Facts Still Unclear in Civilian Employees' Deaths in Iraq
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 12, 2004 Clear facts have yet to emerge as the FBI and Iraqi police continue investigating the March 9 murder of three Coalitional Provisional Authority workers, two of whom were Americans who worked for the Defense Department, officials reported today in Baghdad.
Despite media reports that the workers and an Iraqi translator were killed by Iraqis posing as police checkpoint guards, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, told reporters that the facts surrounding the deaths still are "very unclear."
"We do have the Federal Bureau of Investigation down on the site trying to re- create the crime scene, and we don't have that report yet," he said. "As we get more information and we can confirm what we've been reading in the press, we will be in a much better position to acknowledge, confirm or deny the earlier press reports."
Killed during the attack were Fern Holland, a U.S. Agency for International Development employee, and Robert Zangas, a Marine reservist who was working as a civilian for the coalition. The Iraqi woman working as their translator, also killed, was a subcontracted employee. The attack happened about 70 kilometers south of Baghdad, Kimmitt said.
Holland came to Iraq to work on women's rights issues, and helped to open six women's centers in south-central Baghdad. Zangas worked with helping to develop the local Iraqi press.
Senior coalition spokesman Dan Senor said the CPA constantly reviews how its staff travels throughout the country, but that no "formal changes" have been made at this point regarding travel security. However, he said, "we are looking at it, as we do when similar situations arise." He also pointed out that CPA has strict force-protection rules and procedures to protect its staff when traveling.
Meanwhile, Senor called the attack, which he said was the first successful one against coalition staff, a terrorist act.
"We regard this an act of terrorism against American civilians and Iraqi civilians," he said. "If you look at the work they were engaged in, one was involved in developing women's rights and democracy training centers in Iraq, (and) Bob was involved in helping to develop a free press in Iraq, both institutions -- both endeavors that are central to building a functional democracy in Iraq."
Senor told reporters "any loss of life in the coalition is a tragic event." However, he added, recognizing that a "void cannot be opened up in the work that Fern and Bob were engaged in," the work of the coalition will continue with an even greater sense of mission.
Kimmitt said six individuals have been detained for questioning as part of the investigation into the killings, and that "those persons are all under coalition custody being interrogated at this time."
He said four were carrying what is believed to be Iraqi Police Service identifications, and that one of the detainees was a former policeman under the Saddam Hussein regime. The sixth person was a civilian, he said.
Kimmitt cautioned reporters that accounts of what actually happened during the attacks are still under investigation, saying that some reports of the incident "might not be correct."
"Even the notion that this was a roadblock at which the victims were stopped is being investigated, because further information indicated that that might not be correct as well, but they may have been chased or run off the road," he noted.
Senor responded to reporters pursuing the possible police-involvement angle that while the CPA has a robust process for vetting those hired in the Iraqi security services, the "process is not perfect."
"What is important here is that we have robust procedures in place, and that when individuals slip through the cracks, and we identify it, we act to rectify it immediately, and that's also what we do."
Meanwhile, Kimmitt reported that 500 new Iraqi police officers have graduated from the eight-week training program at the Jordanian Police Academy, bringing the number of graduates to 2,827 from the program.