Military Operations, Political Track Continue to Move Forward
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2004 While political progress moves forward, coalition military operations continue to kill or capture anti-coalition forces. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations at Combined Joint Task Force 7, said today in a Baghdad briefing that Iraq has been relatively stable.
He reported daily averages of 24 attacks against coalition military targets, just fewer than three attacks against Iraqi security forces and just over one attack against Iraqi civilians.
Kimmitt said it is too early to discern if this is a permanent uptick in the numbers. In past weeks, there was an average of 18 attacks per day.
Coalition officials said the "quality" of the attacks against military targets have changed. "They are very much hit-and-run now," said a coalition spokesman in Baghdad. "They are sort of like 'drive-by' shootings, and while we're concerned, they are far different from the attacks we sustained earlier."
Anti-coalition actions against Iraqi security forces have mounted. "We've had about 300 Iraqi police killed in the line of duty" since that force restarted in May, Kimmitt said.
But this strategy is not working. The anti-coalition forces are trying to isolate the coalition, but recruitment numbers for the Iraqi Police continue to go up, said Dan Senor, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority.
He also countered news reports that the June 30, 2004, date for the transfer of sovereignty from the coalition to an Iraqi interim government might slip. "As far as the June 30th deadline is concerned, we are moving forward on implementation of the November 15th political agreement," Senor said. "(We are) focused like a laser beam on the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30th. No other option is under serious consideration."
As part of the Nov. 15 agreement, Senor pointed out, the coalition will negotiate with the Iraqi Governing Council on the legal status of U.S. troops following the return of sovereignty. "We will address the role and status of U.S. troops in Iraq going forward," he said. "That is to be done by the end of March." The agreement will address the legal protections of American service members in Iraq.
A United Nations team has arrived in Baghdad, according to news reports. The Iraqi Governing Council asked the United Nations to assess the proposals that will transfer sovereignty from the coalition to Iraq June 30. The coalition proposal is for regional caucuses to choose delegates. Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the Shia leader in Iraq, said only direct elections will satisfy him.
Senor said CPA administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer will not comment on his interaction with the U.N. team. The coalition will provide all the information the team asks for and will provide its security in the country.
The coalition will take very seriously any recommendations the team may make in regards to the transfer of sovereignty, Senor said. "I don't want to prejudge any outcomes of the U.N. team's activities here," Senor said about his reluctance to comment on the team's mission.
"I don't want to prejudge the outcome of discussions about proposals while their discussions play out. (It is) too early for speculation, and there are many ideas bouncing around," he remarked.
Kimmitt answered a question about the Ansar al-Sunna, the group that claimed responsibility for the twin suicide attacks in Irbil and another in Mosul last weekend. He said the group is "coming onto our screen" and called it an umbrella group for anti-coalition forces.
"Based on the claim of responsibility for the Irbil bombings, we're going to look closely at this group and try to gather as much intelligence on this group as we can," he said. "Once we do that, we'll use it to launch operations against them to kill or capture them to prevent them from launching terrorist attacks."
Finally, in another sign that Iraqi life is returning to normal, the Ministry of Transport has restored rail service between Baghdad and Mosul. Officials had suspended service in December due to dangers posed by a ruptured oil pipeline near the tracks.
The Coalition Provisional Authority is spending $210 million on railroad rebuilding, rehabilitation and expansion, Senor said.