MR. SENOR: Good afternoon. General Kimmitt has a brief opening statement. I just have a few words on Ambassador Bremer's activities over the last 48 hours.
Ambassador Bremer continues to meet with members of the Governing Council as individuals and the entire group as we continue to work with them on implementation of the November 15th political agreement.
In addition to that, Ambassador Bremer yesterday made his third visit to the Baghdad City Council. This is a political body that represents the nine districts within Baghdad, which represent the 88 neighborhood advisory councils. The Baghdad City Council itself consists of 37 members, almost all of whom were there yesterday for the ambassador's visit.
During the visit, he heard from almost every single member in attendance, in which issues that were raised included issues of corruption in Iraq, the role of women in the political process, the security situation, the supplemental funding that will be deployed in Iraq over the next few years, reductions -- efforts to reduce Iraq's foreign sovereign debt. Baghdad traffic was raised, and then, of course, the November 15th political process was also addressed.
Finally, as many of you know, yesterday the first of the four heads rolled at the Republican Guard Palace. The rest of the -- the balance of the three -- some of you have asked -- will be coming down over the next few days. These were monuments of Saddam's megalomania, and it was a very important symbolic gesture that we took these down. In fact, it's something we heard about from a number of Iraqis we are working with, about the importance of taking these heads down. And we are in the process of doing it.
GEN. KIMMITT: Thank you, Mr. Senor.
Good evening. Coalition forces continue offensive stability and security operations to enable the restoration of a free Iraq. The area of operations remains relatively stable. Over the past seven days, there have been an average of 19 engagements per day against coalition military, two attacks on Iraqi security forces, and two attacks on Iraqi and other neutral civilians.
While this trend line is below recent norms, the coalition remains offensively oriented and will continue intelligence-based operations to kill or capture anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi elements attempting to obstruct a safe and secure environment in Iraq.
In the past 24 hours, coalition conducted 1,658 patrols, 22 raids, and captured 115 anti-coalition suspects.
In the Southeast, multinational division forces conducted 240 patrols, two raids, and detained 25 personnel in the past 24 hours.
Four people with Iranian paperwork, one a confirmed citizen, were captured when coalition soldiers discovered numerous arms and weapons in a minibus that was stopped at a checkpoint in al-Basra yesterday. Among the weapons seized were several rocket-propelled grenade launchers and rifles.
The Iraqi Student Union declared itself against terrorist attacks in Iraq and is planning to start a campaign in all schools and universities to support the social and political stabilization of the country.
The first members of the newly formed Iraqi highway police completed training and will be employed on the roads in the Safwan area.
In the center south zone, multinational division forces conducted 143 patrols, detaining 36 personnel. All those personnel were later deported back to Iran.
The governing coordinator of Wasit Province approved 20 new projects, including refurbishing schools, repairing power lines and irrigation systems. These projects are programmed for completion by the end of the year.
At various points near and around Karbala City, a coalition explosives disposal team, acting on information provided by Iraqi citizens, found and destroyed a large weapons cache.
In the West, the 82nd Airborne Division conducted six offensive operations, 173 patrols, including nine joint patrols with the border police and Iraqi police, and cleared two caches. During these operations, 10 enemy personnel were captured.
Civil Affairs personnel are working with local officials in Mahmudiyah to repair the water purification and sewage treatment plants in the area. The project will cost 67,000 U.S. dollars and will provide clean water and sewage to over 80,000 residents.
Civil affairs teams also finalized payments on a school rehabilitation project in Abo al Jeer (sp). The project cost $6,500 and will benefit approximately 350 students.
In Baghdad, the 1st Armored Division conducted 528 patrols, five offensive operations against insurgent elements operating within Baghdad, and detained 14 individuals suspected of ties to Saddam Fedayeen and to other anti-coalition forces. Elements conducting a raid on targets suspected of attacks against U.S. forces captured three Iraqis and confiscated 1.4 million dinar, three computers, Wahhabi booklets, Osama bin Laden material, weapons and ammunition.
Coalition forces in Baghdad conducted a joint raid with the ICDC against Almar Yassiri, Muqtada Sadr's operations officer in Sadr City, also believed responsible for the ambush of coalition soldiers on October 9th. He was captured without incident.
In the northeast zone, coalition forces conducted 164 patrols, two raids, and captured 41 individuals.
In a joint operation, the 173rd Airborne Brigade completed Operation Bayonet Lightning, along with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the Iraqi police, conducting intelligence-based raids to target former regime elements. Twenty-six individuals were captured, all suspected former members of the Saddam Fedayeen. Based on information provided by Iraqi citizens, forces conducted a cordon and search east of Balad and a raid in Bayji. Ten persons were captured, and soldiers located and confiscated extensive weapons and ammunition.
In commemoration of the police and IDP victims killed in the 22 November car bombing, 3,000 persons, including government officials, community leaders, teachers and students held a ceremony in March in Baqubah. Following the march, the governor, deputy governor, assistant governor of Diyala Province and the police chief and mayor of Baqubah, as well as an imam from the Halsfa Shi'a community, paid homage to those who died, and condemned the attack. They also condemned anyone who uses terrorism as a weapon of intimidation. The imam, in particular, stressed that Islam is not a religion of terrorism, in his condemnation.
In the north, coalition forces conducted 197 patrols, one cordon- and-knock operation, and detained 26 individuals.
Training began yesterday for the first group of Mosul police officers for the special reaction team. The police chief has personally selected 25 highly qualified members -- highly qualified police officers or former military members to form this unit.
The 101st activated another Civil Defense Corps battalion yesterday. The unit's 854 ICDC soldiers will be responsible for securing the pipeline in critical Iraqi oil infrastructure nodes in the western portion of the Ninawa Province. To date, the 101st has trained four battalions of Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers, and these units are fully integrated into combat operations and infrastructure security.
Installation of a medium girder bridge over the Khazir River was completed yesterday, reestablishing the supply route between Mosul and Irbil.
Thank you. Be glad to take your questions. Yes, sir?
Q Gregor Mayer from the German Press Agency, DPA. General, could you elaborate a little bit more on the operation of the 173rd Airborne Brigade? Can you name the location? Was it near Kirkuk or Hallija? And had there been any high-valued targeted captured amongst the 26 you have mentioned?
GEN. KIMMITT: I think the specific question is going to the question, did we target or were we going after al-Douri. We did not capture al-Douri yesterday. With regard to the operations, we typically don't reveal operational details or specifics.
Q General, Dean Yates from Reuters. Did you have information that al-Duri was in Hallija at the time? Do you think you may have just missed him?
GEN. KIMMITT: Again, we will not reveal intelligence or operational specifics about ongoing operations or future operations.
Q James Haider from the Times. Regarding the arrest of Muqtada al-Sadr's deputy, can you give us some more details on that? And how close a deputy is this person to Muqtada al-Sadr? And is there any evidence linking Muqtada himself to this ambush?
GEN. KIMMITT: Let's take that for afterwards. I don't have the specific details with me.
Q Aaron Shacter, I'm from BBC in the U.S. Mr. al-Hakim earlier today mentioned that they were looking at joining militia groups from different organizations into an anti-terror force. I wonder, your thoughts on that. Apparently the Governing Council is discussing it and CPA is involved.
MR. SENOR: Under the supplemental request, we are mandated by Congress to form 36 battalions for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. We are moving forward in forming those battalions. As we recruit for those battalions, we've had all along, we've maintained, certain criteria. The members of the ICDC or any domestic security services would have to be fully vetted for de-Ba'athification and other ties to the former regime. They would have to be trained in the highest standards of professionalism and human rights. They would have to be under the Ministry of Interior and coordinate with the coalition command-and-control structure.
And finally, to your point, any individual that is recruited and serves must serve as an individual, under a new Iraq -- unified Iraq security service. They cannot be serving to represent a political party or a particular militia. Those continue to be our criteria as we look forward to forming these new battalions.
Q Christine Spolar, Chicago Tribune. When will that -- these battalions be formed? Do you have a timetable, and is it coordinated with when the elections are, when the basic law is?
MR. SENOR: We are moving forward right now on implementation of the recruitment for the battalions. We have not released a schedule yet, or details. When we do, we will let you know.
Q Thanks. First of all -- two questions. And my first one: What's the problem with the petrol, the gas queues in Baghdad at the moment? They seem to be larger than ever. Can you tell us what's going on? I think -- obviously, I'm not sure whether this is true, but Iraqis are starting to think that maybe the Americans have stolen the gas. But obviously -- seriously, what's going on there?
Secondly, there seem to be recent -- these -- the U.S. coalition forces have started to use slightly different techniques, perhaps using bulldozers to knock down certain houses. I think this has happened in the West. It's also happened in the North. Is this a new technique?
MR. SENOR: Let me take the first question. There is a lot -- there are a lot of rumors and information spreading that there is this shortage of petrol, which contributes to what we've seen in the past -- a hoarding mentality, if you will. People end up filling up their gas, willing to wait in line earlier than they normally would, perhaps when their gas is half-full or a quarter-full, rather than waiting till it's closer to empty.
That, combined with the fact that -- if you look at the statements coming out of the Ministry of Oil, they estimate that approximately a quarter of a million cars have come into Iraq since liberation. And that's because the lifting of sanctions and the end of the import restrictions -- and so you just have a lot more traffic congestion. It's something we have to address, although we do view traffic congestion, as we discussed yesterday with the Baghdad City Council, as a good sign. It is a healthy economic indicator.
GEN. KIMMITT: As regards the use of bulldozers, I'm not aware of any specific bulldozers being used for -- as you describe. We use bulldozers for a lot of military purposes, for our own construction, for -- against military targets and former military targets.
Q Not to knock down houses of possible insurgents?
GEN. KIMMITT: I'm not aware of that going on.
MR. SENOR: Yeah?
Q Beth Potter from (inaudible) News. You talk about a Special Reaction Team of 25 new officers in an elite unit. And this follows up on a SWAT team training in Baghdad. That was 25 and 25. Can you say -- is this -- well, first of all, can you say who they report to?
And then, second of all, this is part of an intelligence unit, such as secret police, Mukhabarat type of unit that will be used in the future?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, what we're developing is the capability for the Iraqis to provide their own security. That has to do with the police forces. That has to do with the ICDC. That has to do with Facilities Protection Services and the border guards.
Most police services throughout the world have special units within -- inside their organizations to conduct criminal activities -- anti-criminal activities and such. I don't think you can draw any special conclusions from the formation of this force. It's just an ordinary part of police activities.
MR. SENOR: Ed?
Q (Off mike) -- political party. (Off mike.)
MR. SENOR: All the Iraqi security personnel, whether they serve in the ICDC, whether they serve in the new battalions of the ICDC, or whether they serve in the new Iraqi army or the Iraqi police or the border patrol, cannot represent a political party and cannot represent a militia. They have to be recruited and they must serve as individuals, under a new unified Iraqi security service. And that remains the policy. That has been our policy all along. That continues to be our policy.
Q So you're saying -- (off mike) -- political party?
MR. SENOR: I'm not going to comment on discussions that we're having with various members of the Governing Council. I'm just telling you that whatever contributes to these battalions in the ICDC will not represent any political parties or militias.
Q (Off mike.) Excuse me. In your opinion, who's responsible for the killing of the Japanese diplomats? Are the Japanese targeted in Iraq, or this came as a random or spontaneous action, just to kill any diplomat in Iraq, by the terrorists? And what is the latest news about the investigation of this tragic accident?
MR. SENOR: To my knowledge, we have no intelligence that speaks to whether or not they were targeted specifically because they're Japanese, if that's your question. But what we have said is that the Japanese government continues to be a very strong and reliable member of this coalition. We were very pleased by some of the statements that have come out of the Japanese government and the Spanish government over the past few days for what has been a very difficult few days for both of those countries. It was a strong indication that the coalition in Iraq remains strong.
Q Just a couple of questions on the political process. First of all, just in general terms, isn't it rather embarrassing for the coalition to be lectured on democracy by an Iranian-born ayatollah?
And then, more specifically, this new committee that's been set up to consider the transitional national law, as you were calling it the other day, is that an indication that those parts of the December 15 agreement which set out the process of indirect selection by caucuses are now up for review?
MR. SENOR: The Governing Council, in an effort to work with us in implementation of the November 15th agreement, has set up these two committees: one, as you said that I said the other day, the transitional administrative law committee, and the committee to look at direct elections to the constitutional convention. Both of those were welcomed as a very positive sign by the ambassador that we are working closely with the Governing Council and they're taking their own steps to get the process moving.
As for debate and discussion by anybody in this country, we view this as an incredibly positive sign. Let me just say that two days ago, Ambassador Bremer sat down in his conference room with about 10 Iraqi journalists, people who, if they didn't mind their tongue under Saddam Hussein, they would have had their tongues cut out. And for the first time, they can report freely in a flourishing and vibrant free media. And there they could ask Ambassador Bremer any question they want and engage in a discussion about the political process and then report about it. If you look -- if you read Iraqi newspapers, you will see coverage of this discussion. Nobody was editing their articles. Nobody was screening it. It was a free-flowing discussion.
And the same is going on across the country. It was going on in Baghdad City Council yesterday. The political process is stimulating a healthy debate in this country, which we think is consistent with the democratic vision that President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have articulated for the new Iraq.
Q (Electronic feedback noise.)
MR. SENOR: Speak loudly.
Q (Off mike.) As you, I'm sure, know, there's been -- (off mike) -- international press corps about what happened on Sunday in Samarra in the last few days. (Off mike) -- now becoming clear that the 54 Iraqi attackers were not killed in Samarra -- (off mike). Can you explain to us why we have been given these figures that apparently are so inaccurate?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, we have no reason to claim that those are inaccurate figures. In fact, we stand by those numbers. Those numbers were provided by soldiers that were involved in the engagement. And we see no other evidence to suggest that those numbers are incorrect.
MR. SENOR: And I would just add that our experience with our troops is that they go to very great efforts to engage in very scrupulous reporting after missions and operations to get us the information out to you and to us. And they have been forthright and truthful and will continue to be so. And we just -- we believe that their reporting -- early reporting, if it is accurate, tends to bear out upon further investigation.
Q Susan Kohl with CNN. Just to follow up on that, there supposedly had been a few bodies there that were found in the hospitals and by the locals. What is the discrepancy on where those bodies are?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, I can't imagine why the enemy would want to bring a dead body to a hospital.
MR. SENOR: Lisa?
Q There's a delegation of U.S. military families and veterans in the country right now. They've been pushing to meet with both Ambassador Bremer and Lieutenant General Sanchez. What kind of access are they going to have to the two, General Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer? And will they have access to U.S. military bases?
MR. SENOR: We have exchanged correspondence with a number of those families, caution them about the safety risks involved with travel to Iraq at this point, but made clear, if they insist on traveling, we respect their right to do so, and we would make available a representative of the CPA to meet with them. And so long as we hear from them, we will schedule those meetings.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. SENOR: (Off mike.)
GEN. KIMMITT: I'm not aware that they're going to have access to military bases at this time.
Q Peter Grest from the BBC. Two questions, very quickly, the first on Samarra. If those battlefield reports that you speak of -- are you prepared to concede that soldiers may have assumed to have killed someone who was in fact simply wounded?
And secondly, on the political process, can we just clarify this: Is there any consideration now of plans to hold elections, rather than the local councils, the local delegations that you're talking about?
MR. SENOR: Well, there are direct elections for the constitutional convention that we --
Q For --
MR. SENOR: -- that we agreed upon -- the November 15th agreement.
Q Sure, but --
MR. SENOR: Right now we're just -- we're focused like a laser beam on implementation of the November 15th agreement.
Q Of course, but Mr. al-Sistani's comments seem to suggest that he wasn't satisfied with that agreement and that he was calling for direct elections for a transitional government, not the constitutional committee that you're talking about.
MR. SENOR: Yeah. All I can speak to is the agreement that we signed, that the Governing Council signed.
Q So there's no --
MR. SENOR: And we are working on implementation of that agreement.
Q There are no plans to adapt it?
MR. SENOR: We are working on implementation of the November 15th agreement. That is our focus right now.
Q And Samarra?
GEN. KIMMITT: I trust the reports of my soldiers.
Q (Off mike) -- to Samarra, I understand -- (off mike) –do you have a legal obligation to investigate -- (off mike). Are you going to do that, and if so, when?
GEN. KIMMITT: I've spoken to General Odierno today. General Odierno is part of every after-action review. We'll do a determination on what happened there. And he is fully committed to finding out the truth. He, at this point, believes he has been given the full truth, but wants to close out any questions out there. But it's important to understand that many of these questions may never be answered just because the enemy doesn't typically want to take his bodies to the hospital; he may have had other reasons to take them elsewhere. But again, there's no reason to doubt what the soldiers saw; there's no reason to doubt what the soldiers reported.
Q (Off mike.)
GEN. KIMMITT: I would expect that General Odierno will conduct a full and comprehensive investigation.
Q When will that be done?
GEN. KIMMITT: Ask General Odierno.
Q Peter Spiegel with the Financial Times. I hate to belabor this point. There was some talk that there was a video taken by U.S. troops in this engagement. Is that correct? And if so, has that been reviewed by yourself, by General Odierno, trying to get a more accurate account of what happened in Samarra?
GEN. KIMMITT: I'm sure -- first of all, I'm not aware of any video. But I'm sure General Odierno will take all the evidence that is presented to him from both his troops and from Iraqi civilians in the area to get a full determination of what happened on the ground.
MR. SENOR: There's time for one more question.
Q Thanks. Back on the November 15th agreement, what is the reasoning -- Iraqis ask this; Americans might wonder -- why not to have direct elections for the interim government? Why is this not the right time for that?
MR. SENOR: The issues that we discussed with the Governing Council was the length of time it would take to set up -- establish voter rolls. There are no voter rolls in this country, there are no electoral districts, there's no electoral infrastructure to have direct elections right now. And so there is a tension, which we have discussed, between this early sovereignty or the sovereignty schedule that we've established, and direct elections, if direct elections are a precondition for sovereignty. And so that's the issue that has to be addressed. And right now, based on the voter rolls, and the requirements for voter rolls and everything that sort of has to be in place for that to take place, we felt that -- in discussions with the Governing Council, that that was the way to go.
GEN. KIMMITT: One comment on Samarra before we leave. As we talk about the numbers, let's not forget what happened at Samarra. Coalition forces were providing security for an Iraqi Currency Exchange truck delivering new dinars to two banks in the town. Their only purpose there was to provide security. Those trucks had been attacked four times prior to that. They were attacked a fifth time. And on that fifth time when they attacked, the soldiers that were protecting those convoys responded. While they responded, the Iraqi currency exchange trucks were able to perform their mission, which was to bring new dinars into the town and take old dinars out of the town.
The people that attacked those trucks were attacking not only coalition soldiers but were attacking Iraqis that were trying to provide money for a restored, restabilized, rebuilt Iraq. Once that was completed, once that engagement was over, once a dinar exchange was done, the soldiers left the town. They accomplished their mission. They did not provoke an attack. They responded to an attack from terrorists and from anti-coalition elements and anti-Iraqi forces that wanted to steal the money.
MR. SENOR: Thank you very much.
GEN. KIMMITT: Thanks, everybody.
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