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Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

Presenters: Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Commander, Coalition Ground Forces
April 08, 2004
Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Let me start out with an opening statement, and then I've got only about -- a total of about 30, 40 minutes today.  I've got another meeting to go to fairly quickly, so we'll open it up to your questions.  And I don't think there's much going on out there in the battlespace, right?

 

            Well, coalition offensive and civil military operations continue throughout the country, as we focus on multiple objectives:  restoring order and eliminating anti-coalition forces in Fallujah, destroying Sadr's militia in the central and southern provinces, and continuing progress in rebuilding infrastructure, the economy, and the transition to Iraqi sovereignty.

 

            Coalition and Iraqi security forces are conducting deliberate, precise and robust combat operations to separate, isolate and destroy the enemy wherever we find him on the battlefield.  We cannot tolerate acts of violence directed against the Iraqi people and its fundamental governing, religious and security structures.  There is no place within the democratic system of Iraq for a renegade militia that chooses to intimidate and terrorize the people while seeking to control the basic institutions of the country with a violent power play.

 

            Coalition forces began preparations for Operation Vigilant Resolve following the March 31st killings of four contractors in Fallujah, and the five soldiers near Habbaniya.  In addition, last Sunday's peaceful demonstrations to protest the closing of the Al-Hawza newspaper and arrest of Muqtada al-Sadr's lieutenant, Mustafa Yacoubi, turned violent in Najaf and Baghdad.  This was following al-Sadr's call to arms, directing his militia to attack the democratic foundation of the country -- government buildings, Iraqi security forces, and police stations.

 

            These violent attacks extended into other parts of the south, with engagements in An Najaf, Karbala, Al Kut, Basra, and a number of other cities.

 

            Today in Fallujah, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps continue Operation Vigilant Resolve.  They have made tremendous progress in restoring legitimate authority to Fallujah.  There has been enemy resistance but fellow Iraqis and coalition forces continue the relentless pursuit of key targets in the heart of Fallujah.  But the progress has been measurable.

 

            The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the coalition forces will conduct a deliberate, sustained operation that will eventually transition to stability operations once are objectives have been achieved.  The Marines are making great progress, and I am totally confident that we will succeed.  The security situation will improve over the days and weeks ahead.

 

            Once the security situation in Fallujah is stabilized, the citizens in Fallujah will find no better friend than the Marines of the 1st Expeditionary Force.  They are experts at civil military operations, and they have substantial resources available to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Fallujah.  That has been our commitment to the people of this country as long as we have been here, and we definitely intend to fulfill that promise. There is a new dawn approaching that will bring a bright, secure future to those Iraqis who have chosen to support freedom and democracy. That is what we stand for, that is what Iraqis expect, and that is what we are committed to in this country.

 

            In the center and southern regions of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have commenced Operation Resolute Sword to destroy the militia forces of Muqtada al-Sadr.  In Baghdad our forces remain on the offensive, conducting intelligence-based raids to destroy Sadr's militia as they attempt to intimidate the population.  Despite attempts to incite violence, attack government facilities and disrupt the lives of Iraqi citizens, coalition units are in firm control of the city of Baghdad.  No government or police buildings are in the hands of the insurgents, and the number of attacks by illegal militias has been substantially reduced.

 

            In a number of cities in southern Iraq, new engagements by Sadr's militia are being met by a determined coalition response.  Offensive operations will continue to take the fight to Sadr's militia, its leaders and facilitators.  Sadr's gang is attempting without success to sabotage progress toward a free and independent Iraq.  It is attempting to intimidate the majority of moderate citizens of the country who seek democracy and a society that is ruled by law, and not by the barrel of a gun.

 

            Rightly, the vast majority of Iraqis reject this message, and the coalition and Iraqi security forces will continue to attack to destroy this disruptive force and to kill or capture its membership and its leadership.

 

            My assessment is that we will continue to see this violence for some time until Muqtada al-Sadr turns himself in or his militia is destroyed.  Coalition military forces will conduct powerful, deliberate, very robust military operations until the job is done.  We are committed, and we will not be deterred.  Let there be no doubt we will continue the attacks until Sadr's influence is eliminated and Sadr's militia is no longer a threat to Iraq and its citizens.

 

            As the coalition forces continue to reduce extremist elements in the country, we also stand ready to provide a measure of Arba'in observances.  There is no doubt that extremists and terrorists are plotting to interfere with these holy observances in order to create chaos and promote sectarian violence.  Terrorists like the Zarqawi network have declared their intent to kill Shi'a, and we would expect that they would attempt to use the recent violence and the Arba'in pilgrimage as an opportunity to strike at the Iraqi people again.

 

            The citizens of Iraq must be particularly vigilant during these observances.  We have taken all possible precautions in coordination with Iraqi security forces; national, regional and local government and religious authorities -- in an effort to minimize the risk to the civilian population that will be participating in these pilgrimages.  We caution all pilgrims that the holy cities are potentially dangerous places during this period.  We will be prepared to assist in the event of any violence.

 

            As you know, CJTF-7 is in the middle of a major troop rotation, and this provides an increased number of U.S. troops in the country.  We are taking advantage of these forces, and we will manage the redeployment to give us the combat power that is necessary to accomplish the missions at hand.

 

            Let me finish at this point.  But before taking your questions let me reemphasize that the coalition forces are clear in their purpose to provide a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq.   We will not let a small group of criminals and thugs control the destiny of this country.  We will not let terrorists inspire and create sectarian violence.  The overwhelming majority of Iraqis seek democracy and sovereignty, and the coalition shares in those aspirations.  We remain resolute in our purpose, and the people of Iraq can be assured of our resolve.  We will maintain stability in Iraq and continue the forward progress to democracy and to sovereignty.  I will now take your questions.

 

            Q     General, Gregor Mayer from the German Press Agency, DPA.  Could you tell us how many U.S. and coalition soldiers are currently in Iraq?  Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was saying yesterday that given the rotation there are more in the country, and there may stay more in the country.

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Yes.  The current strength of the American forces in the country -- correction, the coalition forces in the country -- are about 145,000, and we have the 1st Armored Division, the 1st Cavalry Division, undergoing a transfer of authority here in the city of Baghdad, and we have a substantial number of forces that have not rotated out of the country yet as part of this transfer of authority.

 

            Q     How many of this is U.S.?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  About -- I believe the number is about 125,000 -- thereabouts.

 

            In the back.

 

            Q     Quinn O'Toole, National Public Radio.  Can you tell us about the situation in Kut and the Ukrainian forces leaving?  Has that city been stabilized yet?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  The city of Al Kut -- we are in the process of conducting operations in order to secure the city of Al Kut.

 

            Q     -- those operations?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  I'm sorry?

 

            Q     How far have those operations gone?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  We will retake the city of Al Kut imminently.

 

            Sir?

 

            Q     General Sanchez, I'm Sewell Chan with the Washington Post. You talked about the need to destroy Mahdi Army, al-Sadr's militia, and also to kill or capture its members and its leaders.  This militia, however, was formed last summer, and has been steadily it seems developing in strength and numbers.  Why has it taken the coalition so long to respond to this threat?  And also the response, in your opinion, has it come too late?  Should the military have acted sooner and more proactively to counter this militia's threat?    Thank you.

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  I think what we have to keep in mind when we start talking about militias is that there are several militias that are in this country, and we know that political parties, we know that other militias exist in the country, and the effort was ongoing, and has been ongoing for some time to peacefully transition and reintegrate these forces into the fabric of the country.  And there was no need for us to militarily go and destroy these elements that are out there as long as we were making progress to peacefully reintegrate them, as you have to do in most environments when you've torn down the security structures of a country.

 

            So this is not about us not responding to the threat.  Clearly at this point in time, once that element showed itself as being against the Iraqi people and the coalition, then we are taking appropriate military action and we will carry it on through to conclusion.

 

            Yes, ma'am.

 

            Q     Deborah Horan from the Chicago Tribune.  Currently there are a number of people in Sadr City who are determined to bring food and give blood to people in Fallujah.  And I'm wondering what the status of Fallujah is right now.  Is it still closed?  -- and what the Army plans to do when these people arrive with these supplies.  Will they let them in, or what will the Army's response be?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Well, clearly we are working with multiple initiatives that are attempting to take some humanitarian assistance into the city of Fallujah.  We are coordinating that, and as the tactical situation allows we will definitely give them the opportunity to take that into the city of Fallujah.  There is no plan on our part to isolate the people from their basic needs of food and medical assistance, and we'll continue to provide that and allow that to go into the city.

 

            Yes, ma'am?

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.) Hello, this is Houda (ph) Zayati, from al Ballat (ph) newspaper.  You said that you, together with the Iraqi security forces, you are fighting the enemies.  But are the families and the members of the families, the children are also among your enemies?  Your people also started circulating, putting some of the cities under siege.  You have just made Iraq another Palestine.  So is it also those families are considered amongst your enemies?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Absolutely not.  The families are not considered the enemy. It is the elements that are conducting military operations, that are conducting attacks against the people, that are conducting attacks against the coalition forces.  That's the enemy of the state, that's the enemy of the coalition, that's the enemy of the Iraqi people, and that's the enemy that has to be eliminated.

 

            It is not about the people that live in Fallujah.  And, yes, we have got Fallujah under siege at this point, and we will continue to conduct our deliberate operations in the city until we've accomplished our objectives.

 

            Yes, sir?

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  Zaina del Bekiri (ph) from Hedria (ph) Iraq radio station.  There have been reports today that you have detained suspected people having the Syrian nationality.  What is your comment about that?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Well, as we have been stating just about every time I get up here to give you a briefing and answer your questions, that there are foreign fighters in this country.  There are some elements that are coming into the country to create instability, to attack the Iraqi people.  We clearly know that the Zarqawi network is operating here in the country.  He has claimed responsibility for the attacks that have been perpetrated against the Iraqi people.  So there are foreign elements that are operating in here, and I'm not sure specifically what you're referring to, but that is not a surprise.

 

            All the way in the back.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  Amarina (ph) Sodani (ph) from Dar Es Salaam.  We have heard that there are endeavors of some of the members of the IGC that you have negotiations with the people of Fallujah.  So is that true?  Who are those sides?  And what are the measures taken?  And what extent these negotiations have been succeeded?

 

            Is it true that also there are some of the areas under siege and you have made so many violations to the human rights in Geneva because you have been preventing some of the people to get medical treatment in the hospitals and some of them are needing food and they are really in a bad condition?  So don't you think that these are violations of the Geneva Convention regarding human rights?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  First of all, in terms of negotiations in the city of Fallujah, I am aware of some initiatives to conduct some sort of talks.  I wouldn't call them negotiations, because we're not negotiating.  We've established what our criteria is.

 

            We know what our objectives are, and we're going to achieve our objectives in the city of Fallujah.  We're not negotiating at this point.  But we are looking at conducting, in coordination with these other initiatives, some sort of talks with the people of Fallujah.

 

            In terms of violations of the laws of war, I'm not aware of any violations of the laws of war at this point in time.  And when we do violations of the laws of war, we're very aggressive about investigating those.

 

            In terms of medical treatment and food, I just answered the question previously about us being open to those kinds of supplies going into the city and continuing to provide that for the people and the insurgents.

 

            Yes, sir.

 

            Q     Daniel Green from Associated Press.  Will extra U.S. troops be sent to cities in the south to help tackle Muqtada al-Sadr's militia groups there?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  We will do whatever is necessary to defeat Muqtada al-Sadr's forces wherever they are on the battlefield.

 

            Yes, ma'am.

 

            Q     Carol Rosenberg with the Miami Herald, General.  A follow-up:  Are you in general rearranging theater architecture in terms of the surprise that has occurred in the south in the last five days?  And can you tell us how many towns or cities besides Kut are not in coalition control at this moment?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  By theater architecture, are you talking the footprint of the military forces?  Well, what a military commander has to do is he's got to maneuver his forces around the battle space to defeat the enemy wherever he shows up.  If that's what you mean by rearranging the architecture, you're exactly right.  I'm maneuvering my forces to defeat the enemy where I find him.

 

            In terms of other cities, Najaf is the only other one.

 

            In the back.

 

            Q     Luke Baker Reuters.  General, just two things.  First of all, we're hearing reports of helicopters being brought down in Fallujah and Ramadi.  I just wonder if you could give any more clarity on the type of fighting that's going on there and whether, in fact, there have been some U.S. aircraft brought down.

 

            And also, is it not the case that you're being sucked into the conflict you always wanted to avoid, an urban, guerrilla-based conflict, which really could drag on for weeks?  You said yourself this could take days if not weeks to pacify Fallujah.

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  First of all, on the helicopters, if I understood you, to give you something on helicopters being brought down, we have had some helicopters that have been engaged.  And I don't know of any that we have lost catastrophically either across the country in the last week or so.  I don't know -- today I have not heard.  Today are you talking about?

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Okay.  No, I have not heard of a helicopter being destroyed today -- being shot down.

 

            On your second question of urban warfare, we knew before we started this campaign that that was a possibility.  And the entire military, both coalition and United States forces, were prepared to engage in this kind of an operation if it came to that.

 

            Yes, sir.  In the back.  In the back.  Okay, you.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  This morning, the coalition forces prevented food aids from entering Fallujah and other humanitarian aids to enter Fallujah.  Is that right?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  That I can't verify.  What I said earlier is that we are working multiple initiatives that are trying to get humanitarian assistance into Fallujah.  That has to be coordinated with the commander on the ground to ensure that the tactical situation allows it --

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Will you let me finish, please?  That the tactical situation allows the introduction of that safely.  And we are allowing humanitarian assistance into the city.

 

            Now you may follow up.

 

            Q     Fala Hashakashi (ph), Al Hara (ph) newspaper.  About the situation in Iraq right now, will this affect the date of giving over sovereignty to Iraq?  The second question, according to the latest situation, do you think that there are foreign sides involved in these situations?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Sir, we've repeatedly stated that the date is firm.   On foreign sides, I just described and I think I just answered the question that there are and have been small numbers of foreign fighters that have been coming into the country, and we have no reason to expect that that has changed.

 

            Yes, sir, in the back.

 

            Q     General, your secretary of Defense has declared that Najaf is out of U.S. control.  Does this mean that the Spanish soldiers have told you that they will withdraw from the city, as the Ukrainians have done?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Well, let's make sure we have clarity on what's going on in Najaf.  There are still coalition forces in the city, in the base camps that we were occupying.  We have not left the city.  There's two base camps down there.  We still have our forces in there.

 

            What is under control by Mahdi elements is the inner part of the city, the police stations and the government buildings.  And we are very, very cognizant as a coalition of the religious observances that are ongoing right now and the holy shrine status and the special status of the city of Najaf.

 

            So when you talk about being out of U.S. coalition control, that's the situation on the ground.  Our forces are still present in the city of Najaf in the base camps that we had occupied before.

 

            Yes, sir.

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  You need to press --

 

            Q     Yeah.  Jerry al Jaq (ph) from ASC (ph).  The Muqtada al-Sadr militia claims to be holding some Spanish coalition troops and possibly an American soldier, and they say they want to swap them for Mr. Yacoubi.  Do you have anything on that?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  I know nothing about that.

 

            Yes, sir.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Inaudible.)  General Sanchez, I have two questions.  First question is pertaining to some of the American helicopters bombarding the mosque in Fallujah.  Don't you think that this is a violation of some of the sacred houses of God?  Especially these are meant for the worship of God.

 

            The second question is pertaining to Muqtada al-Sadr and his loyalists.  You've just mentioned something and you said that "We are going to kill them and we are going to destroy them."  Are you considering Muqtada al-Sadr as terrorist?  And how do you interpret this logic?  Don't you think that this one will make a great serious concern and the danger for your stance nowadays when you consider Muqtada al-Sadr as a terrorist?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  First of all, let's -- do we have the slides, please, on the mosque?  Okay, this first slide right here is the mosque that was hit in Fallujah.  This is a shot that shows the detonation.  Next slide, please.  This is the damage that was caused by our hitting the mosque.  Next slide, please.  And that shows that the mosque infrastructure, the buildings are all still intact.

 

            Was there some damage?  Probably some minor damage to the physical infrastructure.

 

            Now, to answer your question -- okay, slides off, please.  To answer your question specifically, the Geneva Convention and also, I think, religious principles state that mosques are to be preserved as religious sites as long as they're being used for that purpose.

 

            Once they're being used for military purposes, as was in this case, where we had an element that was attacking our Marines, it loses its status as a protected site.  That is what occurred.  We had a regimental commander on the ground that was suffering casualties from the elements that were occupying this mosque, and that was the result.

 

            Yes, sir, in the back.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Inaudible.)  Please.  Please try to answer the question precisely.  You talked about the human rights and  (inaudible) -- Zarqawi and so many other issues that there have been pressure between the people of Fallujah and the coalition forces.  There are the killings and massacres taking place in Fallujah.  Some of the children are being victims, and there are some of the civilians who have been victims and whom Zarqawi has got no hand in it.  So how can you put an excuse and comment about this situation?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Now, let's make sure -- I've got to make myself very clear.  First of all, I think we all know that we are engaged in some moderate fighting in the city of Fallujah.  You all have seen some of the engagements that have been taking place in the city.

 

            We have stated that we are going to apply a powerful, precise, sustained combat power in the city of Fallujah to defeat the elements that are in that city.  It is absolutely regrettable when non-combatants get hurt on the battlefield or killed.  We regret that.  We do everything possible to protect infrastructure, to protect non-combatants.  But that is a fact when you're on a battlefield of this nature in an urban environment.  And we regret that.

 

            And if there is a violation of the Geneva Convention where something has been done wrong, then we will take appropriate action.

 

            Yes, sir.

 

            Q            (Through interpreter.)  Why haven't you put the blame -- General Sanchez, I quite agree with you that mutilation of the American soldiers who have been killed in Fallujah is really a barbaric action.  But don't you think that killing the mothers and the children and civilian people, where more than 300 people were killed, don't you think that this is also -- a barbaric and brutal action has been caused by the coalition forces for those people?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  I think I just answered that question for the previous gentleman.

 

            Yes, sir, in the back.

 

            Q     General Sanchez, Sewell Chan with the Washington Post again.  Is there an explanation that you could offer for why there have been so many casualties that have been taken by the First Marine Expeditionary Force since its entrance into Iraq?  Does it say something about a change in tactics or strategy by the insurgents and by the rebels?  And why have there been just so many fatalities among the Marines in the last week?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Well, I think the first answer is because we started doing some very robust offensive operations, and as we started to conduct the operations in Fallujah, because of the incidents that occurred in there, and we had a response by the enemy.  And the enemy is now presenting itself in a different fashion than what we'd experienced before.

 

            And therefore, when he did that, now we're seeing a little bit more persistent enemy force out there.  And that's what's created the casualties.  And when you're conducting offensive operations and you're taking the fight to the enemy and you're destroying him in his stronghold, that's expected.

 

            Yes, sir.

 

            Q     Uday Sarik (ph) for CNN.  Is the battle for hearts and minds important in the battle of Fallujah?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Absolutely.

 

            Q     In which way?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Is it important?  I think that was your question?  Is it important?

 

            Q     Yes.

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Yes, absolutely.

 

            Q     In which ways?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Is it important -- I think that was your question -- is it important?

 

            Q     Yes.

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  And, yes, absolutely.  What we are -- what we have done in the past and we continue to do, and the messages that we're sending out is that the people of Fallujah must make a decision.  They must choose to move forward with the rest of the country of Iraq, towards peace, stability and democracy, and they have a choice to make.  They've either got to be with that towards -- supporting that future, or they've got to be against it.  And if they are for that vision of this country, then we will apply all the humanitarian assistance and resources to improve their economic structures and their infrastructure in order to get them towards that end.  We have continuously worked in the city over the last 11 months, with the city of Fallujah.  We've put millions of dollars into the city to help them, and we will continue to do that once we're done.

 

            Yes sir.

 

            Q     General, Tom -- (inaudible) --  from NBC News.  Can you give us some idea of what resistance is like inside Fallujah?  We have reports of women carrying weapons.  Can you characterize some of the reports you've had from some of the ground commanders about opposition to the forces inside Fallujah?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  I'm sorry, I missed the last because of the --

 

            Q     Can you characterize some of the opposition to your forces inside Fallujah, detail on what kind of people they're fighting, what kind of weapons they're using, and how many do you think?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Yes.  The number is a little bit difficult to calculate at this point.  We expect that we will continue to meet moderate resistance as we continue to move through the city.  And we have in -- in the city, have been encountering primarily insurgents that are fighting with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades in there.  I couldn't give you a firm number as to what we expect to have essentially bottled up -- (inaudible) --  at this point.  I just don't have a handle on that.

 

            All the way in the back.

 

            Q     Quinn O'Toole (sp), NPR.  Interested in your -- in your assessment of the Mahdi army, how well trained and equipped are they, and how well coordinated are the activities in different cities?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  What they -- as far as equipping, what we have seen is RPGs, small arms and mortars.  That's about the extent of the capabilities that we have seen on the -- on the battlefield up to this point.

 

            In terms of training, most of the encounters that we have had with them are ambush types encounters, where they have moved in groups of probably 15 to 20 at max, and then in some cases they have massed greater numbers, essentially in mass formations, not necessarily very calculated, very well-trained attacks, but nevertheless, in some cases we have seen, but those are isolated incidents, especially here in the city of Baghdad.

 

            The numbers, I don't know exactly what their numbers may be across the whole country.  We've been estimated anywhere between four to six thousand or so across the entire country.  And I would say that we have inflicted some fairly heavy casualties on them across the country over the course of the last week.

 

            Q     How about the coordination?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  The coordination -- in the city of Najaf, they had a -- a fairly well coordinated plan that they had laid out for the ambushes, where they had lined up essentially a couple of blocks of snipers and attackers on the tops of buildings.  And then they also had a main attack against the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, and a holding attack, or a supporting attack against the Salvadoran compound and the CPA compound.  So, that's been the -- the level of coordination and planning that we have seen.  That was probably the only place we have seen that level of coordination where they had had the time to plan that extensively.  We have not seen that level of on-the-battlefield type of planning in other places up to this point.  In a couple of other places where we saw them, there's clearly some military experience in elements, but I think in the broadest sense, they're not a very well-trained force.

 

            And all the way in the back.

 

            Q     Luke Baker from Reuters again.  General, I wonder if you could give us sort of an estimate of how long you're planning or you expect fighting to go on in Fallujah or Ramadi to bring a -- to pacify those towns, as you put it?  And also, your reaction to suggestions that the experiences your forces are going through now in Iraq have shadows of Vietnam?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Shadows of Vietnam -- I don't -- I don't see any shadows of Vietnam here in Iraq.  It's two totally different battlefields, and I wouldn't even begin to characterize this as a Vietnam for the American forces.

 

            In terms of the length of the campaign, we're going to stay at this campaign as long as it takes for us to eliminate the resistance that's in Fallujah.  We have stated since the very beginning that we will be powerful, we'll be robust, and we'll be precise.  And this will be a sustained campaign.  And there should be absolutely no mistake on anybody's part about our willingness and our ability to sustain our combat operations with the level -- and the application of combat power at the levels that have been seen or greater in order to accomplish our objective.

 

            All the way in the back, ma'am.

 

            Q     Betsy Heil (ph), Pittsburgh Tribune.  We are seeing some people of -- some of the Sunni community also calling for jihad and supporting Muqtada al-Sadr and vice versa.  How worried are you about that becoming a worse  situation?  And also, how much of Fallujah is under the control of the coalition right now?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  I'm sorry, what --

 

            Q     How much of Fallujah --

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  How much?

 

            Q     -- is under the control --

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Okay.  First of all, the call for unity between Muqtada

al-Sadr forces and the Sunni forces is not unexpected.  It is clearly an attempt to take advantage of the situation that is presenting itself on the battlefield.  The increase in activity across the country clearly is also an indication that the Sunnis are trying to present a tougher problem for the coalition, but we are prepared to handle that, and that is not creating a significant challenge for us at this point in terms of risk.

 

            The -- the danger is -- and we believe there is a linkage that may be occurring at the very lowest levels between the Sunni and the Shi'a, and we have to work very hard to ensure that it remains at the tactical level.  But that's not surprising.

 

            Okay.  And I'm sorry, your second question was --

 

            Q     How much of Fallujah is under coalition control?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Yes.  Well, at this point, I probably -- I wouldn't be able to describe it to you, but -- I'd be glad -- it would be best for us to show you a map at the point where it's appropriate for us to do that.  But I'll tell you, we do have forces inside of the city of Fallujah.  We are conducting operations into the center of the city, and we continue to conduct our raids as required and as our intelligence allows to kill or capture the targets that we have identified in the city.

 

            Yes sir.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Inaudible) -- from -- (inaudible) --  Newspaper.  Mr. General, you are applying the same policy of the ex-regime or your -- the policy of Saddam to be subjected to the brutal kinds of siege, and cutting off the humanitarian aid and food aid, and electricity and water, to reach all the people of Fallujah.  And, the time the helicopters, the American helicopters are being -- the American helicopters has also bombarded or shot most of the vehicles that are carrying humanitarian aid.  Is that a tactical operation in order to delay the handing over of sovereignty to the Iraqis?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Okay.  I've answered that about three or four times this afternoon.  All right.  We are not cutting off humanitarian aid and food to the city of Fallujah.  Okay?  You all need to listen to me.  We are not cutting off the aid to the people of Fallujah.

 

            And, you know, if we're shooting vehicles, it's because those vehicles have shot at us.  We are not indiscriminately destroying vehicles in the city of Fallujah or anywhere else in this country.  But, if a vehicle shoots at my soldiers, we are destroying it.  And we will -- we will continue to destroy them because we cannot allow a force that has clearly put my troops in danger to come off of that battlefield.  We will -- we have stated that over and over again.  We are going to be powerful, we're going to be precise, and we are going to eliminate these forces from the battlefield.  And we will be benevolent in victory.

 

            Yes.

 

            Q     Mustafa (ph) Aktoum (ph), Abu Dhabi TV.  Please, do you think your operation in Fallujah, in Baghdad, in other south Iraqi, will get the goal soon?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Well, that's a little bit difficult to say as to how fast we can achieve the objectives.  I'll tell you that right now we are on track, that we are prepared for a sustained operation.  We are not walking away from the problem.  We are committed.  If this is a -- a test of wills, what is being done is the will of the international community is being tested, the will of the coalition that's being tested, the will of the American people and the American forces is being tested, and I think more importantly, the will of the Iraqi people to move towards democracy is being tested, and none of that will is going to falter.  We're going to succeed, and we're going to stay at this as long as we need to, to defeat these forces that are trying to stop the progress towards democracy and towards sovereignty.

 

            Yes sir.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)   (Inaudible) -- from -- (inaudible) --  Newspaper.  My question is that how much -- how many are the casualties among your peoples, whether they are in Fallujah, Ramadi or Basra?  The figures exactly, can you give us the figures for the casualties of your people?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Sure.  We don't - we don't hide our casualties.  We'll be prepared to give you those casualties at the end.  We'll go ahead and get those to you.  Okay.

 

            Okay, I think I've got one last question.  Ma'am?

 

            Q     It's a double-barreled --

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Uh-oh.

 

            Q     -- are you holding off on -- with the south and west -- are you holding off on a counter-offensive in Najaf because of the Arba'in?  And can you say how many you've killed and captured in Anbar?

 

            GEN. SANCHEZ:  Killed or captured in Anbar, I think we could give you a -- it would probably be better if we gave you a total roll up, but I think we do have some numbers.  Clearly, they are estimates.  We've got some pretty good numbers as to the KIAs.  In terms of the wounded, that's a little bit softer number that we've got, but we do have some numbers that we can provide to you, and we can give those to you for the different sectors that we've got -- where we've got action going on.

 

            In terms of the offensive operations, the timing of an offensive operation is not to be disclosed because it eliminates a tactical surprise or the operational surprise that accrues to a commander.  So, I'll -- I'll say that we are conducting and we will continue to conduct offensive operations across the battle space to eliminate Sadr's forces on the ground.

 

            And there must be absolutely no mistake about our objectives, and our will, and our ability, and our willingness to use whatever combat power is necessary to eliminate this force from the battlefield and to keep it from derailing Iraq's movement towards democracy.  They must not be allowed to rule this country by the use of terrorist acts, through fear, and we as a coalition and the Iraqi people must not allow themselves to be taken back to an era just like Saddam imposed on this country just a year ago.

 

            And that is all I have for today.  Thank you all very much for listening.  And I will see you maybe next week.  Okay.  That's all.

 

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