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Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

Presenters: Brigadier General Mark Kimmit, Deputy Director for Coalition Operations; and Dan Senor, Senior Advisor, CPA
May 27, 2004 10:05 PM EDT
Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

MR. SENOR:  Good afternoon.

 

            The agreement announced early this morning takes the form of a signed letter from Muqtada al-Sadr to the Shi'ite house, the Bet al- Shi'a (sp), which brings together prominent Shi'ite members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

 

            This letter sets forth Muqtada al-Sadr's commitments and wishes, which include the departure of all Muqtada militia fighters from the streets; the departure from Najaf of all Muqtada militia fighters not from the Najaf governate; the evacuation of all government buildings occupied by the Muqtada militia; the cessation of illegal acts of arrest and trial; the resumption of Iraqi police and ICDC responsibility for law and order; the redeployment of coalition forces to their bases, with continued access to the CPA offices, the   governate building and Iraqi police stations; the opening of discussions between the Shi'ite house and Muqtada on the dissolution of Muqtada's militia; and the arrest warrant issued against Muqtada al-Sadr and suspension of action on the warrant in the interim.

 

            The coalition did not participate in negotiation of the text of this letter but was kept aware of its progress.  We understand its terms to apply to Kufa as well as to Najaf.  We are hopeful that Muqtada al-Sadr will live up to the commitments he made in this letter.  If Muqtada al-Sadr does in fact live up to the commitments he made to the Shi'a house, we will play our part.

 

            Successful implementation of these commitments will permit the people of Najaf governate, who have been terrorized by Muqtada's militia, to resume their normal lives.  It will also permit the safe resumption of pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Ali and the removal of further danger to that shrine by parties seeking to inflame the population.

 

            As soon as the Iraqi security forces have assumed responsibility for public security and reestablish law and order, coalition forces will reposition to their bases outside Najaf, while maintaining protective units at the CPA offices and the governate building and Iraqi police stations.

 

            Until that time, coalition forces will suspend offensive operations but will continue to provide security by carrying out presence patrols.  Throughout the process, coalition forces will retain the inherent right of self-defense.

 

            We understand that additional Iraqi security forces may be moved into the region and that urgent recruitment, training and deputization of tribal elements may occur, to bolster the capabilities of the limited police and ICDC forces currently available.

 

            We have not altered our position with regard to the need to dissolve and disarm Muqtada's militia throughout Iraq, or with Muqtada al-Sadr's obligation to meet the requirements in the arrest warrant issued to him.  We expect Muqtada al-Sadr and the representative of the Shi'ite House to open discussions to resolve these issues as soon as possible.

 

            And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions.  Yes?

 

            Q     Yes.  How long will you give Sadr to live up to these commitments that he's made?

 

            MR. SENOR:  The process has begun today.  We are not going to speculate on a timeline.  We are going to monitor progress.

 

            We view this as a very positive step not only for the moment but for what it bodes potentially for Iraq post-June 30th, because what we're seeing here are Iraqis stepping forward and engaging Muqtada al- Sadr to try and reach a peaceful resolution.  This is an Iraqi-to- Iraqi proposal to bring this to resolution, and we view that as a positive sign, but we also recognize that it is only an early sign. It is a first sign.  It is a first step.  As I said, Muqtada al-Sadr must meet the requirements in his arrest warrant and he must dissolve and disarm his militia.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     James Hider from the London Times.  I understand from Iraqi officials that Muqtada al-Sadr, because he's not going to be tried or arrested at any point until there's Iraqi independent sovereign courts, that he will be allowed to return to political life.  This is apparently part of the negotiations.  What's your position on that? Will he be allowed to participate in political life, preach sermons in mosques?

 

            MR. SENOR:  I have never heard that as part of any of the negotiations.  We were kept appraised (sic) of this discussion and then ultimately saw the letter when it was announced, and I have never heard that that is an acceptable scenario.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q    Mike Tavie (ph) from NBC News.  Can't Sadr and his followers play this as a win for them clearly, that the U.S. military objective   was not met, was not achieved?  He wasn't arrested, he wasn't killed, he wasn't forced to surrender.  He can sit back now with some level of immunity from arrest or any other harassment at this point, as has been said, reform politically, and still attract his following, which, according to this Iraq strategic study group, is somewhere over 60 percent.

 

            MR. SENOR:  The letter is quite clear that he is willing to withdraw his forces, he is willing to evacuate buildings that he has taken over, he is willing to allow Iraqi forces to come in and take over security for the holy city and guard CPA facilities and guard Iraqi police stations.  We have not changed our positions one iota on whether or not he must meet the requirements in his arrest warrant; he must.  We haven't changed our position one iota on the dissolution and disarming of the -- on Muqtada's militia; that stands.  So our conditions remain the same.  What you're seeing here is a withdrawal from the city or a statement to other Iraqis that he intends to withdraw.  And we view that as a positive sign as we continue to pursue these other issues.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  And it's important to recognize that we are not doing this at the behest of Muqtada.  We are doing this because this has been the request of the Shi'ite house.  The Iraqis are coming to us and saying this is -- would be helpful.  We have seen violence for the last few weeks. We have seen what your capabilities are.  We know that if this continues on that the situation could turn worse by potentially a provoked incident near the holy shrines.

 

            But it would be quite a stretch for somebody who had an army, had a militia, who had as recently as a month ago taken over a number of the key cities in the south of Iraq, to have been thrown out of Diwaniyah, to be thrown out of Kut, to be thrown out of Karbala, to be thrown out of every other city, and now walking out of Najaf -- to somehow suggest that that's a victory on his part would be quite a stretch.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes?

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  (Affiliation inaudible) -- newspaper.  Are the cultural differences between our civilization and yours -- any effect in the continuing clashes between your forces and some of these militias?  And are you willing to hold conference to specify all these problems and to establish solutions for them?

 

            Thank you.

 

            MR. SENOR:  The conflict in Iraq -- or the conflicts that we are dealing with in parts of Iraq today are between Iraqis and members of the coalition who want to build a democracy here in Iraq, who want to build a country here where government officials are held accountable by their citizens, where there is freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, where there are individual rights like the rights enumerated in the interim constitution, where Iraqis have the freedom to live normal lives.  That's the vision that most Iraqis have for the future of this country.  It's a vision the coalition has.  It's the vision that's been articulated by the president of the United States and   Prime Minister Blair and seems to be consistent with the overwhelming majority of Iraqis.

 

            That said, there are small pockets of the country where there are some individuals and mobs that are operating that have a fundamentally different vision.  They either want to achieve through the barrel of a gun or through a suicide belt what they know they could never achieve at the ballot box, or they simply want to turn Iraq back to some version of Saddam's regime, where the rule of law was exercised with chemical attacks and torture chambers and rape rooms.  And neither of those scenarios are acceptable.  That's the fundamental difference.

 

            Yes, Rachel?

 

            Q     I'm a bit confused about this letter allowing Sadr to have, again, this sort of immunity, and what your objectives are of the coalition.  It seems that they are two different things.  Are you saying that even though the house of -- I don't know what you said --

 

            MR. SENOR:  Shi'a.

 

            Q     -- Shi'a house is saying that he -- in the letter that they would accept those terms that he wouldn't necessarily need to be under arrest according to the warrant --

 

            MR. SENOR:  Where do you see immunity?  There's -- there's --

 

            Q     Well, does he have to turn himself in?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Well, it's quite clear we have said that he has to meet the requirements in the arrest warrant, and he must dissolve and disarm his militia, which is what we've been saying for some time.  So that doesn't change.

 

            All he has done here is in discussions with Iraqis and in an attempt to reach a peaceful resolution, he has said that he will withdraw his forces.

 

            Q     But has he said that he would turn himself in?  And if he hasn't said that, would that still be acceptable to you?  In other words --

 

            MR. SENOR:  According to his statement, he has not said he will turn himself in.  But we have not said that this is a complete resolution.  We have said this is a first step, it's a positive step. We're pleased that Iraqis are working with Iraqis to try and bring this to resolution.  We're pleased that this was taken at the initiative of Iraqis.  Again, this is --

 

            Q     So how much time does he have before he has to turn himself in?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Well, as I said in response to an earlier question a few minutes ago, I'm not going to engage in speculative discussions about timelines here.  This was just announced a matter of hours ago. Let's wait and see what kind of progress is made.  We think it's a   good sign.  We think any day that Iraqis are stepping forward and taking the initiative to reach a peaceful resolution in their own country is a good day for Iraq now and is a good day for Iraq post- June 30th.  It's a sign that Iraqis are taking the initiative here and taking control of their future.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  General Kimmitt and Mr. Senor, good evening.  After the negotiation between the IGC and Mr. al-Sadr, are there any compensations to be paid for the innocent people who have been affected by the clashes in Najaf, and those who have been affected by the operations of the coalition forces where the houses have been hit and also their cars?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Well, we certainly have a compensation program where persons who have been affected by ongoing operations have a method by which they can submit these claims.  I think the last time we talked about it from this podium, there were somewhere on the order of 12,000 claims submitted; over $2.5 million had been paid out.  So those persons who have been affected in Najaf and in Karbala and in all operations certainly have the same authority to submit those claims for compensation the way they have in any part of the country.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes.

 

            Q     Yes, hi.  Steve Komarow, USA Today.  A quick follow-up on the questions about Mr. al-Sadr.  What are the instructions to U.S. troops?  I mean, if soldiers saw him walking down the street, are they instructed not to arrest him at this point?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Well, again, I don't want to engage in any speculation about what we would do, what we wouldn't do.  Right now what we're doing is we're putting out orders to the force that talks about being very clear what their actions will be with regard to his militia, with regards to them departing out of Najaf, the continuation of patrols, the continuation of maintaining a presence inside Najaf, continuing to stay away from the holy shrines unless absolutely necessary, the need to protect the governor's building, the need to protect the Iraqi police stations, the need to provide protection down at other key locations as well.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes.  Did you have something?  No?  Okay.

 

            Yes, ma'am.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  Karima Abdul Midi (ph), Al Nassata (ph) newspaper.  After the consent of Mr. al-Sadr or disagreement, what is your role in implementing this message in order to stabilize the situation furthermore?  Thank you.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Well, in the near term our role on the military side is quite simply to ensure that we don't create a security vacuum because as we've said in both our paper and the one that's been brought forward by the Shi'ite house, the notion of bringing the Iraqi police back into the city of Najaf to conduct patrolling and to conduct public security.  It will take some time, a matter of days before we can get those police down there.  We don't want to create a security vacuum.

 

            So for the near term, I would suggest it's three things: protection of the governor's building, the Iraqi police stations; patrolling to ensure that there's no looting or anything that goes on during that time; and presence so that if there are any problems there can be a very rapid response to that on the part of the individual citizens going up to coalition patrols.  But we hope that's a very, very short period of time, and as we have said in our papers and in our discussions, that we can get Iraqi police forces into that city as   quickly as possible; bring the coalition forces; reposition the coalition forces to the camps adjacent to Najaf, adjacent to Kufa; and only serve as a protection force for those key facilities such a the governor's house, the police stations.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes?

 

            Q     Adi Raval, ABC News.  For the last two Fridays, the firebrand cleric has clearly taken to the stage every Friday, the last two Fridays, and tried to enrage the people of Iraq.  How concerned are you that tomorrow he might do the same, that that might incite further violence against American forces?

 

            And secondly, he has his followers all over Iraq, in al-Sadr City here.  How concerned are you that by this agreement being reached today, that those forces might harden their positions, instead of giving up?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Well, first of all, this agreement addresses certainly Najaf and Kufa, but obviously relates to issues regarding Muqtada's militia, more broadly speaking, throughout Iraq.

 

            I would say, though, that we are cautiously optimistic about this.  I mean, we think before we can evaluate or try to predict or speculate about what's going to happen tomorrow, let's take a look at today.  Today was a very good first step.  When Mowaffak al-Rubaie went on Arab television early this morning and made this announcement, we thought it was a positive development, particularly because it was at the initiative of Iraqis, Iraqis working with Iraqis on reaching a resolution, at the initiative of Iraqis.  But now let's just see where it goes.  Literally it's a matter of hours since this process has been launched, and it is not an end state.  It is a beginning state.  It is a positive step on the process -- in the process.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  And the coalition forces feel very much the same way.  They -- for the very few forces that we had entering any portions of Najaf today, they weren't being attacked, they weren't being shot at.  So that's a positive sign.  And we hope that that's a very small period of time that the coalition forces will be seen in that level of visibility.

 

            What we're hoping to see in a very short period of time is Iraqi police vehicles going through the city of Najaf, Iraqi policemen on the corners of the city of Najaf, Iraqi police service buildings back in operation, the governor being able to talk about how to take Najaf forward.

 

            We would hope that all of us recognize that this a very positive step, not only for the coalition forces, who can reduce their presence   in Najaf, but also for the Iraqi people, who can get back in, which has always been one of our ultimate goals, which is to get Iraqi control back into the city of Najaf; so that instead of being held hostage by Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia, we can open that city back up to its capability to allow the followers of the Shi'a faith to come back in and pray at their most holy of shrines.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Charlie?

 

            Q     Thanks, Dan.  Charlie Mayer from NPR.  You've talked in the past about how the coalition is aware of efforts on the parts of Iraqis to resolve this -- you know, the grand ayatollah and people from the Governing Council.  It's been going on for weeks or months. What makes this particular letter, this agreement, different than the ones that have come before?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Well, you're absolutely right, I have talked repeatedly about the number of Iraqi notables that have stepped forward and tried to bring this to peaceful resolution.  Up to this point, we have not seen any progress.  We don't know where this is going to head, Charlie.  But all we are saying is we recognize it as a serious effort.  According to our understanding, it is a serious effort by the House of Shi'a, by some prominent Shi'a members, leaders in Iraq, to try to reach resolution; Muqtada al-Sadr responding to their initiative -- that's a positive sign.  Now, whether or not that will continue and the progress will continue remains to be seen.

 

            Q     Can I just follow up with that -- actually, on a slightly different issue for General Kimmitt.  You talked yesterday about a large number of Sadr followers who were killed either in Najaf or Sadr City or both.  I wonder if you could specify any specific numbers and give us any more details on that?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Let me give you some details.  As a soldier, it's tough to go out and have to fight, and I can tell you it's even tougher when you've got 17-year-old kids picking up RPGs and aiming them at you.  It's very tough to have to do your job at that time, and we don't take any glory and we don't take any pride in having to do it.  So, frankly, anytime we have to kill one of those kids because he's aiming a weapon at us, aiming an RPG at one of our soldiers, aiming a rifle at one of our tanks, it's not a good day.  But that is more than one.  And so -- it serves no purpose to talk about the numbers of young Iraqis that we've had to kill because they have been entranced and followed into the lure of Muqtada al-Sadr and his group.

 

            So I would be more than happy to talk about things that have military significance, but frankly, the sheer volume of people that we have had to kill to achieve this is not something I'm --

 

            Q     But earlier this week you were giving us numbers, and all of a sudden yesterday we stopped getting numbers, and I wonder --

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Right.

 

            Q     -- is that a change in policy?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Not at all.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yeah?

 

            Q     Thanks, Dan.  Ivan Moylin (ph)  with CNN.  Can you tell us who were the members of the Governing Council that are in the Shi'ite house, and if you are aware of what role Sistani played?  There were reports that he may have decided to no longer advocate a peaceful solution, or he -- there were reports that he may have come out and said he could no longer be involved, and that put a lot of pressure on the coalition to accept Muqtada's plan.

 

            MR. SENOR:  I would refer you to the Shi'a members who were involved and who are speaking publicly about their involvement.  I know Dr. Mowaffak Rubaie, the Iraqi national Security adviser, held a press conference earlier today.  I would -- you should speak to him or others who are speaking publicly.  We don't want to be in a position of speaking on behalf of individual members.  Some may want to keep their involvement anonymous and secret.  Some may want to be more visible.  I'd let them sort that out, and you speak directly to them.

 

            Yes.

 

            Q     General Kimmitt -- Associated Press -- could you tell us whether the Sadr followers will be allowed to join the new police force and ICDC in coming future and the security vacuum you're trying to fill?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:   You know, as General Dempsey said from the podium here a couple of weeks ago, there are probably a lot of these young kids that have been led astray, don't have blood on their hands, don't have any crimes against them.  And it could well be that if they choose as individuals to join an Iraqi security force, that certainly has potential.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Hold on.  Rachel, you had a question.  I just need to get around the room.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  Luktor Bahri Ibrahim al-Teyhat (ph), Petra News Agency from Jordan.  Is this considered agreement between the coalition and Mr. al-Sadr?  And do you think that it will stay active for this period, not like what happened in Fallujah, where several cease-fires were violated?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Well, I'll let General Kimmitt speak to comparisons to Fallujah, but it's important to clarify exactly what this is.

 

            This is not an agreement.  It was reported as an agreement earlier this morning, but my understanding is it is not an agreement. It is a signed letter from Muqtada al-Sadr to the house of Shi'a, to the Shi'a leadership -- Shi'a leadership of the Iraqi Governing Council -- based on discussions they have been having between the two of them.  The coalition was not involved.  The coalition was aware that the discussions were ongoing, but we were not involved in the letter, the terms of the letter or anything that was announced in the last 24 hours.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  And in the case of Fallujah, as you know we announced a unilateral suspension of offensive operations on about April 10th, and we had a number of cease-fire violations for a period   after that.  But look at Fallujah now in terms of the cease-fire.  It has held since May 3rd.  There have been no violations since that time period.  We're hoping to see the same thing here in Najaf.  We had a very quiet day today.

 

            It would not surprise us if there may be an attempt or two by perhaps some rogue groups that may not want to live up to this commitment.  They may attempt to break the cease-fire.  They will find that the coalition forces retain the right, the inherent right of self-defense, and if they're fired at they will respond.  But we will hope that those numbers of cease-fire violations are very low.  We will respond if provoked.  But let's just sort of cross our fingers and hope that from today forward in Najaf it will be the same as it has been in Fallujah since May 3rd, no violations of, in this case, the suspension of offensive operations on the part of the coalition forces and the agreement by Muqtada al-Sadr with the Shi'a house from any armed manifestations.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Dexter.

 

            Q     I just want to be clear on the American role in these talks.  You said you weren't involved in the writing of the text of the letter, but you have agreed or the U.S. has agreed that it would redeploy its forces if he did these things, if the Mahdi Army melts away and these guys go home.  So at some point you must have become -- you must have become involved here and said yeah, we're going to do this because, I mean, it's actually in the text of the letter that the -- all forces, presumably meaning American and Mahdi Army, will get out of the city.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Well, we -- as I said, we were aware that there were discussions going on between the Shi'a leadership and Muqtada al-Sadr. And when the letter was issued and made public by Dr. Rubaie, we responded to it.  We said we respect this process that has been launched.  We are pleased and think that it's a positive sign that Iraqis are taking the initiative to bring this to resolution, or at least attempt to bring this to resolution.  And we are going to be responsive.  And in this letter it talks about forces withdrawing, and we are going to be responsive to that particular provision within the letter.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  As you might expect, we got the letter.  We saw the letter.  Sort of wrote on it, said this makes a lot of sense; this is something that would be helpful in the process.  We've said we are looking for a peaceful solution.  We looked through all the different lines, looked through all the different terms that were put in here. And quite frankly, after discussion with the CPA, between the CPA and the coalition forces, this letter seems to have a lot of merit in terms of trying to find that peaceful solution that we have advocated for so long here.

 

            It doesn't change the conditions that we have sought for so long, which is Muqtada al-Sadr facing Iraqi justice and then disarmament of his militia.  It specifically says in there that there will be broad discussions on the future of the Mahdi Army and the judicial files with a representative of the Shi'a house.

 

            Q     So just to be clear, if -- assuming that the Mahdi Army withdraws, the American forces will redeploy.  I mean, you're committed to that.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Well, it also says that -- withdraw the occupation forces.  We're not going to withdraw.  We're going to reposition our forces.  It allows for small units to protect CPA headquarters, the government building, Iraqi police stations -- with a continued connection to these two places means we can come in.  I mean, frankly, that's not much more than we have been doing now.

 

            MR. SENOR:  And Dexter, just to follow up.  I mean, I can't emphasize enough the extent to which this was an Iraqi process.  We learned about this -- that this letter was being issued and that the Shi'a house was responding favorably to it, the house of Shi'a was responding favorably to it -- probably when you did, which is last night when -- shortly before Dr. Rubaie went out on Arabic television to announce it to Iraq.

 

            Dawn?

 

            Q     Ultimately, the three conditions that you placed on Sadr though are not being met through this statement.  You keep emphasizing how important it is that this was an Iraqi process.  Now if the Iraqis are willing to accept these conditions, not your three conditions that you've been saying all along, are you willing to accept that ultimately?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Again, I don't want to engage in hypotheticals.  I've said from the beginning, this is the beginning of a process.  The process also includes, at later stages obviously, that Muqtada al-Sadr meet the requirements in the arrest warrant and that he dissolve and disarm his militia, his illegal militia.  Those still stand.

 

            This is a first step.  We think it's a positive first step. We're going to monitor it very closely and see if it leads to a positive second step.  But right now it's just that.  It's a positive first step.  We applaud the Iraqi leaders who have stepped forward and tried to work this out amongst themselves.

 

            We, yes, still continue to stick by these conditions and we will continue to stand by them, and we've made that clear all along.  And let's see what the next steps are.

 

            Q     If you keep talking about how it's important for the Iraqis to eventually take control of the situation, then ultimately don't you have to let them -- if they accept these conditions, don't you have to let them --

 

            MR. SENOR:  There is -- sure, there is an Iraqi arrest warrant out for it. The investigative judge, an Iraqi investigative judge has issued this arrest warrant.  We are responding to the importance of the rule of law prevailing in Iraq.  And I haven't seen the Iraqi judge withdraw the arrest warrant.  And if there's a basis for withdrawing the arrest warrant that he intends to make or a case he intends to make, we certainly would be surprised by this.

 

            Yes, ma'am?

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  As to the consent of Mr. al-Sadr on the four points mentioned in the message, what is your opinion about this?  And is the arrest warrant still -- does it still hold?  And does it still hold also for other people mentioned in the arrest warrant?  And are there any other names mentioned to not stand or not to be arrested?

 

            MR. SENOR:  This letter from Muqtada al-Sadr to the Shi'a leadership deals specifically with the arrest warrant -- or deals specifically with the situation surrounding Muqtada al-Sadr, so I'm not going to start commenting on other arrest warrants that may or may not be out there.  This one deals specifically with Mr. al-Sadr.

 

            Yes?  Yes, sir?  Go ahead.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  Al Pavia (sp) newspaper.  Mr. Senor, a year ago you entered Iraq in the name of freeing it, and this freedom has been changed to occupation.  During the previous year, I wonder how much credibility has the U.S. lost in Iraq.  And I would say that U.S. has lost a great percentage of its credibility, especially in the case of Mr. al-Sadr.  The consistency in the issue of arresting Mr. al-Sadr has become very rejected by the Iraqi people. You now say that you encourage the Iraqi solution, and you also say that the arrest warrant was issued by an Iraqi judge, not U.S. side. So shouldn't you release all these matters to the Iraqis to deal with them?

 

            MR. SENOR:  When Iraqi investigative judges issue arrest warrants, it is at their lead, it's at their initiative, it's certainly not at ours.  I would also say that while we have talked about Iraqis and the importance of Iraqis stepping forward and beginning to address these issues, it's not only the coalition that's saying that, it's also other Iraqis.  There have been protests in the last week or so in Najaf, in Karbala and other parts of the country where Iraqis are taking to the streets and stepping forward and speaking out and talking about the importance of this issue being resolved.  It's not just the coalition, it's your fellow Iraqis who are speaking out on this.

 

            Yes, ma'am?

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)  General Kimmitt, when will the Iraqi civilian feel secured, taking into consideration that military operations are escalating?  Today, at the morning, military vehicles hit or struck an Iraqi police vehicle.  And as a result of this, one of the Iraqi police members was injured and was taken into hospital. And this took place in the Abil (sp) district.  And again, at 12 p.m. today, another civilian vehicle was hit by a military vehicle and led to the death of its driver.  So don't you think that this represents a violation for human rights?  Thank you.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:   Well, the first question you asked was, when do you think the Iraqi people will feel secure?  Well, I would tell you that if you went down to Najaf in the next couple of days, you will see many Iraqis that now feel more secure because people such as Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia are no longer in that city.  If you go to the people in Karbala, they will tell you they feel more secure, because they are no longer being held hostage by Muqtada and his militia.

 

            It is always unfortunate when there are military accidents between those vehicles, but that -- those are accidents, and hopefully we can work our way through those to find compensation or whatever.

 

            But while you were talking about those two accidents between military vehicles, you still had a number of Iraqi policemen shot and killed today by terrorists, by former regime elements, by elements that are trying to make the country insecure.  We should be as concerned about those fellow Iraqis who are fighting and dying to make this a safe country, who are trying to add to that stability, as we show concern for unfortunate accidents that happen between military vehicles and civilian vehicles.

 

            When is this country going to feel secure?  This country is going to feel secure when we can get the situation down to a relative level of stability.  That is defined as when we can continue to finish off those people that are fighting to prevent your country from having freedom, from -- your country from having liberty, from -- your country to have the right to a free press.

 

            I can't tell you when the terrorists will stop fighting against the people of Iraq.  But I can tell you we will be here to help you with that.

 

            I can't tell you when the former regime elements will stop trying to turn this country back into an authoritarian regime, but I can tell you that coalition forces will help the Iraqi security forces end that.  So when will this country be stable?  I think this country will be stable when there's a broad recognition by everyone in this country, 95 percent of the citizens who want to see this country move to democracy and liberty and individual freedom, as well as the 5 percent, the .05 percent that are trying to go back to either an authoritarian regime, such as you had under Saddam, or perhaps some Taliban-like regime, when will this country be secure, when all Iraqis come together, work together to make this country secure.  And we'll be your partners as long as it takes to do that.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Last question right here.

 

            Q     (Through interpreter.)   Two questions.  First one is for Mr. Senor, second for General Kimmitt.

 

            Mr. Senor, how do you assess the message sent by Mr. al-Sadr with respect to his commitment to executing -- the execution of the points by the coalition forces?  And are there certain points discussed, other than the arrest of Mr. al-Sadr and the decomposition of his militia that you will try to discuss?

 

            General Kimmitt, regarding al-Mahdi Army, how will you deal with the members of this army and those who have been arrested from this army?  Will they be released or will they be tried?

 

            Thank you.

 

            MR. SENOR:  To your first question, actions speak louder than words.  This letter from Muqtada al-Sadr represents positive and constructive words, and we are now going to monitor closely to see whether or not they are followed up with positive and constructive actions.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  In terms of Muqtada's militia that we currently have in custody, those that are no longer a threat to the security of this nation -- of course, like everyone else who we hold as security internees, their case will be reviewed, and if they're no longer a threat to their fellow citizens, they will be released.  If they are being held by the Iraqi criminal system for criminal felonious charges, that's a decision for the people of Iraq to make, the Iraqi judicial system to make.  Those that have neither are free to go to their homes, put their weapons down and go back to their homes.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Thanks, everybody.

 

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