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Press briefing with Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, spokesman, Multi-National Force - Iraq, July 18, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq

Briefing Slides [PDF]


GEN. BERGNER:  "As-salaam aleikum."  Good afternoon.

The surge of operations in Iraq continues to make progress. These operations are increasing pressure on extremists by disrupting their networks, denying safe havens aand reducing operating bases.

The effects of these operations are also enabling Iraqis to turn away from the terrorists and work more closely with their government, their security forces and the coalition.

There has, however, been tough fighting, and we still have much work to do.  And our commanders remind us that this is an effort that is still likely to get even harder before it gets easier.    As we saw this week and last week, with barbaric attack in Amarli (sp) and Kirkuk, the enemy is likely to try to recapture the focus by conducting more spectacular attacks that kill innocent civilians. This is going to further test the courage and the commitment of the Iraqi people to resist sectarian strife and remain unified against the terrorists.

The swift, courageous and effective response of Iraqi security forces is helping in that regard.  Our commanders report that the performance of Iraqi forces, particularly following the tragedies in Amarli (sp) and Kirkuk, has been very impressive.  They have restored order.  They have maintained calm.  And in the case of Kirkuk, they've preempted other bombings and detained some of those believed to have been involved in the attacks.

In addition to al Qaeda in Iraq, the so-called special groups continue to be a focus of operations.  As we have explained previously, the special groups are funded, trained, armed and often directed by operatives of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps's Qods Force.

Special group leaders and networks are being disrupted by operations that increasingly involve Iraqi forces.  On the 1st of July, Iraqi police detained a special group brigade commander 50 miles south of Baghdad.  He had directed attacks against the Iraqi police, the Iraqi army and coalition forces using explosively formed penetrators that are being provided by Iran.

On the 5th of July, coalition forces killed one and captured six special group terrorists in east Baghdad.  These individuals had provided logistical support for special group operations and were a link with the Iranian Qods Force.

On the 7th of July, Iraqi forces detained seven special group members in Baghdad who were involved in death squad activities, kidnappings and assassinations.

On the 11th of July, the Iraqi army elements, with support from coalition forces, killed a special group cell leader named Said Jafar (sp) in eastern Baghdad.  Said Jafar (sp) had controlled a cell of 120 terrorists and was involved in kidnapping, extortion, sectarian murders and explosively formed penetrators.

On the 14th of July, Iraqi security forces and coalition forces killed two special group terrorists who were emplacing an improvised explosive device and prepariing an ambush site in al Kut.

And on the 15th of July, Iraqi army and coalition forces detained three special group terrorists in north Baghdad.

One was a battalion commander who organized kidnappings and death squads that conducted sectarian murders.

As special group indirect fire cells try to increase their attacks, these terrorists are further angering and alienating the Iraqi people, who are often the targets of this indiscriminate fire and are in the areas from which these cells fire from.  The Multinational Force deplores the loss of innocent life caused by these Iranian-sponsored special groups, and in fact, these attacks by these groups reflect the same disregard for human life that is turning the Iraqi people against al Qaeda in Iraq.

Last week we also discussed the effects of recent operations against the leadership network of al Qaeda in Iraq, and we identified 26 senior al Qaeda leaders who had either been killed or captured. Iraqi and coalition force operations continue to disrupt the AQI leadership and undermine their abilities to conduct terrorist operations.

Operations in just the last few days have included the following: On the 14th of July, coalition forces captured the security emir of Mosul, as well as a car bomb cell leader southeast of Baghdad.  That same day, coalition forces found a large weapons stockpile northwest of Baghdad.  As shown on the screen, the stockpile included 10 shaped charges, two truck bombs for -- two trucks prepared to become truck bombs and 3,000 pounds of homemade explosives, all trademarks of al Qaeda operations.  Coalition forces destroyed this bombmaking factory that would have no doubt led to the deaths of countless more innocent Iraqi civilians.  And finally on the 15th of July, coalition forces killed a man named Abu Jura (ph), who was in charge of an al Qaeda in Iraq cell that conducted car and truck bomb operations from the Arab Jabour area southeast of Baghdad.

Earlier this month, there was also a significant operation in the fight against the al Qaeda leadership in Iraq.  On the 4th of July, coalition forces captured a terrorist named Khaled Abdul-Fattah Dawoud Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, also known as Abu Shahid.  Mashhadani is believed to be the most senior Iraqi in the al Qaeda in Iraq network. He is a close associate of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born head of al Qaeda in Iraq.  He's currently in coalition custody and providing significant insights into the nature and circumstances of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Mashhadani was a leader in the Ansar al-Sunna terrorist group before joining al Qaeda in Iraq two and a half years ago.  He served   as the al Qaeda media emir for Baghdad and then was appointed the media emir for all of Iraq, and served as an intermediary between AQI leader al-Masri, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In fact, communication between senior al Qaeda leadership and al-Masri frequently went through Mashhadani.

Along with al-Masri, Mashhadani co-founded a virtual organization in cyberspace called the Islamic State of Iraq, in 2006, as a new Iraqi pseudonym for AQI.  The Islamic State of Iraq is the latest effort by al Qaeda to market itself and its goal of imposing a Taliban-like state on the Iraqi people.  This is what we have learned or confirmed from Mashhadani's capture.  In his words, "The Islamic State of Iraq is a front organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within al Qaeda in Iraq in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq."

To further this myth, al-Masri created a fictional political head of the Islamic State of Iraq known as Omar al-Baghdadi.  Al-Baghdadi, who has never been seen, is actually an actor named Abu Abdullah al- Naima.  Al-Masri maintains exclusive control over al-Naima as he acts the part of the fictitious al-Baghdadi character.  To make al-Baghdadi appear credible, al-Masri swore allegiance to al-Baghdadi and pledged to obey him, which was essentially swearing allegiance to himself since he knew that Baghdadi was fictitious and a creation of his own. Al-Zawahiri has repeatedly referred to al-Baghdadi in video and Internet statements, further deceiving Iraqi followers and perpetuating the myth of al-Baghdadi.

Mashhadani confirms that al-Masri and the foreign leaders with whom he surrounds himself, not Iraqis, make the operational decisions for al Qaeda in Iraq, and to be clear, al Qaeda in Iraq is run by foreigners, not Iraqis.  According to Mashhadani, in fact, al-Masri increasingly relies only on foreigners, who make up the majority of the leadership of AQI.  He does not seek nor trust the advice of Iraqis in the organization.

This highlights the significance of the operation our forces conducted a few weeks back to kill Khalil, Khaled and Khatab al-Turki, three foreign al Qaeda leaders who had been sent into Iraq to help al- Masri shore up the organization in northern Iraq.

And finally, according to Mashhadani, al Qaeda in Iraq leader al- Masri has increasingly become more isolated and paranoid, especially of the Iraqis within al Qaeda in Iraq, as operations have killed or captured additional AQI leaders.  Mashhadani, in his own words, says, "The idea of al-Baghdadi is very weak now because other insurgent groups have realized that the concept of al-Baghdadi is controlled by the al Qaeda foreign fighters in Iraq."    Al-Masri started -- he also says:  Al-Masri started overpowering us and acted on his own accord by controlling the distribution of funding.  Al-Masri also controlled the content of these publications attributed to al-Baghdadi.

The capture of Mashhadani and his statements give us a more complete picture of al Qaeda in Iraq.  And although the rank and file are largely Iraqi, the senior leadership of al Qaeda in Iraq, as we have previously stated, is mostly foreign.

The information from Mashhadani further suggests the leadership has attempted to mask this foreign domination through deception.  As Mashhadani has explained, he and al-Masri created the Islamic State of Iraq concept and invented the fictional leader named al-Baghdadi to create a perception of Iraqi leadership in AQI.

The rank-and-file Iraqis in AQI believe they are following the Iraqi al-Baghdadi, but all the while, they have actually been following the orders of the Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri.  Mashhadani has said in his own words that the Islamic State of Iraq should be free of foreign influence, but that appears not the case.

The disclosures of Mashhadani show how al Qaeda in Iraq leaders misrepresent themselves and purposely deceive the Iraqi people and their own members.  The ISI leaders cloak themselves in Iraqi nationalism, but in fact their purpose is to subjugate the Iraqi people under a foreign-led terrorist organization that wants to impose a Taliban-like ideology on Iraqis.

Mashhadani's statements opposing the foreign domination of AQI and ISI reveal a level of disunity, conspiracies and discord affecting al Qaeda in Iraq, problems originally significant enough to disrupt the creation of a fictitious -- I'm sorry -- to prompt the creation of a fictitious Iraqi leader, and now significant enough to result in exposing the fiction of Omar al-Baghdadi.

This surge of operations, combined with the courage of the Iraqi people to stand against al Qaeda in Iraq, is having an effect. Clearly, there is more work to be done against the extremist networks. As we have seen this week in Kirkuk, al Qaeda in Iraq retains the ability to conduct barbaric and indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians, and we expect AQI to strike back following today's revelation with further barbaric attacks on civilians to demonstrate their continuing ability.  But the capture of Mashhadani and the    information he has provided are further indicators of the effects that Iraqi and coalition forces are achieving against al Qaeda in Iraq.

This completes our update, and I'd now be happy to take your questions.  Yes, sir?

Q     General Bergner, Michael Gordon, New York Times.  The latest NIE describes al Qaeda of Iraq as an al Qaeda-affiliated organization, implying that it has some degree of autonomy and makes decisions on its -- to some extent on its own.  What have you learned about the relationship from al Qaeda central in Pakistan and AQI in Iraq?

To what degree does al Qaeda central influence or control or direct the Iraq-based organization?

GEN. BERGNER:  What we've learned from not just the capture of Mashhadani, but from other al Qaeda operatives is that there is a flow of strategic direction, of prioritization, of messaging and other guidance that comes from al Qaeda senior leadership to the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership.  Mashhadani was involved as part of the communications conduit for just that kind of guidance and direction. The degree to which that is implemented and the consistency of that in terms of its operations is one that varies, but there is clear connection between al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda senior leadership outside Iraq.

Yes, sir.

Q     Just to follow up, can you provide any example or instance or case in the last several months in which al Qaeda central has directed an activity or an attack here in Iraq?

GEN. BERGNER:  In Mashhadani's words, they continue to provide direction.  They continue to provide a focus for operations.  They continue to flow foreign fighters into Iraq, foreign terrorists, and I think one of the clearest examples of that would be the recent deployment of Khatah (sp), Khalil and the other, al-Turki, who were sent here by al Qaeda senior leaders to help shore up the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership.

Yes, ma'am.

Q     Can you tell me a little bit more about where Mashhadani was caught?  Is he from Baghdad?  And also, who is this (actor ?)?  Is this somebody you also have detained?  And how with all these ministers that are in the Islamic state, are they all made up or are they actually people?

GEN. BERGNER:  Mashhadani was captured by coalition forces in Mosul, and he told us that he had left Baghdad because of the pressure that was being put on al Qaeda forces in Baghdad.  And he was subsequently detained by coalition forces in Mosul.

Now, tell me the other part of your question.

Q     The Islamic state has a series of ministries that they've set up, that you're now saying is an imaginary cyberspace thing.  Are   all those people made up?  Is there an actual rank-and-file organization that is al Qaeda in Iraq?

GEN. BERGNER:  Al Qaeda in Iraq is a real organization, and there are rank-and-file fighters.  There are cell leaders.  There are facilitators.  There are media coordinators.  There are those who organize administrative activities on behalf of the al Qaeda network. The Islamic State of Iraq is the front organization for al Qaeda in Iraq, and it is what was created by the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership as a pseudonym, as a front organization that is really being controlled and directed and guided by the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership.

     Yes, sir.

Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Name inaudible) -- from Sawa.

It seems that al-Mashhadani was so generous in giving you so much information when you captured him.  Did he give you any information about the neighboring countries or regional countries that back al Qaeda organization in Iraq, especially that he was the leader of media in al Qaeda organization in Iraq?

GEN. BERGNER:  We know from our own operations and from intelligence we've already gathered, the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq is coordinated and facilitated by al Qaeda.  The al-Turki brothers that I have mentioned are perhaps the most recent and prominent example of al Qaeda senior leadership sending foreigners into Iraq to establish facilitator cells that would receive and coordinate and then deploy these foreign terrorists inside of Iraq.

Yes, ma'am.

Q     Are there any specific attacks that you can say were directed by senior al Qaeda leadership, as opposed to AQI?  I mean, the connection you talk about -- does that include senior leadership of al Qaeda saying to AQI, okay, do this and -- anything specific you can tell us about that?

GEN. BERGNER:  I think what you have seen in terms of the effort that you see both recently with spectacular attacks and the focus on fueling sectarian violence is something that is al Qaeda in Iraq driven.  It is the -- a central purpose and focus of their operations in order to destabilize the government in Iraq and to move towards al Qaeda in Iraq's goals.  Exactly what reference and exactly what relationship that has back to al Qaeda senior leadership takes many forms, and there isn't a specific attack that I would point you to in that regard.  But the focus and the general direction of al Qaeda operations in Iraq is influenced by al Qaeda senior leadership.

Yes, sir.

Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Name inaudible) -- from Al- Hurriyah.

You talked about al-Mashhadani and Mashhadani cooperated with you in giving you so much information.  Did he talk about the hideouts of Abu Ayub al-Masri?

GEN. BERGNER:  Mr. Mashhadani is still in our custody.  He is continuing to cooperate and help us learn about al Qaeda in Iraq.  And once we have additional information to share on exactly what he has provided, we will share that information with you as well.


Yes, sir.

Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Name inaudible) -- from Al Hurra. I have two questions.  The first question is the recent operations in southern Baghdad, what were the results of these operations in southern Baghdad?  The second question, there has been an increase in attacks in Baghdad.  How do you explain this, and how do you explain this attack on the Iraqi and the American forces, along with the Iraqi people?  How do you explain this?

GEN. BERGNER:  Just so that I'm completely clear, when you say, "south of Baghdad" -- or did you say, "the southern parts of Baghdad"?

Q     (In English.)  South of Baghdad.

GEN. BERGNER:  South of Baghdad.  Multinational Division-Center, which is built around the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division, continues to conduct operations along the belts leading out of Baghdad to the south.  They have had successful operations in all of those areas that they are conducting Marne Torch, Guardian and now Marne Avalanche as the main parts of their operations.

The most distinctive part of those operations has been the cooperation and the support of the Iraqi people in those areas.  In fact, in talking to the commanders, they have been surprised and pleasantly surprised at the level of support and assistance coming forth from the Iraqi people in all of those communities.  And these are places where al Qaeda and other extremist groups have established safe havens, they have established operating bases in the past, and so this is a tough -- this has been a tough area to operate in.  But the overall effect and the result is one where the Iraqi people are being very appreciative and very supportive of both the coalition and the Iraqi army forces that are part of those combined operations.


Q     (Through interpreter.)  My second question is about the attacks unleashed last week in Baghdad, especially in Baghdad.  These   attacks increased, the car bombs and targeting the joint forces along with Iraqi civilians.  How do you explain this during Fard al-Qanun operation?

GEN. BERGNER:  Yeah.  Well, it was a very tough week, and I completely agree.  It was a very hard week for the Iraqi people, for coalition forces.  We know, as we mentioned today, that al Qaeda and other extremist groups will continue to assert themselves.  They will lash out with spectacular attacks to try to regain the focus, to try to re-establish the fear, and so this is why we say this is a tough fight and it's one that's likely to get harder before it gets easier.

  The other reason for that is because we have more forces now operating in more places, conducting more operations, and so there is going to be more contact.  And we are going on a much more offensive basis than we have in the past, which is going to result in more operations as well.  So it's the combination of those factors that are the reason this is still such a tough fight and is going to continue to be for some time.  Shukran.

Somebody I haven't called on.  Yes, sir?

Q     Thank you, General.  Good afternoon.  I just wanted to follow up on what you were saying about the tactics and the flow of tactics and guidance from al Qaeda in Pakistan and wherever else to al Qaeda in Iraq.  What is the -- I mean, I wonder if you can be more specific about what the specific information or flow has been.  And even if you could answer this:  What would be the single most clear- cut and convincing piece of evidence you've seen so far, from the new guy you've got or from somebody before, that Zawahiri or whomever has advocated a specific -- a very specific  tactic that they've then followed through on?  And has there been any interdiction of communications or anything specific that demonstrates this connection you're talking about?

GEN. BERGNER:  Well, Mashhadani in his own words says he was a conduit for that communications between the Iraq -- the al Qaeda senior leadership and the leadership of al Qaeda here in Iraq.  You have also seen references in different videos and different statements by al Qaeda senior leaderships, reference to Iraq, and even specifically to this character Omar al-Baghdadi.  And so you have seen them talk specifically to the nature of al Qaeda operations here in Iraq.

Mashhadani is continuing to provide information, and we're developing the intelligence to pursue further.  And once I have something else to share on that, I will do so.

Yes, sir?

Q     Hi.  John Burnett with NPR.  Just to put this in context, al Qaeda in Iraq, or ISI, if you look at a pie chart of all of the combatants that you're fighting here in Iraq, I've read intelligence analysts in the States that say that al Qaeda represents about (15/50 ?) percent of your enemies here.  Can you give us your pie chart on that in terms of al Qaeda versus the special groups?

GEN. BERGNER:  The overall security threats to the government of Iraq and to the coalition forces here, we have always said, is a very complex one.  And we have said all along that it's a mosaic, if you will.  We talked earlier this afternoon about the role that special groups are playing as part of that threat, and they are a significant threat to the government of Iraq, to their security forces and to the people of Iraq.  And we know where their funding and their support comes from, and we understand what their focus and their targeting efforts are centered on.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is led by a foreign group under Abu Ayyub al-Masri's leadership with rank-and-file Iraqis serving in different capacities, different cells, some closely associated, affiliated with AQI, some more loosely affiliated with AQI.  And so there's not a one size fits all; it's a complex set of relationships between al Qaeda and its affiliates.

What we do know, particularly about al Qaeda, is their focus on bringing foreign terrorists into Iraq who, although they come in small numbers and comprise of smaller overall percentage of the pie that you refer to, are generally involved in the more spectacular and the more sectarian-focused attacks like those in Kirkuk that are trying to accelerate and incite the sectarian problems on the people of Iraq.

Q     But in terms of a proportion, is 15 percent in the ballpark, the armed contact that you have with al Qaeda, versus the other combatants?

GEN. BERGNER:  I'd have to go back and do the -- I'm not prepared to give you a percentage today, but it's a question that I'll take from you, and we'll follow up and give you a better -- a more precise answer.  But they are without question the main threat to the government of Iraq and to the stability of Iraq because of the role that they play in accelerating and fueling sectarian violence.

So I'm not sure the answer to your question lies in a clean percentage as much as it is in terms of the result that different terrorist organizations achieve in their attacks.

Someone else I haven't called on.  Yes, sir.

Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Name and affiliation inaudible.) You said that al-Mashhadani gave you a treasure of information about al Qaeda organizations in Iraq.  Are you close to capture the -- (off mike) -- organization?  And a second question, what is the percentage of the responsibility of al Qaeda in violence in Iraq and attacks carried out in -- across Iraq?

GEN. BERGNER:  Tell me the -- I'm sorry -- the second part of your question.

Q     (Through interpreter.)  What is the percentage of the operations carried out in Iraq by al Qaeda organization -- (off mike) -- directed against the American forces or against Iraqi people?  GEN. BERGNER:  To answer your first question, last week we laid out a pretty comprehensive summary of the high-value senior leaders in the al Qaeda in Iraq organization that coalition or Iraqi forces have captured or killed in the last couple of months.

We laid out just 26 of those as the upper tier.  Those have included the emir for Mosul.  They have included the Turki brothers -- al-Turki brothers that I have referred to as key foreign facilitators sent to Iraq to work with the senior leadership.  They now include Mashhadani, who was the media emir for al Qaeda in Iraq and a very close associate of al-Masri.

And so we are continuing to increase the pressure on al Qaeda both at the cell level, in the functional levels that they operate in, and at the senior levels that they operate in.  And I think that Mashhadani's statement that he left Baghdad because of that pressure, only to be captured by coalition forces in Mosul, says a great deal about the level of pressure that is being applied to the network.  And so we continue to apply that pressure and we will continue to pursue both the leadership of al Qaeda as well as their cells and all of their other operating components in the network.

Al Qaeda in Iraq continues to be a plague on the people of Iraq. And you continue to see it with the kinds of attacks that took place in Kirkuk, for example.  In that case, there was just a clear intent to incite sectarian strife and kill innocent Iraqi people.  The Iraqi security forces in that case were able to intervene and keep two other car bombs from actually being detonated.  They were also able to intervene quickly and detain some of those who were involved in the attack that took place.

And so I would say that it's important to note that the Iraqi security forces, in particular, are increasingly effective in both interdicting and then responding very well to the attacks against the Iraqi people.

Who else have I not called on?

Yes, sir?

Q     This is Jay, from AFP.  From the information that you're taking from Mashhadani, how close you are from Masri himself?  And which is his area of operation?  Essentially where is he operating from?  Is he operating from Baghdad itself or Diyala province, or like Zarqawi, his predecessor, who largely towards the end was operating from Diyala?  Any information you could throw some light on that.

And could you just take us through once again on this Baghdadi fictitious character, I mean to really get some clarity on what exactly --  GEN. BERGNER:  Yeah.  Well, I think you should have a good sense that there is an increased level of pressure on the al Qaeda network writ large, and it is both at the al Qaeda in Iraq level, it's at the local level, it's at the regional level.  And our operations continue to increase the pressure on al Qaeda in Iraq on all of those levels, to include the senior leadership.

Your question about this Omar al-Baghdadi, just to recap what I laid out in my briefing, Mashhadani tells us that he is a creation of the al Qaeda in Iraq leadership to help put an Iraqi face on the leadership of their efforts here in Iraq, and that they use another individual to be his voice; it's someone who has never been seen, but that that is really just his voice, and that what the individual -- this fictitious person says is directly driven by al-Masri and is really just al-Masri's guidance being articulated by this actor in the form of a fictitious character.

  Yes, sir?

(Note:  Interpretation was obscured by the simultaneous on-mike question in Arabic.)

Q     (Through interpreter.)  From the -- (inaudible) -- newspaper.  During the recent days, there have been some sectarian tensions in areas. but the coalition forces are absent in these areas. Does this mean that the coalition forces are not concerned about disengaging the sectarian strife, or there is a lack of information going to the coalition forces and -- (inaudible) -- new focus on al Qaeda organization since the beginning -- (inaudible) -- conference -- (inaudible) -- being attacked in many governorates in Iraq, al Qaeda is your enemy number one.  Is it al Qaeda organization or other organizations?

GEN. BERGNER:  If you could just summarize the very first part of your question, so I make sure I get to what you're asking about. Sectarian -- it was about sectarian strife, but --

Q     Well, these days many sectarian activities have been in many areas in Baghdad, like Sadriyah, Baya, Amil.  There is no existence for the coalition forces.  Why?  Is it because you are not concerned with that kind of, you know, activities, or because there is no information for the coalition forces, or you don't know what is happening inside many important areas in Baghdad?

GEN. BERGNER:  Yeah.  Okay.

Q     Thank you very much.

GEN. BERGNER:  In Fard al-Qanun, there is an organization called the Baghdad Operation Operational Command.  It's led by General Abboud.  General Abboud oversees the security framework districts organized into 10 different districts of Baghdad, in which a combination of coalition forces, Iraqi forces are operating.

Each of those security framework districts has someone responsible for it in terms of an Iraqi and a coalition commander. And so there is a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of the Baghdad Operational Command, operating with Multinational Division Baghdad, to first clear, then control and then retain control over the population security in each of those security framework districts. It's happening in various places at various times, and it's happening on a continuous and progressive basis.    It's also important to note that not all of the security threats in each of those neighborhoods comes from those neighborhoods, which is why we're operating in the belts around Baghdad as well.  And so we're applying pressure to those places that the terrorists have had safe havens and they have used as launching points for their attacks into these neighborhoods of Baghdad.

And this is one of those -- this is an operation that will take time, and it will take a combination of establishing joint security stations in these areas, working with the people in the neighborhoods, and building that bond between the people, the joint security stations and the Iraqi and coalition forces in each of those neighborhoods.

And you're seeing improvements in many of those and you see others where it is still a very tough fight.

And so there are places in Baghdad where we still have a very difficult time.  And we do -- we will have to continue operations and expand operations.  But there is no question but that what General Abboud and the Baghdad Operational Command are doing is making progress, but it will be one where it continues to be a tough fight for the foreseeable future.

Shukran jazilan.

You asked me one other question:  Who is enemy number one?

This is a complex security problem facing the people of Iraq and the coalition.  We've talked about the role that all of these different components are playing in destabilizing the security situation here, and that's why it's being worked on on so many different levels.  We are increasing the pressure on al Qaeda and on special groups.  We are targeting their networks; we're targeting their supply routes; we're targeting the sources of their support.

At the same time, we're working with local leaders, like you have seen in Ramadi, like you have seen in Diyala now and Salahuddin, to help those who want to turn away from the terrorists to work more closely with their government, to work more closely with their security forces.  And the prime minister is leading that now on behalf of the government of Iraq and he is reaching out to those groups and creating a mechanism where they can work with the government of Iraq to start bringing those who use the force of arms under the control of the government of Iraq.

So there is progress on a variety of levels.  But al Qaeda in Iraq continues to be the principal security threat to the government of Iraq because they are the principal fueling agent of sectarian strife and the ones conducting these spectacular attacks that are killing so many innocent Iraqis.

Shukran.  I have time for one more question, in the back.

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

Will there be a second meeting between Washington and Iran?  And when will this meeting take place?    GEN. BERGNER:  I know as much about that as you do from reading media reports.  And I've heard both my government and representatives of the Iranian government indicating the value of another meeting.  I don't know what that venue will be, nor do we have a specific date or time that it is likely to take place.  So that's a good question that -- I'll refer it back to my State Department colleagues.  And we'll get you an answer if there is an answer more recently.

Yes, sir, because I was really pointing at you.

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

Do you think al Qaeda (position ?) fights against Washington alone or all the Iraqi, all the world?

GEN. BERGNER:  Well, I think the best answer to your question lies with the people of Iraq.  And you have seen the shab al Iraq terrorized, victimized by the kinds of attacks that took place in Kirkuk this week.  You have seen them pay a terrible price for their freedom.  And yet they continue to have great courage and great commitment to move forward.

And so al Qaeda is a huge threat to the government of Iraq and to the people of Iraq.  That's the most pressing and challenging part of the security problem here in Iraq today.  And so it's not something that's just about Washington, it's not something that's just about the coalition; this is a real threat to the people and the government of Iraq.  And so we stand by them.  We are going to continue to support them and be good partners and help them combat the terrorist threats that they face both from al Qaeda and the special groups, and illegal militias and all of the other extremist organizations that threaten the people of Iraq.

"Shukran jazilan.  Shukran." 

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