Press Conference: Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, 9/20/2007
PRESS CONFERENCE: LT. GEN. ABUD QANBAR
GEN. RAYMOND T. ODIERNO
DATE: SEPTEMBER 20, 2007
PARTICIPANTS: LT. GEN. ABUD QANBAR
GEN. RAYMOND T. ODIERNO
[PRESS CONFERENCE BEGINS]
GEN ODIERNO: Speaks in Arabic.
INT: LT GEN ABUD QANBAR: As-Salāmu `Alaykum everyone. Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon is on its seventh month now. And ever since the first day, and the first month, we’ve announced that Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon started heading to success and achieved many successes in many district places. And this success continued everyday and every month. Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon or Operations Fardh Al-Qanoon are flexible and liable for adjustments, so that it will make continuous successes. And we’ve also depended on monitoring the enemy so that we can develop our plans to face the activities of the enemy. What made Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon special was that the credibility, which is our duty to the people and all humans, and this is, that’s why when we say we have a success, it’s real. We do have a success on the ground. And that is based on official statistics that arrive from a report from the commanding operation and also from official state statistics of the government, like the police in Iraq, and also the Minister of Health and other statistical ministries. The statistics, ever since the operation started, for every crime show that there has been a huge decrease in crime and activities by the enemy. Now we are in Ramadan month. And in order to make this month a good, blessed month, and in order to let the people practice their religious ceremonies in a free way, we’ve decreased the hours of the curfew, which is now from midnight until 5:00 am. If we talk about achieving security, and percentage of achieving security, this could be measured on the ground, and could also be measured in the neighborhoods and the streets in Baghdad.
We witness that commerce is back, that normal life is back, that markets are back, schools are back, examinations are going on. And also, we can witness that through the huge numbers that come to health centers, which says that life has resumed its normal way in Baghdad. Concerning the insurgency and fighting terrorism, there is a principle that says, “Every time we’re close from the citizen, and every time the citizen is close to the government and the security plan, this is a great indication that security is working.” That’s why you see today that there are campaigns of volunteers who joined to fight al-Qaida and terrorism, and this is a huge success for the country. And it is also regarded as a good success on reality in Baghdad and an all-around Iraq. The neighborhoods in Baghdad are about 507 neighborhoods, or halas. And what you hear sometimes that, or reports saying that there are some neighborhoods that are actually hot or witness terrorist actions. So before Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon starts, two-thirds (2/3) of these neighborhoods were actually out of the control of the government. And these neighborhoods were actually controlled by terrorists and the criminal gangs. Now thankfully Baghdad is back to its normal situation; and, in case we have around five (5) or six (6) neighborhoods, we can call them “hot zones.” I’d just like to clarify to all of you that what you call a “hot zone” or a “hot neighborhood” is that the security forces are working there, and are present there, and are people in those places. But still some indirect fires go on in these neighborhoods. Or probably an IED could go off, or an assassination could go off once a week, but there are troops there. The life is going on there normally, but still crime still exists. So I just wanted to clarify this point.
The important thing, ever since Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon started, we had determined that our fight in Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon in Baghdad should win. And we had the persistence. That’s why we never thought that the enemy, or our battle with the enemy, could do such successes. But we’re now winning, and we will win again in the future. This is what we keep focusing on; and, the second thing, or the other thing, that our troops from the police and Iraqi army are now experienced and now conducting their duties, are actually on their way to be called special forces. So when conducting their duties, they go and conduct their missions in a very short time and also eliminate the crime. And this is also due to the efficiency of training the Iraqi soldier in Baghdad, also, our troops in the Minister of Defense and Interior. We have divisions that are under, in the process of training. And we have some divisions that will go on to the battlefield. And the army of those forces is new and modern. Our divisions now have gained experience, and there are also other divisions still in the process of being formed, and hopefully in the future they will join the battlefield, which will also back the other divisions. So we’re... I’d like to tell you that terrorism and al-Qaida or most of their networks have been eliminated. And we have news that actually they’re leaving the country. At the beginning of the Ramadan month, for the past years, they were really violent and bloody months. And we hope that this month could pass peacefully, but unfortunately al-Qaida and terrorism for just propaganda reasons...or...actually...so...they cannot actually be compared...their abilities cannot be actually compared with the abilities of Iraqi forces.
So if they go on blowing a car bomb, or an IED. So this...this doesn’t worry us at all. And our statistics in August said that our troops managed to defuse seven (7) car bombs. And also with our front of troops we’ve been able to defuse over seventy-five (75) IEDs. We’ve worked in a good way, and we’re determined to win. And hopefully we will win soon. And now I will give space to my friend General Odierno to talk.
GEN: Shukran. As-Salāmu `Alaykum. Ramadan Kareem. It’s an honor to have the opportunity today to speak here with, in front of you with Lieutenant General Abud. And I’m pleased that I have an opportunity to discuss with you some of the issues and operations ongoing in Iraq. We continue to move forward, working with the Iraqi security forces with Lieutenant General Abud in command. From eighty-four (84) joint security stations in and all around Baghdad, we continue to protect the population. Iraqi security forces continue to improve daily, and are making tremendous strides in their development. They are accepting more and more responsibility as their capabilities increase. Across Baghdad, we are constantly evaluating opportunities to hand more responsibility to the Baghdad operational command, as well as Iraqi forces. Turning over responsibility not only in Baghdad but all of Iraq is a very deliberate process. We go through this very carefully to ensure that we’re able to maintain the security for the Iraqi people. We will not give back any of the hard fought gains because we tried to rush this process. Attacks nationwide have fallen to the lowest levels since before the Golden Mosque bombing in February of 2006.
Joint offensive operations that have been conducted with Iraqi security forces have resulted in the discovery of 60% more caches in the first nine months of 2007 than all of 2006. And this is contributing to the decline in the number of IED attacks that are ongoing throughout Iraq. Car bomb and suicide attacks have dropped to their lowest levels in a year. But until we can stop all of them, we will not be satisfied. These positive trends are also seen in Baghdad. Attacks in Baghdad have reached the lowest levels this year and continue to trend downward from pre Fardh Al-Qanoon levels. Civilian casualties have also dropped dramatically, from a high of about thirty-two (32) per day to twelve (12) per day. But we will not rest until we can eliminate all of these civilian casualties. Now we will continue to work hard with the Iraqi security forces. Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to keep the pressure on extremists, and I believe we will be able to continue to improve security in Baghdad and across Iraq. I also want to talk about the normalization of life for Iraqi citizens. We are starting to see that across Iraq and also in Baghdad. As General Abud discussed, we are starting to see that people are able now to start or open their own stores. We see commerce flourishing at greater levels. Schools are opening. More schools have opened this year than last year. We see kids playing soccer in the streets. That was not the case back in December of o six (06). Things are not perfect. We still have a lot of work to do, but we want to continue to bring and improve the security situation so we can have a normal life for all Iraqis and Iraqi citizens. So far this year, over $589 million dollars have been spent in reconstruction, with $414 million dollars spent on humanitarian assistance.
We have spent almost $200 million dollars to improve the capabilities and capacity of Iraqi security forces. We continue to work hard to move forward economically and improve the essential services, working with the government of Iraq. This is what the Iraqi people deserve and expect. And we know that we have much work to do in this area. Reconciliation efforts continue to grow at the local level. Concerned local citizens are volunteering to protect their neighborhoods and families from the scourge of extremists. As these groups have grown, attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces have decreased. As security increases, it is time to redouble efforts in building sustainable governance, as well as continue to develop the economy and bring about more jobs for the Iraqi people. All of these groups that are volunteering are pledging their loyalty to the government of Iraq. And they seek legitimacy to be part of this government, and to be part of Iraq. We continue to keep al-Qaida and other extremist groups off balance by denying them safe havens and targeting their leadership. I believe that Iraq is tired of their Taliban-like extremist ideology. And as the citizens of this great country reject extremists and their violent ways, extremist influence will continue to diminish. Al-Qaida in Iraq is increasingly being pushed out of Baghdad and the surrounding areas in Baghdad. They are now seeking refuge elsewhere in the country and even fleeing Iraq. We will maintain our pressure on them and continue to pursue them across the country. We welcome the recent announcement by Muqtada al-Sadr to cease attacks. And we have seen a decline in attacks not only in Baghdad but throughout the country.
But we will continue to target the criminals or extremists who violate the law, attack Iraqi security forces or coalition forces, or continue to conduct operations against the government of Iraq. Finally, to the Iraqi people. All of us from the coalition understand the tremendous hardships that people of this nation have endured. Your courage and perseverance has led to elections of your government, the development of dedicated security forces that improve daily and have taken a strong stand against the brutality of extremist forces. We join you in wanting the violence and unnecessary loss of life to stop here in Iraq. And that’s our common goal. In closing, I’d like to extend my best wishes to the people of Iraq on the holy season of Ramadan. Especially in this celebration we join you in wanting the families of Iraq to grow and prosper free of fear. Iraq’s rich history of intellectual achievement and abundance of natural recourses is a source for much hope. Iraq can and will prosper, becoming one of the great countries of the Middle East. We know much work remains ahead of us, but we all have reason for optimism. And we will work hard together to reach these goals. With that I’ll be glad to take any of your questions. Shukran.
REP 1: Asking question in Arabic.
INT: Al-Arabiya TV. If we wanted to measure the percentage of decrease of violence in Baghdad in particular, could you give us a percentage of the decrease in violence? This is the first question. And also, concerning the civilian casualties, if you have any information about the civilian casualties.
GEN: It’s extremely difficult to put a number on the civilians because there are many different ways to calculate that. What we do know though, is that there has been a decline in civilian casualties. But I would say again that it is not at the level that we want it to be. There are still way too many civilian casualties inside of Baghdad and Iraq. And we got to continue to work that along, obviously, with our Iraqi partners, working with them to provide the security in the neighborhoods so that we can reduce the killing of these innocent people.
NEW YORK TIMES: Hello, this is a question for General Odierno. I’m Andrew from the New York Times. I wondered if there were any incidents of violence linked to the events around the banning of Blackwater, anything that could be identified as being connected to that. And the other question is, we heard a report that there was a case of cholera in Baghdad, and if you could confirm that or had any information on that. Thank You.
GEN: First I would say that there has been no violence of any kind, as far as I know, associated with the events the other day attributed to Blackwater. And I want to thank the Iraqi people for their constraint and letting that the authorities work through this issue and allowing us to conduct a thorough investigation as we move forward. And once again, I am... it’s amazing to me the great restraint that the Iraqis show. And we’re very thankful for that. In terms of the cholera case, I have not... I don’t have any information of any cholera inside of cholera as of now.
REP 2: Asking question in Arabic.
INT: Question from an Iraqi newspaper. What’s the number, could you give us a number of the detainees that have been released until now in Ramadan month?
GEN: What we’ve done...I don’t have a specific number, but we have released a minimum of fifty (50) individuals a day. But I think it’s actually exceeded that number, so I believe the number so far is up somewhere around two hundred and fifty three hundred (250-300). And we will continue to release at least fifty (50) individuals every day. Let me... that is from coalition... those are from the individuals held by coalition. I believe those held by Iraqi authorities are also being released, so that would be added to that number.
LT GEN:Speaking Arabic.
INT: Since Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon and until now, we have released one thousand and six hundred and eighty (1,680) detainees. And we have some initiatives in Ramadan that is part of the national reconciliation, and this is part of the government’s job.
REP 3: Asking question in Arabic.
INT: Question to General Odierno. Could you tell us the situation in Diyalá because we’ve heard that al-Qaida is controlling some places. And there’s also some report saying that the 1920 Brigade are also contributing in the battle there. Could you give us more information regarding this?
GEN: First off I would tell you that we’ve made significant progress in Diyalá province, first in liberating Baqubah from al-Qaida. There are still some elements that are in and around the outskirts in and around Baqubah that are trying to reestablish in Baqubah, but we conduct operations on a daily basis against these individuals. We have also conducted a significant amount of operations up along the Diyalá River Valley all the way up to Muqdadiyah. And we still have some al-Qaida influence in and around Muqdadiyah and in the Hamrin Ridge, and we continue to conduct operations in there. In terms of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade, there are many who have come over and have put their arms down and decided to work with the coalition. However, we still have some elements of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade who continue to act in extremist ways. And those that continue to act that way will be treated as criminals and will be brought into custody.
REP 3: Asking question in Arabic.
INT: My question is...the 1920 Brigades are actually working with the government forces. That was the question. Are they fighting with?
GEN: There are… I’m sorry. Yes, there are groups that used to be part of the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade who have sworn allegiance to the government of Iraq who are working with Iraqi security forces and coalition forces both in Diyalá. But there are still some elements that are not. And that’s the point I was trying to make. And they...we continue to conduct operations against them. In fact, in some of these groups there has been a split between the groups, where some have decided they want to reconcile with the government of Iraq and are working with us. There are some that are not. Those that are, we go through a vetting process with them. They pledge their allegiance to the government of Iraq. They have proven over time now that they want to work with us, and they’ve been very helpful. Those that do not... we continue to go after and treat as criminals.
NYT REPORTER: Hello General Odierno. In response to an earlier question, you said you did not have information about cholera here in Baghdad. There’s a... I saw a fairly credible report that there was some cholera, ten (10) or a dozen cases, in the Taji area among displaced people. Can.., do you have an overall summary of what’s going on nationwide and elsewhere?
GEN: First off, this is a problem that we’re looking at very carefully. And one of the things we’re looking at is programs we have to put in place, working with the Iraqi government to protect the Iraqi people from cholera. Prevention, we’re working with some prevention programs, potentially leading to vaccinations and other things. And we are tightly linked, our medical expertise linking with theirs in order to deal with this problem. We sent many people up to Salmaniya, where we had the initial outbreak, and we worked very closely with them.
And we are continuing to do that. Again, I have not heard any reports outside of Salmaniya of any outbreak, but I will check on it. It’s the first I’ve heard of that, and we will take a look at it.
[END OF PRESS CONFERENCE]
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