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DoD Not Conducting Flights Over Iran, Spokesman Says

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2005 – Despite Iranian claims to the contrary, U.S. military aircraft are not flying missions in Iran's airspace, Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said here today.

"I would consider the source and leave it at that," Di Rita told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. "I'm telling you that we're not doing those kinds of activities."

Di Rita emphasized he speaks only for the Defense Department, but cautioned reporters not to interpret that to mean other agencies may be flying over Iran. "It's not for me to speak for other departments," he said. "It is our belief that it's not happening elsewhere (in the government) either."

At the same news conference, Army Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, the Joint Staff's deputy operations director, said that as more associates of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are killed and captured, the noose continues to tighten around the fugitive Jordanian terrorist who has masterminded much of the violence in Iraq.

"We've got more of his associates and people in the last couple of weeks than we had before," Rodriguez said. He declined to address whether the captured associates have been helpful in trying to track Zarqawi down, but did say coalition forces continue to pursue intelligence leads.

Rodriguez also noted that Operation River Blitz, which kicked off Feb. 19, is focused, like other similar recent operations on getting "rid of insurgents who are preventing security" in Anbar province. He said attacks have been down since the Jan. 30 elections, noting that casualties deaths and injuries during the Ashura holiday Feb. 18-19 was down two-thirds from last year's violence.

The insurgents continue to kill "a lot of innocent civilians inside of Iraq," Di Rita added. "Most Iraqis do not want what the insurgents want, which is a country that's thrown itself back into the Dark Ages," he said.

Di Rita expressed gratitude to Australia for its decision to send more troops to Iraq, and said such decisions rightly rest with each country and its own situation. "We obviously are very grateful for Australia's continued involvement in this important mission," he said. "But each coalition country will determine its own way ahead."

Rodriguez noted that troops held over in Iraq for election security have begun to return home, and that the current U.S. force level in Iraq of 155,000 would drop to the pre- election level of about 138,000 "in the next few weeks."

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