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Press Briefing, September 9, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq

Rear Adm. Mark I. Fox, Multi-National Force - Iraq spokesman
Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, Government of Iraq spokeman

Operational Update



DR. AL-DABBAGH: Today there was a neighboring countries conference that was held with the eight industry counties that was held. And this conference is the second after the success that was made in 2007. This conference is to go on with the work of the committees that were formed in [inaudible] Conference which is the energy and refugees and the conferences and Iraq also works through these conferences to make a joint security effort at a regional and international level to help fighting the terrorists groups that take Iraq as a base to destroy the Iraqis and the other nations. Today or this week also witnessed a conference for the reconstruction of Anbar after this province has been cleared by the terrorists. And the joint effort done by the Iraqi national forces with the support by the Multi-National forces and also the tribes of Anbar resulted in a peace and a good stability so that we can fight the terrorists groups that take other cities like Diyala and Mosul base from them. And there is a good effort by the Iraqi government to encourage these places and their tribes so that it can organize themselves in security forces with Iraqi forces to drive out those terrorists groups from there to ensure that they would live a peaceful way among all Iraqis. Thank you.

ADM. FOX: Good afternoon and as-salaam aleikum. I'm always pleased to appear with my good friend Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, the government of Iraq spokesman. I appreciate you being with us here today. We've had a little bit of a logistics and a little bit of a schedule challenge this afternoon but I'm glad you're here. The surge of operations continues to put pressure on al-Qaeda in Iraq. In August, Iraqi and Coalition forces captured or killed hundreds of al-Qaeda terrorists. Shown here are the top twenty-five that have been killed or captured, some of which have already been announced including Safi, the emir of Mosul, Haitham Sabah al-Badri, the emir of Salah ad Din, Abu Ali, the emir of south Karkh car bomb network, Abu Ibrahim al-Falahi, al-Qaeda of Iraq's military leader for the northern belts, and Abu Sahib, the military leader in Tarmiyah. The combination of the surge coupled with the increased capacity of the Iraqi security force and the partnership with the Iraqi people, local tribes and sheiks have significantly degraded al-Qaeda of Iraq's command and control network, their car bomb networks, and their ability to produce propaganda through media. Al-Qaeda sanctuaries are being eliminated or severely restricted and Iraqi and Coalition forces are maintaining the initiative and keeping the pressure on.

The Iraqi security forces are increasingly becoming the first line of defense. For example, on September 2nd, Iraqi soldiers stopped a suicide bomber from attacking a bridge north of Baghdad. He attempted to cross the bridge, did not follow proper procedures, and the Iraqi soldiers intervened. They engaged the driver with small arms fire and the truck exploded, killing one Iraqi soldier while wounding two others and injuring two civilians. These alert Iraqi soldiers stopped the suicide bomber from reaching his intended target, prevented the destruction of the bridge, and prevented untold death and injuries to the Iraqi people. On September 3rd, soldiers from the 2nd Iraqi Army Division captured a key al-Qaeda financier, kidnapper, and extortionist along with an associate in Nineveh Province during an operation in Mosul. Iraqi army soldiers subsequently found in his car more than 250 million Iraqi denar. That's nearly 200,000 US dollars, multiple id cards and correspondence related to his kidnapping operations.

I'd also like to announce today that on September 3rd a Coalition air strike killed the terrorists responsible for the planning and conducting of the horrific attack against the Yezidis in northern Iraq on August 14th. Abu Mohammed al-Afri, also known as Abu Jassam was killed in the air strike 70 miles southwest of Mosul. Abu Jassam, an associate of Abu al-Masri, the foreign leader of al-Qaeda of Iraq, is no longer a threat to the Iraqi people. We will continue to hunt down al-Qaeda of Iraq and their operatives who conduct indiscriminate and brutal attacks against the Iraqi people.

On a separate subject, the Multi-National force continues to stand with the government of Iraq in welcoming the commitment by Muqtada al-Sadar to stop attacks by his followers. We have been impressed by the members of Jaish al-Mahdi who are fulfilling Sadar's pledge of honor to reduce violence in Iraq. And we have seen a recent reduction in the attacks associated with the Sardarist militias. To be clear, we are not targeting Jaish al-Mahdi. We will continue, however, to respond to criminal activity and to take necessary action against anyone who engages in illegal activity, who targets Iraqi security or Coalition force, or threatens the Iraqi people themselves.

And finally, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus will testify before congress tomorrow in Washington, DC. They will discuss the progress made on the ground here in Iraq as well as the progress that still needs to be made. Their testimony will be an independent, forthright, candid, firsthand assessment of the conditions here in Iraq.

There has recently been a great deal of discussion about statistics and numbers and reporting methodologies. The Multi-National force of Iraq strives to use the most accurate and comprehensive data available when measuring and reporting levels of violence in Iraq. We use a consistent methodology incorporating both government of Iraq data and Coalition reports to give us a better understanding of what's happening on the ground. Still, Iraq is an exceedingly complex environment and we certainly accept that there is room for differences in reporting methods. A number of factors can account for these differences including the characterization of terms, the sources of data, and the analysis of that data. For example, we count incidents like the barbaric attack on the Yezidis as ethnosectarian violence. We don't count Sunni on Sunni attacks as ethnosectarian violence but we do include that information in the overall casualty reporting of all deaths and all violence so it is still a part of the data on violence that we monitor and collect.

Iraq is a violent place beset by many challenges. But it is clearly today less violent than it was last winter. There is still a lot of hard work ahead. We will continue to work closely with the people of Iraq and their government to move toward a stable, safe and secure nation. That concludes my comments and we'd be happy to take your questions at this point.

Q Question to Dr. Ali Dabbagh. Regarding the September report by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker how far the Iraqi government will commit to the recommendations of those two? And also the statement by General Petraeus in which said that among the recommendations is also applying the experience in Anbar province to other provinces like in Gazaliah and Abu Ghraib, Taji, Adhamiyah and in other places. So is it possible that Iraqi government could pardon some of the armed groups that attacked the Iraqi forces like displacement? And a question to Admiral Fox concerning the same issue. There are some reports say that, or some news say that the report will neglect some major points including the displaced families so is that true?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: So far we don't know anything about the report but of course we evaluate the work of the General Petraeus and so he bases reports on a realistic vision of what's going on on the ground and we cannot form any statement or express our stance unless the report is issued or we receive an original copy of the testimony. As for Anbar Province experience, as I told in the briefing, this is the stance of the Iraqi government. The experience that happened in Anbar and the success there through the good cooperation all this couldn't have happened individually. Whether by the Iraqi government or even by the tribes themselves, this collective joint effort resulted in a good success and a big success in driving out the terrorists groups. And the Iraqi government evaluated this experience and also applied the same thing in Diyala. Of course, we cannot copy the whole or clone the whole thing- same thing, but we can apply the same method with the help with the sheiks in Diyala. And this is also applied in the south of Iraq. And I think that the effort by the security forces needs a cooperation by the people in the neighborhoods and through the elected government and through the official security channels, and this is what the government, the Iraqi government views.

Concerning the pardoning the armed groups, this is a judicial case. We cannot just pardon those groups who committed crimes. There is an effort done by the Iraqi government and it started about four months, and it resulted in releasing over 2,000 people who haven't been convicted. And we've said many times that there are intelligent data, and evidence, testimonies by secret agents and so the judge sometimes releases those who have not been convicted. And the Iraqi government is expediting this process and there are some intensive work. And weekly we are also releasing some prisoners and detainees and we don't release the names and the numbers for security reasons so that they won't be harmed once they're out. But the effort that is done by the Iraqi government. And any talk about a pardon is connected by the judicial court which is an independent court. And they can't just pardon people because the victims have rights and the judicial court has to decide about this. But there is an effort, and there is a movement, and there is the dialogue going on so that we can activate this which is actually one of the good things coming out from the national reconciliation program. And this is what the Iraqi government aims at. And the government of Iraq also is working on with this process so that it can remove any kind of disputes among the political parties.

ADM. FOX: As you know, General Petraeus' testimony will be his own. It will be independent. It will be forthright. It will be straight from the commander of the Multi-National Force and it would be inappropriate for me, in fact, I don't know what he is going to say in terms of the number of different areas, in terms of the areas that he intends to discuss. But I can guarantee you that he spent an awful lot of time preparing, and looking at all the factors that are relevant to the mission here in Iraq, and I look forward to hearing his testimony just like you do.

Q Dr. Ali, we always here at -(pause). We always witness many violations, security violations that goes by the neighbor countries to us and especially some of the media reports specify some of the countries that encourage terrorism and but the government did not respond to these like warning those governments or even issuing reports to the United Nation so that those countries would stop harming the Iraqi people. So could you explain this to us and does the interest among the Iraqi government and the neighboring countries is much better than the interest of the Iraqi people?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: The Iraqi government is working on making the impact of the neighboring countries a positive one through the elective government and is working so that they won't also to back any illegal arms. And this is a political effort done by the Iraqi government and the last tour by, to Syria and Iran was really fruitful and there is an understanding from these countries so that they can contribute in the Iraqi government's effort in eliminating the illegal groups. And of course the interest of the Iraqi people is ahead of everything. Iraqi government has no interest with any other neighboring country and this is what the effort that the Iraqi government is doing. The Iraqi government sees the good steps and it will decide the good things so they will encourage those countries to contribute in a good way and we believe that the neighboring countries have a good ability to help Iraq through the crisis that we are going on. And of course, there are some violations but we aspire that we hope that the neighboring countries could live up to their promises and expectations. There are some good signs that we receive from some countries and we hope that the countries could backup these good signs and also the Iraqi government also works hand-in-hand with those countries so that they can- and this is actually the policy of the Iraqi government with those neighboring countries.

Q Question to Dr. Ali. We've heard that in Karbala the prayer was stopped in Karbala Province. Why is that?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: Yes. Some members in [inaudible] said that there is a prevention of making prayers in al-Hussein Shrine and I have contacted the members in al-Hussein Shrine and they confirmed to me that this shrine is secure and it's open for everyone to pray in it. And no side has right to prevent people from praying there. And particularly to the al-Sadar members there is no, any kind of prevention for any prayer. Probably this is just a mis-report but the administration of the shrine there confirmed that the shrine is open for prayer.

Q You've mentioned that you're not happy to comment about the Petraeus report at this stage as you're not completely sure of what's in it.

DR. AL-DABBAGH: Not me only (smiles/laughs).

Q No of course, everyone is sharing that view today I understand. But is, what's the Iraqi government, if I had to ask you briefly to describe what the Iraqi government's view of this surge success and failures of the surge have been, what would you say? DR. AL-DABBAGH: We feel that there is a progress on the security side and particularly in Baghdad. There is a decrease in kidnapping operations and sectarian violence and many of the terrorists operations that the terrorists group used to do. And this is considered a success to the Iraqi government and a success for the security forces and of course that was backed by the Multi-National forces. And we feel that this security effort needs some support in a way that the terrorists groups will not go back to Baghdad and the neighboring places. Clearing the places near Baghdad helped a lot in diminishing the terrorists groups that effect the Iraqi people. We still have a long way but we think that the Iraqi security forces have done a good and a [inaudible] job and the commander operation and also lead the operations by themselves but we still need support by the Multi-National forces so that we can build our forces and they could fight these terrorists groups because they not only a threat for Iraq but for the countries, for the neighboring countries. That's why we say Iraq needs a support by the international community.

Q Dr. Ali, James from Al-Jazeera English. Does that mean that the government of Iraq will be asking for the surge to be maintained for some considerable time?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: The Iraqi government is still fixed on its stance that there is no timetable and doesn't ask for any timetable of withdrawal for the troops. But we still ask for support for the troops by the Multi-National forces. We still need training. We still need support by the Multi-National forces. That's why the Iraqi government is still fixed on its stance and that is no timetable for withdrawal. When things get better, when the security situation gets better, the Iraqi government will be in a position to talk about a withdrawal or a timetable.

Q Thank you Sir. Dr. Ali Dabbagh, there was a report released a few days ago by an independent commission in the states that said that the Iraqi security forces, including the police and the military, will not be ready to control the country on their own for the next 12-18 months. Would you agree with that assessment?

DR. AL-Dabbagh: You mean Jones report?
DR. AL-Dabbagh: Actually these reports that are being written by people or a committee that comes to work for a short time in Iraq and they can't get a whole idea about the true situation in Iraq, we don't accept these reports and we don't feel that these reports view the whole picture. There is a good construction for the Iraqi forces by the interior ministry and the minister of defense but we say that we need more, we need more effort so that we can clear the minister of defense. And until yesterday, 14,000 - over 14,000 members in the minister of interior had been removed from their positions and imposed because they don't respect the human rights or probably because - or they actually are linked to militias and armed groups and the minister of interior asked to remove those members. This is a huge effort, and the Iraqi security forces are being built in a good way, and this effort needs more. But we are moving forward. We are gradually moving forward to build a good Iraqi security forces and when we realize that we have a good Iraqi security forces and when we know that the ministry of interior could protect the people, at that time we can sit with the Multi-National forces and talk about any timetable or any withdrawal. And this is not clear now. We can't give any dates. So, the Jones' report is incomplete and it does not depict the real picture in Iraq.

Q Question to, the Iranian bombardment is still on the Iraqi soil and when Minister Zubaie presented a memo to the Iranian government they didn't commit with it. And many places in [inaudible] were bombed. So what's the Iraqi government's response?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: The Iraqi government certainly expressed its stance. There is also the conference that is going on now by the neighboring countries and Iran also is represented by the foreign minister and one of the issues that will be discussed during the conference with the Iranian foreign minister and the Iranian deligation is this violation. Iraq is a country and has a sovereignty. Iran and Turkey have to respect this sovereignty. And any kind of bombardment is considered an aggression against Iraq. And the Iraqi government is trying to resolve this problem in a diplomatic way and we would like to have a good relationship with those countries. But they should also realize that Iraq is a country that has sovereignty. So any kind of threat by illegal outlaw groups is not allowed in Iraq by the neighboring countries. And the Iraqi government is working on removing this tension through diplomatic ways. And we also ask the governments of the two countries so that they can follow some diplomatic methods of dialogue because using force and power will not solve but only complicate the issue, and it will not prepare for a good relationship between the two countries.

Q Question to Dr. Ali. You know that the British forces in south of Iraq particularly in Basrah Province are about to go to some places and withdraw finally. Do you think that Iraqi forces are ready to take over in Basrah instead of the British forces?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: The Iraqi forces?
DR. AL-DABBAGH: The withdrawal of the British forces is not actually sudden. There is an organization and the whole thing is organized with Iraqi forces so that the Iraqi forces could establish their places in good places in Basrah. And this is not a sudden thing. This whole thing has been organized. And there are efforts by the Iraqi government in Basrah and this is also backed by the Multi-National forces. And this will be announced within this month, in September. And I can't give you any details about this but there is an effort to stabilize the city from the groups that actually threatening the city. I'd like to thank my friend, Admiral Fox. Let's head to the last question.

Q Thank you for taking one more question. Actually just maybe if I could throw in two quick questions. One is any information on where or when Kazali Ali maybe executed and the second question is do you have any information about when some of the legislation, the controversy of legislation dealing with de-Baathification and the hydrocarbon law and other laws they're considering may arrive in session?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: Well I can't tell you about the timing of the carrying out the death sentence of criminal Ali. Considering the legislation we have the justice and inquisition law has been approved by the council of ministers and this law was actually before called the de-Baathification law and it was performed and amended by the - and it was approved by the council of minister and it had has been presented to the council of the representatives and they will work on it and it's on the agenda of the council of representatives. Concerning the hydrocarbon law, there is also some dispute but it will be resolved in reading the bill but also it will be presented to the council of representatives. As for other legislation, we will talk about them once they are approved. I'd like to thank my friend Admiral Fox for this conference and for his time.

ADM. FOX: Well I would also first of all like to wish you all the best and Ramadan [inaudible].


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