier General Mark Gurganus. Mark is the ground force commander for the Multinational Force-West forces operating in Al Anbar province.

And, Mark, thanks for joining us here today.

GEN. GURGANUS: Thank you, sir.

GEN. CALDWELL: The main enemy facing the Iraqi people in Al Anbar is al Qaeda. We all know that they're a vicious, ruthless enemy dedicated to killing hope and stopping progress. They don't want to win elections or get appointed to head ministries, they want to kill enough innocent men, women and children that chaos and fear will dominate. And they want to torture and assassinate those assisting the people and create a climate of despair that killed confidence in the security forces and in their government. Al Qaeda could not win an election. They offer discredited and hateful ideologies that have been rejected by the people in Saudi Arabia, in Egypt and in Afghanistan. They are engaged in campaigns of murder and intimidation to try and advance their agendas. They want to commit horrific mass murders to try and spark sectarian violence. They need for the people of Iraq to feel unsafe so that even their way of life seems preferable. They offer but two choices: death or submission.

We have a different mission in Iraq. We are here to secure progress and provide hope. We are here to help the Iraqis build institutions that will offer their children a better life and a brighter tomorrow. We want to help the Iraqi people develop a secure, stable, and self-governing nation that they can be proud of. We want to help the Iraqi people build loyal and professional security forces so that people can believe that true security does not lie with gangs and outlaw militias. We want to help Iraqis build capable police and courts so that the people can believe in the rule of law instead of fearing the law of the gun.

This is a very complex and challenging fight, but that doesn't mean we should desert the Iraqi people to their enemies. When our Iraqi allies are faced with people who will drive bombs into markets to massacre women shopping for groceries, and children carrying their books to schools, we have to ask ourselves can we just walk away?

Mark will tell you about the ways the Iraqi people are rejecting al Qaeda in the west, and the ways that they're helping them in their fight.

I can tell you about some progress here the Iraqi people are making against al Qaeda in Baghdad.

Today, in an Iraqi facility staffed by Iraqi police, Iraqi judges, Iraqi attorneys, and Iraqi court personnel, the alleged terrorist known as Abu Nur will begin to face the Iraqi justice in the Iraqi legal system.

If you could throw up the first chart, please.

Umar Abdullah Dahd (ph), also known by the criminal aliases of Abu Nur and "the Spider," will face charges today of murder as well as other charges under Article IV, Section 1 of Iraq's antiterrorism law. He is accused of being al Qaeda's emir of Baghdad, responsible for coordinating terror activities in this area. He's accused of leading a car bomb and roadside bomb network that is said to have been responsible for murdering hundreds of innocent civilians. Some of his network bombs also have mixed chemicals with the explosives, to try and create even more panic and hopelessness.

He has admitted to having a role in between 800 to 900 car and roadside bomb attacks. He is accused of overseeing sectarian murders and executions. He is also accused of being involved in several attacks on bridges and other infrastructure vital to the Iraqi people. He has admitted to playing a part in the horrific bombings in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad on November 23rd of last year, and he has also admitted to his responsibility in the kidnapping and murder of four Russian diplomats in June of 2006. According to charges being prepared against him, Abu Nur personally beheaded two of these men in videotaped savagery that played across the world.

Abu Nur was apprehended in the vicinity of the main market of Taji on December 19th of 2006. Coalition forces noticed a man in a vehicle behaving in a highly suspicious manner, and performed a vehicle stop to question the suspected individuals. It turned into a firefight when one of the men in the car detonated a suicide vest that he was wearing, but our soldiers were able to arrest Abu Nur. Since he was detained, we have carefully begun ascertaining his precise identity and working with our Iraqi counterparts as they have begun to build a legal case against him.

While he has been in custody and we have learned more about the aims and methods of his terror organization, Abu Nur has claimed that al Qaeda targets everybody. He claims there aren't any innocent people. Through his capture, we have gained information showing that his network deliberately targeted mass gatherings of innocent men, women and children for savage bombings. His beliefs are absolutely disgusting, and that is one of the reasons we are seeing al Qaeda being increasingly rejected by the Iraqis, particularly out west in Al Anbar province. They are choosing to try civil governance instead of trying to live under violent anarchy. Al Anbar's provincial council met this week for the second time in two weeks. Hopefully, it's the start of a new wave for the people there to resolve their differences with words rather than bombs.

If you could, next slide, please.

Since January of this year, attacks and murders against civilians and Iraqis and coalition security forces in Ramadi has decreased significantly, from a high of 108 in the week beginning February 23rd to just seven in the week ending May 11th. And I think you can see that as you look up there on the chart on the far right-hand side.

And here to explain what the Iraqi people and its forces are doing to produce these results is Brigadier General Mark Gurganus -- again, the ground-force commander for the Multinational Force-West out in the Al Anbar province. You all may not realize that Mark is on his second tour here, having served in 2005 as a regimental combat team commander out in the west, in the Fallujah area.

GEN. GURGANUS: Thank you, sir. And salaam aleikum and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

I don't have much of a prepared statement. I've got a short one here. But I'm more interested in getting to your questions and trying to answer what you're interested in hearing about. But let me just share a few things with you kind of to set this up.

This chart's just one of many ways that we're seeing improvement throughout the Al Anbar province. But we would not tell you for a minute that Al Anbar still is not a dangerous place. It is still a dangerous place. And so we're not trying to tell you that everything is perfect there yet, but we do see significant signs of things getting better and we're seeing it on a daily basis.

We're seeing the attack numbers continuing to drop. That's a very good indicator that the security system is getting better. I can talk for days about the increase in the security forces, in the Iraqi security forces and the roles that they've stepped up and they are playing now.

Just as kind of a side note, I was in Fallujah in 2005 and happened to sit on a small panel of about four people that hired the very first police chief in Fallujah. Today, through -- and that was the very first police in Fallujah. And today we have about -- a little over 16,000 police in the Al Anbar police, and we've grown from the two brigades we had in 2005 to somewhere in the neighborhood of about 17,000 trained soldiers in the Iraqi army, making up two divisions. We have about 7,100 more police now than we had in December, in that short a period of time. These are police that have been trained. These are police that have been to the Iraqi police academies, and some of them have been trained, some of the -- and we can talk more about the emergency response units, we can talk more about the provincial security forces, which is what we call the emergency response units, should you desire to, who are also being trained initially by the coalition forces and ultimately will all be trained at the Iraqi police academies.

We can also talk about many more things that have happened out there. We have now -- I say "we"; you'll hear me use "we" a lot today because everything we do in the Al Anbar province right now is a partnership. It's a partnership with coalition forces. It's a partnership, and that partnership includes the Iraqi army; it includes the Iraqi police, it includes these provincial security forces, it includes the tribal sheikhs, it includes municipal governments and also the provincial governor. And we're working as full partners now, and more and more we're seeing the Iraqis take the lead as we move forward in the Al Anbar province.

So with kind of that as a background, I think I'll just stop right there, sir, and jump into the questions.

Yes, sir.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name and affiliation inaudible.) I have two questions to General Caldwell. Do you have any information or any extra information about the three American soldiers kidnapped in Iraq?

And for General Mark Gurganus, how do you see the Iraqi security forces in Anbar province?

GEN. CALDWELL: Why don't you go first.

GEN. GURGANUS: Okay, sir.

The question was: How do I see the Iraqi security forces in Al Anbar? Getting stronger every day. We have -- as I told you before, we have somewhere around 17,000 soldiers in two divisions in Al Anbar, and we have about 17,000 police. We have police now in every major population center in Al Anbar, from Fallujah all the way up the Euphrates River Valley and including Rutbah out west, next to the Jordanian border.

A large number of these have completed the Iraqi police academy, the eight-week program, and eventually they will all go there. As a matter of fact, we have such a demand -- and I'll get kind of into the success of why I think this has been a success story. We will be opening our own Iraqi police academy in Habaniyah. I think the opening ceremony is scheduled for the 4th of June with the first class starting about the 10th of June of this year. They're completing the work on that academy now. That -- the first class will be about 550 Iraqi police officers, and after we get through the first class, where we try to get things running smoothly, each class after that will produce about 750 fully trained Iraqi police.

A year ago you couldn't get anybody from the Al Anbar province hardly to step up and join the Iraqi army or step up and join the police at that point in time. And you all have -- you all -- far more read into the beginnings of the awakening than I am, since we just started here in February. But I've got to tell you, with the sheikhs and the tribal leaders having decided that al Qaeda does not offer them an ideology that they're willing to follow, they have really stepped up to the plate to show their support for their own country of Iraq.

And they're doing that in many ways, but one of the predominant ways is that they're offering their sons to be part of the Iraqi police, to be part of the Iraqi army. So that's -- they're stepping forward and saying, you know, "We'll take control over our own future."

And we've had tremendous success that was started by the unit that was here before us, set the conditions very well. We've walked in and just been able to kind of pick up where they left off without missing a step with that.

But we owe the success in the building of the Iraqi security forces to the people of Al Anbar, particularly their tribal leaders.

Did that answer your question, sir?

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. CALDWELL: As far as the fate of our three missing soldiers, those -- you know, let me start off by first of saying that as you know, we officially announced last night the names of the four that we are -- you know, are still trying to make positive identification on at this point, with there of them being missing and one of them going through positive identification.

So let me first of all say to all the families and loved ones associated with anybody who was a part of that element that night, you know, obviously our prayers and condolences go out to them. This is difficult time, especially for those families who don't know the fate of their loved ones -- are going through right now, you know.

And we've been very clear too that, you know, I cannot promise you the results that we're all praying for, but I can promise you that we and our Iraqi counterparts are doing absolutely everything we can to find our soldiers. We take this very seriously. General Lynch talked today about the fact that there's been about 143 different reports and tips that have come in, that they've received down in that area so far as they're conducting these operations. He said, as a result of those 143 tips, they've conducted 37 deliberate operations going after targets, trying to find our missing soldiers.

We're continuing -- they've broken it down into about 35 zones in that area down there where they're operating. Thirty-two of the zones at this point they have in fact conducted operations in. Some they've gone back into again. But those operations are still ongoing. They are by no means complete with their first initial sweep through the whole area that he wants his forces to ensure that they've gone through.

They've been provided every asset that he's requested, from national assets down to tactical assets. And the operations are ongoing.

We have had one American soldier wounded at this point as a result of those operations.

He's -- those forces down there have questioned over 600 different people at this point, and a small handful, about 11 or so, have been held based on the possibility they may have more information that might perhaps give them a clue as to where our missing soldiers might be.

So these operations are continuing down in that area. In fact, I mean, Mark can tell you, I mean just to show you the breadth and scope of this, there's literally thousands of coalition forces and Iraqi security forces involved in this. You know, we could not do this without our Iraqi counterparts. They have been absolutely imperative and invaluable in providing us critical information that has allowed us to do some of the things that we have done. So it's a true joint effort down there.

GEN. GURGANUS: I'll just add to this that my boss, Major General Gaskin, the CG of MNF-West, still considers this to be the number one thing that we're doing in al Anbar province too, is anything that we can add to the search, anything we can add to the operations as well, we will certainly provide that. And we're finding that this is not just coalition forces that are standing in the breach to help with this. Our Iraqi partners are helping; our Iraqi partners are using their knowledge of the area as well and their familiarity with the people in our region just to make sure that if there's anything that has come over out of MND-Central's area into ours, that we're prepared to help them in those regards as well, sir.

Q (Through interpreter.) Do you presume that these soldiers are still alive?

GEN. CALDWELL: We're sure praying that our soldiers are still alive at this point. We have no indications to reflect otherwise at this point. So that's the reason why the intensive search will continue, regardless of their status, until we find our missing soldiers.

Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) Ali Hanza (ph) from Al Alum (ph). General Caldwell, in al-Baya the first was -- has witnessed search operations by the American forces until they reached al Rahman mosque, and the forces put a cross on the mosque or a sign. After that, the owner of the house informed them about big weapons caches. What do you think of that?

GEN. CALDWELL: If I understand your question correctly -- just to make sure I have it -- you're saying that there was some information provided to the forces down there that are conducting the search, and you're asking me what did they do about the information? Is that correct? Q (Through interpreter.) The area of al-Baya witnessed search operations by the American forces. The American forces entered a house near Rahman mosque. When the forces went out of the house, they put a sign on the house that this house has been searched. After that, the owner of the house came and informed them about big weapons caches inside the house, and he informed the authorities about that.

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, I mean obviously that's key to what's going on down there right now is -- are these tips.

You know, as I said, General Lynch mentioned this morning that there's been over 143 tips that they've received in the last three days, of which, you know, they were able to action -- conduct some kind of action upon --operation on 37 of them. So they have had some cooperation from the people down there that has been absolutely essential. If in fact -- I did not ask him specifically what number of caches they may have found as a result of this, because clearly our focus right now is on finding our soldiers themselves. But I'd have to go back. But if in fact somebody did provide some information on a cache, that's good news because that's less munitions and armament that would be available out there.

Q (Through interpreter.) The American forces searched the house and then they left the house, and they said that this house has been searched, and after that, the owner of the house informed --

INTERPRETER: Sir, the question is -- Al Alin (ph) Television from Iran, I guess, is asking that the American forces went into a house next to Jaima al-Rahman (sp), which is a Rahman mosque, and after they searched the house and they said it's clear, they left a white mark on the house saying that it has been searched. When the owner of the house went into the house, he found pile of cache. I guess the reporter is saying that the MNF-I or we did put that cache inside the house. This is his question. So what can you say about that, sir?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, I'd tell you right afterwards if we can get some details. I'm not familiar with this, but I'll be glad to follow it up and try to get you a more informed answer. I'm just not familiar the situation or the location that you're specifically talking about, but we can sure follow up right after this with you. We'll be glad to do that. Okay.

Q (Through interpreter.) You are accusing the Iraqi soldiers about dereliction about the missing soldiers. Now, what is the cooperation between you and the Iraqi security forces?

GEN. CALDWELL: Okay. I don't think there was any accusations made about anything. I think what you heard was we could not be achieving and doing what we're doing without the support of our partners. Our Iraqi counterparts are absolutely imperative and critical to what's going on. They're an integral part of this operation. There are several thousand of them involved in this, helping us with the ongoing operation down there. From their intelligence services to their senior leadership, they're providing us some critical information that has allowed us to focus our operations, to decide where to go.

That has been based upon information only they were able to glean, that we did not have through our sources. So this is a one-team effort, and they're absolutely imperative for what we're doing.

Okay. Yes, sir.

Q Hi. Ben Blake, CNN, for General Caldwell. This is a question again about the missing soldiers and particularly Saturday morning, standard operating procedures for such patrols. A couple of things which we noticed -- first of all, the size of the patrol -- two vehicles, eight men -- is that something that you expect to see? Is that a standard operating procedure with five seats in a humvee?

And also, static OPs in such an area where IEDs are prevalent and you have potential attacks -- is it usual for patrols to be so isolated and not have mutual support?

And the follow would be, if this isn't breaking any SOPs, are you going to make any changes to the SOPs you give to your commanders on the ground to deal with this?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, first of all, let me say, you know -- as we all know, this was a static position that had been there throughout the night. We do know that they had concertina wire, triple-stand -- in other words, you know, two lower layers and one more on top -- of concertina somewhat around the position where the two vehicles were located on this little roadway where they were. And we also know that they were part of a larger element. And there's -- I think General Lynch said this morning, about 500 meters away is where the next element, a part of that force was located. That's how they were able to hear the explosion, you know, that occurred that morning.

He's gone on to say that they are looking very carefully at the whole tactical situation. Obviously, we always want to ensure that if there is something that could have been done better, that we do that next time, and he has stated that. They are making an assessment of that. They're looking at that closely. But I mean clearly right now, the number one issue is finding our soldiers, and that's where the energy and the focus is being put, because that's what we want to do first. And then they will look very closely at the tactics involved as to how they were conducting this overwatch operation and the whole issues of mutually supporting and the proximity and everything else.

Q Can you explain if mutual support was in place, the Quick Reaction Force that was dispatched in the hour's time would -- was -- were we to understand that the rest of the patrol was also incapacitated and unable to come to the aid of the static OP that was 500 yards away? GEN. CALDWELL: Well, what we do know is from the two different locations where units were moving from to move to the location where the explosion occurred, where the attack occurred -- we know that the one from the north that was moving south down along the road did encounter two what we call crush wire IEDs, roadside bombs, and that they had to navigate through to get to the location.

And we know that the one coming from the south that moved up to that location, they also encountered and had to negotiate through a roadside bomb.

So we had two elements converging on that location to provide assistance. That call went out some time right after 5:00 when it was confirmed that in fact something had happened at the unit's location where the static OP was, and both of those elements were on site by 5:40. And again, they're also going to look at all this very closely, but that's the general scenario about what went down.

Yes, sir.

Q Yeah, Joe Krauss from AFP. There was another massive explosion in Diyala province yesterday, and as I'm sure you know, the attacks seem to have kept up despite the Baghdad security plan and security plans elsewhere in the country. Are you at all concerned that with the security pact down in Baghdad you're just driving insurgents into other areas and not really defeating them?

GEN. CALDWELL: Well, as we've always said, the intent behind the operation within Baghdad is to set the conditions to allow the political process to take place. If in fact there are insurgent elements, outlaws, illegal groups that move out of the Baghdad area that allow for the conditions to set place to where economic progress, political progress, governance progress can take place and it can be established, what's key to all this is the enduring piece of it. We can't just come in and set it and walk away from it. We have to come in, set it, and then the Iraqi security forces have to be able to sustain it long term. And that's what they're working very diligently to do within the Baghdad area.

So if in fact some elements moved outside the city, we have forces out there, as we have talked -- General Mixon talked the other day, and when he said up in Diyala he requested additional forces to help them with the situation up there, we know that the multinational -- you know, the Corps -- General Odierno has in fact moved about 3,000 additional troops into Diyala over about the last seven weeks now, which includes 4th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division with two Stryker battalions and a artillery battalion, and then, of course, the 5th battalion of the 20th Infantry Regiment that he moved there, another Stryker battalion already too. So he has moved additional forces to where he's seen the need, and General Mixon is right now working that and assessing the situation based on these additional forces he's just been given. So we'll deal with them where they come like that.

Q Just to follow up on that, our understanding was that the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry was originally sent to Baghdad, I believe, earlier this month or last month as part of the Baghdad security plan. It's since been, at least part of it, moved to Diyala.

How many forces have you transferred that were supposed to be originally on the security plan into provinces outside of Baghdad?

GEN. CALDWELL: I think what you've got to remember is from the very beginning what General Petraeus and General Odierno have always said. They're going to position those forces where they need them, to best help overall influence the situation in Baghdad. That may mean that they're going to operate in the Baghdad Belts; that may mean they're going to operate in a portion of Diyala province.

We've been very, very careful in ever describing where these forces are going to go or where they're going to operate. And as the situation on the ground changes, as the dynamics change, it would be irresponsible of a commander if he or she did not make the decision to adjust as necessary a plan. Again as anybody knows as a ground tactical commander, a plan is a start point from which to operate. And then you continue to assess the situation on the ground and make adjustments as required. It's not something that's fixed and you never, you know, move off that.

And so as we get this last -- the fifth brigade coming in, again, General Odierno has been real clear. He's going to make the assessment, as these forces arrive, exactly where he wants to place them to achieve the effects that he's trying to, to set the conditions for Fard al-Qanun to succeed. And that may mean working -- as General Mixon talked the other day, there's a line of where we see insurgent activity moving, from Diyala into Baghdad. He may put something up in that area. Again, that's General Odierno's decision. He'll talk with General Petraeus about it as these forces become available.

Yes, sir.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name and affiliation inaudible.)

My question to you, General, you talked about the terrorist Abu Nour, and now he appeared in an Iraqi court. Has he been sentenced? Or is he still in custody?

GEN. CALDWELL: Abu Nour is obviously still in custody. Today he's being -- he's going before and investigative judge in the Iraqi central criminal court system. And again, the charges that he's -- again, they have different terminology, but it's -- the charges which he's being faced with are both against the anti-terrorism law and then against -- about murder, too.

Yes, sir, go ahead. Q Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times.

Mainly a question about the tribes -- I just wanted to make sure. Abu Nour is in Iraqi custody or under coalition custody. Who's holding him right now? Yeah, and then I'll ask my other minute question.

GEN. CALDWELL: Yeah, I believe right now he's still being held by us, but obviously in the -- being processed through the central criminal court.

Q Okay, and then I wanted to ask you, General, if you could describe for me a bit more the nature of the tribes now that are, you know, fighting al Qaeda in, or branches of -- perhaps that are fighting al Qaeda in Anbar.

We all know or we've heard of the awakening council and of Abu Sattar Abu Rishawi (sic; Abdul Sattar Rishawi). I'm just wondering how many branches of the Doulaymi tribe are actually, you know, fighting al Qaeda in Anbar. You know, how many of them are loyal to -- following, I guess, the Abu Rishawi line of -- in fighting al Qaeda? How many are affiliated with other tribal leaders? I mean, what is the actual nature of cooperation between different branches within the wider Doulaymi confederation?

How does it link from Fallujah to Ramadi, or is it completely different and separate? What areas is the tribal alliances fighting al Qaeda more strong and developed? Which areas is it weaker?

And likewise, I mean, what are the -- I mean, there must be pros and cons to this. You hear some Iraqi politicians saying this is a great thing. Others are very nervous about the fact that tribes are being armed this way.

So yeah, just -- those are kind of the general things I was curious about.

GEN. CALDWELL: He can have the rest of the press conference. (Scattered laughter.)

GEN. GURGANUS: Hey, pass that one around.

There are really three branches that are fighting al Qaeda. The first branch is the Iraqi army, the second branch is the Iraqi police, and the third branch is the provincial security forces.

We're not seeing the tribes that -- we're not arming tribes. We're not training tribes. We are training the men that they send to the Iraqi police forces that they have stood up as part of these provincial security forces. You heard them first referred to as emergency response units or emergency response battalions.

We will -- these are people who are filling -- who are put on the payrolls of the minister of Interior. They're armed and equipped through the minister of Interior, and paid by them once they have in fact completed training. And the Iraqi police obviously go to the Iraqi police academy, and the Iraqi army are going through the basic combat training there at Habbaniya.

But we're not arming tribes, if that was the question. In all of that somewhere -- we're just not arming tribes. We're not taking groups of people. We're not giving weapons to this tribe, to that tribe, to any portions of the tribes. We're taking them and putting them -- they are volunteering. Now they're being contributed by tribes, absolutely. That's exactly how we're getting now -- that each one of our basic combat training classes at Habbaniya is full. We graduated 1,017 soldiers last Sunday. We'll graduate another 550 this Sunday, every one of them out of Al Anbar province.

We have several hundred IPs in different IP academies, primarily Sulimaniyah and Mosul right now, all of them out of the Al Anbar province. And then again, we will open our own academy in Habbaniya in June.

So we're not arming tribes, but we are training the men, and we're training their sons. We're training their kin people who they send into the Iraqi police, the provincial security forces and into the army.

Q Well, I remember I was in -- I went to the -- well, the -- well, when there was -- at least the police training center, when it was still functioning, in Amman in February. And I saw some of the men from Anbar, and I asked why -- "Are you from Anbar?"

And they're like, "Oh, we're here because of -- basically because of Sheikh Sattar. He signed us up. He sent us." That's why they were there.

I'm wondering who are the key sheikhs in Anbar that are recruiting these people, and are you concerned that their loyalty is a challenge not just in Anbar but elsewhere, I mean whether it's the party militia, et cetera? Are you worried that their loyalty isn't first to the state but to the tribal leader who is calling them to join these forces?

GEN. GURGANUS: No, I understand what you're saying. And no, we're not seeing that. I mean, we're seeing these men, regardless of what tribe -- and honestly, we're seeing the recruiting effort is running all the way from Husaybah all the way into Fallujah and all the way out to Rutbah we're seeing people. Now, there are some where you don't get quite as many -- we don't get quite as many recruits. Right now we're not getting quite as many recruits out of Rawah and Anah. But we expect that will also pick up as well. But throughout the rest of the Euphrates River Valley and even out in Rutbah, we have, quite frankly, more people that are trying to join the IPs than we will ever be able to train -- I mean than we can train right now. It will take us a while through iterations of training and putting 750 through at a class, or putting the 1,650 that we can put through recruit training, it's going to take us several iterations because each one of the classes over the past about two months have been full, two and a half months, actually.

But no -- back to your original question -- at least at this point we have absolutely no worries that we're training tribal armed militias. That's not what we're seeing. And they fall underneath -- just so you understand, these -- the provincial security forces, those battalions fall underneath the provincial -- they take their orders from the provincial chief of police, they don't take them from their tribal leader.

Does that help?

Q Yes, thank you, sir.


Q Thank you. Larry Kaplow with Newsweek. Two things. General Caldwell, is there any indication that any of the three missing soldiers was injured during the attack? Presumably there could be some evidence of that at the scene.

And secondly, for General Gurganus, what is your posture or what's the policy, your approach now for people who may be joining the security forces in Anbar who maybe months ago were fighting, laying IEDs against coalition forces?

GEN. GURGANUS: If we have someone who now has decided that -- and trust me, we feel like we're training many people who months ago were probably supporting -- either actively or passively supporting the insurgency.

Okay. We're more than happy that they've seen the light and changed sides here. And we're happy to -- we're happy to have them as part of the team now, as part of the Al Anbar team. And I think the ones that have made a switch from supporting the insurgency probably are following the lead -- in Al Anbar, particularly, are probably following in many cases their tribal leaders' lead, and the reason they are is because they're talking about the future of their province and the future of their country. And again, they have found out that, you know, the next step in moving forward is getting rid of the al Qaeda influence that's in Al Anbar.

GEN. CALDWELL: As far as the status of our three missing soldiers, you know, the very nature of the enemy is such that, you know, we have no confirmation from any independent sources as to the status of our three missing soldiers. But obviously, it appears there was a firefight that did ensue, and we don't know the exact condition of our three men.

Q When you say that you probably have trained people who were supporters of this insurgency, active or not, is it possible, then, that some of them might even have planted an IED against a U.S. soldier?

GEN. GURGANUS: They very well could have. At some point in the past they very well could have. Okay.

Q So they could have killed a U.S. --

GEN. GURGANUS: That I don't know. Now, that part of it I don't know. But what we're looking for now, and with the tribal leaders, with the tribal leaders that are on board to get rid of public enemy number one, which is al Qaeda, if they're bringing their young men to us and saying, "I will guarantee his behavior, I will guarantee his participation in conjunction with the coalition force to fight for the sons -- as a son of Al Anbar and to fight for the Iraqi government," you know, it's -- I don't have a good historical example right off the top of my head to draw for you, but yeah, we'll train him and we'll work with him.

Q Is this almost like an unofficial amnesty, then?

GEN. GURGANUS: No, it's not unofficial amnesty. I think it's a major shift -- it's a major shift in the dynamics in Al Anbar province. It is clearly a move away from any of the ideological pieces that al Qaeda had to offer, to where they understand now that they're going to be part of a functioning government in Iraq.

Q (Through interpreter.) A question to both. (Inaudible) -- spokesman for the Fard al-Qanun said that sectarian killing had dropped from -- had decreased or disappeared from 40 to 50 to 100.

Did this happen because of coordination between the Multinational Forces and the Iraqi security forces and the progress made by the Iraqi security forces?

GEN. CALDWELL: Absolutely. It is a combination of all that. It is a combined operation that is going on in Baghdad as part of Fard al-Qanun. The coalition forces are just a part of the overall operation. General Aboud is in charge. He has a Baghdad operations center that coordinates and directs all the operations that occur within Baghdad and sets the priorities and the allocation of forces and the adjustment of forces that exist within the city.

So absolutely. When you ask, is it a coordinated effort? Yes, it is. It's coordinated by General Aboud, and he's in charge. And we work very closely, as you know, with these joint security stations, where you'll find an Iraqi police person, an Iraqi army soldier and a coalition soldier all working side by side.

GEN. GURGANUS: Let me -- could I add a little bit to that, sir?


GEN. GURGANUS: And you'll find that all the way out in Al Anbar as well in terms of the partnership with the Iraqi security forces.

Let me just -- just a little bit about Ramadi and kind of how that works now is they have set up joint security stations throughout the city. And in one of these joint security stations, you will find either U.S. soldiers, U.S. Marines that are living in that joint security station with Iraqi police and also with soldiers from the Iraqi brigades that are stationed in Ramadi. And they take ownership of their part of the city, and they live and eat right there in the same places and work and patrol out of that to take care of their part of the city. It's a partnership that's -- it's been a pleasure to watch it develop, and it's working well.

STAFF: Gentlemen, we have time for two more questions.

Q Hi. Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post. Some of the tribal leaders recently have gone on television to complain that they -- that they're using their own weapons, and complained the central government has not provided them these weapons. How much, General, is the progress in -- continued progress in Anbar hinge on the central government providing more resources -- not just weapons -- to Anbar and to the tribes? And, General Caldwell, I have a question for you, too. There have been some reports of clashes between U.S. forces and Mahdi Army fighters in several neighborhoods of Baghdad.

What is this a sign of? Are these rogue elements or are we seeing signs of the Mahdi Army rising up to engage U.S. forces?

GEN. GURGANUS: Okay, sir. I will tell you that, yeah, they're there right now. We do face an equipment shortage at the present time. It does not stop us from training, but it does clearly keep us from arming some of the different forces. But that is being rectified very quickly. I mean, new weapons are being bought, new equipment is being bought, and I will tell you, we have not yet reached the point where we've had to stop training because we have equipment shortages. We see some coming. We see some shortages coming down the road here. If we don't get some of the new equipment in, that will slow us down a little bit; but I have full confidence and being told by the people in Baghdad who handle that piece of it for all of Iraq that we will not go wanting for weapons, equipment and for the pay for them, for that matter, because they're being approved by the MOI before we ever start training.

Does that answer your question, sir?

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. GURGANUS: Any of the people who are using their own weapons today, we -- so far, as far as I know, we're not -- they may have some people in -- I don't know. I can't answer the question because as far as I know we have been arming all of the ones that we have -- that we've had. We are not out of weapons at this point in time, not out of equipment at this time.

There are some shortages, but we're not out of them at this point in time. We do see some of that coming, though, if we don't get them in.

GEN. CALDWELL: And to Gus, what I would say with respect to Baghdad, you know, if you just look at the last week alone, they conducted 35 coalition operations; that's Iraqi and coalition forces operating together at the company level and above just within Baghdad. They're out there in much larger numbers now conducting more operations. As a result of these operations, I mean just in the last seven days 112 people were detained, we found 67 weapons caches. I mean, they're very active out in the city, so you may in fact see a greater level of contact occurring, but I would not contribute it to per se something -- a different dynamic in terms of the -- those who are conducting illegal activities are doing as much as perhaps the Iraqi security forces and us, operating in greater numbers with more intensity throughout the entire city, especially in the areas where we perhaps haven't operated as much before.

And you know, West Rashid is an area we're really focused on right now, and we see a lot going on down in there, but it's just because that's -- I think we're just conducting a lot more operations.

Q (Off mike) -- try to engage the Mahdi Army more often as you -- (off mike)?

GEN. CALDWELL: No. And again, you know, the thing that the commanders will tell you -- you know, and again, I've been -- I get down there every week inside of Baghdad some place and are able to sit and talk with the commanders and get out and see where they're operating in. They're not targeting anybody in particular. They are just trying to bring greater levels of security in working with their Iraqi counterparts to the people of Baghdad. There's no targeting of a particular group, but if you are conducting illegal activities, they are going to in fact target you and go after you.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Hi. Jamie (sp) from National Public Radio. Just two questions. What was the attendance rate like at the provincial council meeting in Ramadi? And when I was in Ramadi just a couple of months ago, I think, with General Petraeus, and we got cornered by some Iraqi soldiers who were complaining about the delay in being paid.

And that's something that a lot of the provinces are dealing with, the bottleneck that happens with all the processes and applications and stuff that goes through to Baghdad. Has that improved at all? I mean, what's your opinion on -- you know, whether there's been any progress on that at all? Thanks.

GEN. GURGANUS: Yeah, I think there's been a tremendous amount of progress made on both the MOD and on the MOI side. No doubt about it that it was a tough -- it was tough getting the pay, getting the -- any ghost soldiers or people who worked for a while then left, you know, straightening out the pay rosters. But MOI now and MOD both have teams that go out and work with each one of the districts, each one of the provincial police stations, to where they go out and help them so that they resolve these pay issues and so that they get their rosters accurately, which does make the pay more efficiently and they get the right amount of money and it doesn't hold up the pay charts.

So I won't tell you we've got every pay problem solved in Al Anbar, but there's a tremendous amount of progress been made and that continues to be made in that. So the soldiers that probably cornered General Petraeus and you, I'm sure they had a legitimate complaint at the time. But I'll bet you if we could find the same ones today, I'll bet you find that they're being paid. Now, the guy that just graduated, it may take us a month to get them on the pay rosters and get them straightened out, but it is flowing a lot smoother now.

Q And the provincial council attendance rate?

GEN. GURGANUS: You know, I can't tell you. Brigadier General Allen works and attends all those. I don't know that -- exactly what the attendance rate is, but I do know that they're meeting in the Al Anbar province again now, not at the Government Center yet, but they are coming out of Baghdad and meeting in the Al Anbar province again so --

Q Where abouts, exactly?

GEN. GURGANUS: Yesterday I think they met at the compound of Sheikh Sattar, if I'm not mistaken. But it was -- I mean, it was a normal provincial council meeting. And if I -- I think that he told me they are due to be back inside the -- we have a tremendous amount of reconstruction going on in and around the Government Center now. And I think it's either June or July they will start meeting in the Government Center in their own chambers again. GEN. CALDWELL: Okay, one more? All right, sir. Go ahead, sir.

Q (Through interpreter.) Thank you very much. Mahmoud (sp) from Nina (ph). Two days ago, Major General Caldwell, three lawmakers from al-Sadr movement were captured at the door of the convention center and their badges were taken. And do you have any information about this?

GEN. CALDWELL: You know, I think we can all agree that the security of the Council of Representatives is a very important thing that everybody's paying very close attention to. And what occurred was they had -- the security folks had done an assessment of the area around there, and certain areas were designated as no parking. Cars weren't even allowed to stop there. And that was done specifically because if, in fact, a car bomb able to get into the International Zone somehow or one was assembled in here and get near the parliament building, you would not want it that close or in that proximity to the parliament building. So they have areas that are off-limits to cars.

And you are correct, a member of parliament ignored the signs that are there, in Arabic, went and parked in an area that is clearly marked that it's no parking. And it's done to protect the other parliament members. It's not made for any other reason than to protect everybody else that's in the members of parliament. And he stopped the car there and one of the security guards did come up, and they asked him to move. They would not move the car. The security -- obviously, people are very concerned at this point because of what has happened in the parliament building, as you know, with the suicide vest that occurred here. And so they were concerned. They wouldn't move their car. They knocked the guard over.

And so at that point people were not sure what was going on, because who in their right mind would put any member of parliament in jeopardy? And so they responded thinking that perhaps we didn't know who was in that car. The badges were initially confiscated. Once it was determined that it was a member of parliament, the badges were immediately returned and the vehicle was moved.

And so it was an intent to ensure that the members of parliament were properly protected and secured, and the member did move his vehicle after the badges were returned. It took very short time period to sort all that out. But again, paramount was protecting the members of parliament and ensuring that security is there.

It's just like if you go down to the marketplaces, you know? They put these temporary protective barriers up around the marketplaces, and in a lot of marketplaces they won't allow cars in there at certain times. And again, it's not to hassle people, but it's to protect those who are in the markets so that a car bomb can't get in there. Well, the same situation occurred there the other day, too.

Okay, well, thank you very much, everybody.


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