MR. SENOR: Good afternoon. Tonight's just a CPA up-briefing. We will be within the next 24 hours holding a military operational update for you, so just look out for advisories to that effect. And we apologize for the change in schedule with regard to briefing over the past week. There are going to be further changes as the Iraqi interim government begins their own regular briefing schedule. So we're just trying to get the two aligned, so we're not stepping on each other in terms of the schedule. So there will be a couple more changes in the next few days and then you'll hopefully move into a regular schedule.
I have an opening statement to make, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.
The situation in Najaf has improved significantly since yesterday afternoon, when the governor of Najaf, Adnan Alzurufi, announced that implementation of the agreement between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ia Caucus had begun.
Muqtada militia fighters have virtually disappeared from the streets, including in the old city of Najaf. We expect that Muqtada al-Sadr will live up to the commitments he made to the Shi'ia Caucus regarding the withdrawal of his militia fighters from Najaf and Kufa; the departure from Najaf Governorate of fighters from elsewhere; the evacuation of occupied building; the closure of his sharia court and prison; and the return of the Iraqi police to all parts of those cities.
We will do our part in support of this agreement. However, if he does not meet the expectations of the Shi'ite Caucus and the coalition, we will act and respond accordingly. We are in permanent liaison with the governor of Najaf, the police chief and the liaison officer of the Shi'ite Caucus in Najaf.
Although the surrender of weapons was not part of the agreement between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ite Caucus, coalition officials on the scene report that quantities of weapons are being turned in for buy-back.
Coalition forces continue to conduct joint patrols with the Iraqi police on selected routes to ensure the maintenance of law and order, and to protect government facilities. To ensure public safety, coalition forces will also continue to act on specific information to seize illegal stores of weapons and ammunition. Any fighters bearing arms in Najaf and Kufa after implementation of the agreement between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ite Caucus will be considered to be third-party agents provocateurs, and will be dealt with accordingly.
Our role in supporting the agreements between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ite Caucus was elaborated upon in discussions between the coalition and Dr. Muwaffak Rubaie, the chairman of the Shi'ite Caucus, also an advisor to Prime Minister Allawi. Dr. Rubaie was in turn in touch with the governor of Najaf and members of the Shi'ite Caucus visiting Najaf, who themselves were in touch with Muqtada al-Sadr and representatives of his militia.
Let me make two other points. Muqtada militia fighters present in other cities and regions of Iraq will continue to be regarded as hostile elements if they continue to bear arms. The agreement between Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shi'ite Caucus foresees broad discussions between him and the Shi'ite Caucus on the judicial issues that surround him, and those of his associates who are suspected of having committed crimes, as well as on the future of his militia. We are urging the Shi'ite Caucus to bring those discussions to a conclusion as soon as possible.
While we believe implementation of this agreement is an important second step which followed reaching the agreement itself a week ago, our two conditions for Muqtada al-Sadr remain unchanged: He must disband and disarm his militia, and he must meet the requirements of the Iraqi arrest warrant issued against him. Muqtada al-Sadr must face Iraqi justice.
And with that I'm happy to take your questions, if there are questions. Yes, sir?
Q David Suni (ph) from NPR. Is this a signed deal in Najaf? Is this deal actually written down on paper?
MR. SENOR: I would defer that question to Dr. Rubaie, who is the chairman of the Shi'ite Caucus, and who is the one who has been our point of contact in this process. I don't know if it's an actual signed document, but based on our discussions with Dr. Rubaie and others involved, this is as tangible a process and document has we have seen in this process.
Q Thanks. Mark Stone, ABC. Do you have any more details on the incident on the -- it might have a military incident -- but the incident on the airport road this afternoon or this morning, hearing that they were actually maybe contractors that were killed on some sort of attack on the airport road?
MR. SENOR: Right. Yeah, we are still gathering details on that, Mark. I hope to have information for you the next day. There was an incident on the airport road. That did involve fatalities. We are still gathering details, and the identities of the individuals involved, and to your point, their role here in Iraq, whether or not they were civilian contractors. As soon as we have that information, I will get it to you.
Q Do you have any news of their nationality, or not even that?
MR. SENOR: Not at this point. Not at this point.
Q Dan, I walked in a little bit late. I just want to be clear about something: Can you just explain how the cease-fire in Najaf that you are talking about today differs from the one of 10 days ago which appeared to break down? And I just is this just kind of a second try at the same thing, or do they differ in some substantive way?
MR. SENOR: I would characterize it as according to the Shi'ia leaders involved, firm agreement on the implementation phase. What you have seen now is the actual withdrawal of Muqtada's militia from Najaf and Kufa. You have seen the deployment of Iraqi police into the city. You are seeing joint patrols between Iraqi police and coalition forces. You are seeing these weapons being turned in. So it is an implementation phase. We are going to give it approximately 72 hours to monitor it, see if it is heading in the right direction. But that's what it is. The first step was obviously the agreement. And now what we are being told by the Shi'ia leaders involved is the discussion has moved to the mechanics of the implementation, and how it is actually being implemented.
Q Just to follow up, Can you tell us the extent to which you believe the agreement has been implemented? I mean, if 40 percent of the Mahdi Army guys that were on the street are now gone, or is it -- I assume this is just Najaf -- we're not also talking about Kufa, or are we?
MR. SENOR: Yeah, we're talking about both, but right now our primary focus is on Najaf, but it does apply to both.
Dexter, I would say this: We don't have specific numbers. I will try to get those for you in the next day or so. But I can tell you from reports we're getting from CPA officials on the ground there at the CPA headquarters, there is a real sense of return to normalcy. Iraqis are back on the streets, there's traffic, there's commerce. People are going back about their daily lives in a way that they have not since -- well, in a number of weeks. And so there's a real sense of, according to one official I spoke to, who is in close contact with the Najaf governor, a real sense of cautious optimism among the Iraqis on the street.
As to the specifics, in terms of percentages, I just don't have those. But I can tell you that there's a noticeable difference. The Muqtada's militia forces are just not the presence that they were. There really is a sense of withdrawal. You really are seeing action taken. And, again, there's new developments -- like weapons being turned in. Didn't have that eight days ago.
Q Is that part of the agreement, the weapons?
MR. SENOR: It is not part of the agreement, but it is something that the coalition and the Najaf governor are apparently initiating on their own, and there is reciprocity on the other side, which we believe is a positive sign. And you are also seeing joint patrols between Iraqi police and coalition forces really getting under way.
Q Keith Garvin (sp) with ABC News. In regards to the warrant for al-Sadr, how do you expect that to be executed? Is that going to happen through negotiations? Because you don't expect him to turn himself in, do you? Or how is that expected to work?
MR. SENOR: We still feel strongly that Muqtada al-Sadr must face Iraqi justice. He must meet the requirements in the arrest warrant issued against him. He has an obligation to do so. That is separate from our perspective from the discussions that have been ongoing, and the implementation of this agreement. We view this agreement as a first and now a second step towards getting peaceful resolution inside Najaf and the surrounding area, and we believe it is a positive sign. We have said any time you have Iraqi leaders working among themselves to reach peaceful resolution in a situation that could otherwise be and has been quite violent is a positive sign. It's not only a positive sign -- at the moment it bodes well for Iraq post-June 30th. It is a development that we haven't seen to the degree we would have liked in the weeks leading up to this point.
As for the arrest warrant, as I said though, our commitment that Muqtada al-Sadr face Iraqi justice remains the same. The Iraqi leaders we speak to have communicated that as well. So how that manifests itself is almost a separate matter. We are just looking to see a more peaceful situation in Najaf. We are seeking to quell the violence. We are seeking efforts to ensure that the holy city is not in danger. And we view the leadership and the initiative taken by these leaders to reach a sort of agreement, and the progress we have seen so far as positive. I don't want to sound overly optimistic. Let's see what happens. We've got to monitor the situation. We've seen ups and downs in this process over the past eight to ten days since the initial agreement was signed. But we are seeing substantive commitments to implementation. That's positive. We are seeing the actual actions of implementation being followed up. That's positive. So let's wait and see how far it goes.
Q Is there a time limit on when you would like to see in terms of him being handed over?
MR. SENOR: You know, as I said, we -- in terms of Muqtada al-Sadr being handed over? We have not announced publicly any time commitment for Muqtada al-Sadr facing justice, and we at this point will not. We made it clear that he must face justice. He knows that, we know that. The Iraqi leadership have made that clear. The Iraqi investigative judge who has led this process has made that clear as well.
Q Yes, two questions, please. What signals are you getting from Sadr on his possible arrest to face justice? And what about all these fighters from Najaf who came back, who will come back to Sadr City -- there's plenty of weapons there -- especially given these attacks over the last two days? What are you going to do about that?
MR. SENOR: Well, we have not obviously had direct communication with Muqtada al-Sadr. There's the Shi'ite Caucus that has communicated with him or his representatives, and we've been communicating them, and we've been meeting with Dr. Rubaie. So as far as we're concerned, this is an agreement between the Shi'ite Caucus and Muqtada al-Sadr. All we are saying is we think it's a positive sign, and we are going to act accordingly.
As for other parts of the country, any Muqtada al-Sadr militia that is armed around the country we will view as hostile. I don't want to get into specifics of how -- what we will do -- I will leave that to the multinational force to address specific actions that they may or may not take. But just because we are making progress in Najaf and Kufa does not mean that Muqtada al-Sadr can withdraw his forces, redeploy them in another part of the country and we will ignore them. We want to bring peaceful resolution to Najaf and surrounding areas, but we will not tolerate violent action by Muqtada's militia in other parts of the country.
Q Tom Wasser (ph), Knight-Ridder.
MR. SENOR: Welcome back, Tom.
Q Appreciate it. Would you say that the coalition's stance towards Sadr is still kill or capture?
And the second is if he does not honor the warrant and stays out there, it seems that he in the eyes of many Iraqis -- that he's become a more powerful man because of this in a lot of ways. And I wonder whether he does -- if he doesn't turn himself in, whether he's had a net gain from this experience.
MR. SENOR: On your first question, our position towards Muqtada al-Sadr has not changed on any account. All we are seeing now is progress being made in an effort among Iraqis to reach peaceful resolution in that part of the country. We think it's a positive sign. We hope it continues. But our overall position and our requirement that he has an obligation to meet the requirements in the arrest warrant has not changed, and that he disband and disarm his militia.
What was your --
Q Whether if he does not honor --
MR. SENOR: Oh, yeah --
Q -- whether this has been essentially a net gain for him, I mean, whether he's more powerful politically now, whether --
MR. SENOR: I'd rather not have a speculative discussion about the political implications for Muqtada al-Sadr based on this. I would note, however, that Muqtada al-Sadr up until a few weeks ago was -- and his militia -- were quite active in many parts of the country -- in southern Iraq, south-central Iraq, and he is now not active in most of those cities. Now, in the couple remaining cities where he has been active, he is reaching out to Iraqi leaders to try to seek a peaceful way for him to withdraw. So I'm not sure if that raises his political stature. We certainly believe that we have been in a strong position militarily -- and we have been in a strong position politically and diplomatically. And the combination of all those forces I think has led Muqtada al-Sadr to be more responsive to discussions with other Iraqi leaders.
Q Just wondering -- it's probably clear -- but what are the actual terms for -- what does it mean for Muqtada al-Sadr to fulfill the arrest warrant, just literally what are the concrete steps of that?
And then this is my second question, is what has Ahmad Chalabi's role been within Shi'ia House and in the negotiations? Has he played a constructive role?
MR. SENOR: I would refer you to the specific arrest warrant. We believe that Muqtada al-Sadr has an obligation to meet the requirements in the arrest warrant that was issued against him. As for the actual specifics of the arrest warrant, it is an Iraqi arrest warrant issued by an Iraqi judge, indicating that Muqtada al-Sadr must face justice under Iraqi law in an Iraqi court. So as for the exact specifics, I'd refer you to the arrest warrant or to the Iraqi investigative judge.
Now, as for Dr. Chalabi, he is to my understanding a member of this Shi'ite Caucus that has been engaged in discussions with Sadr and/or his representatives. As for his specific role, I'm just not certain. I would defer that question to the Shi'ia House, to the Shi'ite Caucus.
The lead player in all this has been Dr. Rubaie, to my knowledge, and he is the one who we have been communicating with. He's sort of been the chief architect from the Shi'ia House's side in this process.
Q You probably answered this, but is it just Najaf, or does it also Kufa?
MR. SENOR: Also includes Kufa.
Q And -- it does. And the second question is last night the military released a statement saying it was investigating the death of -- I'm not sure if it said in the statement, but what appeared to be one of Muqtada's deputies at the hands of a soldier after he had been wounded. And it sounded, if you read the thing very carefully, that they're investigating what appeared -- well, the press release said that they were investigating improper -- or a violation of the rules of engagement. And it sounds as if -- very clearly from the press release that this Muqtada deputy had been killed after he had been wounded. And I'm wondering if you could provide any more details on that.
MR. SENOR: I don't have the details on that. Why don't you follow up with the CPIC. And if you still have questions and don't have information, let me know and I will try to run it down for you.
Someone here had a question. Yes?
Q Just to go back to -- you said about this agreement in Najaf -- you said you would give it 72 hours. What happens at the end of 72 hours?
MR. SENOR: What I said is we're looking -- you know, the Najaf governor made this clear to us, as well as Dr. Rubaie, last night, and the Najaf governor held a press conference down in Najaf announcing this. So what we have said is we want to give 72 hours now to see what kind of progress is followed up. The initial signs in the last 18 or 20 hours have been positive. You're seeing the joint patrols, you're seeing weapons being turned in, you're seeing Muqtada's militia withdrawing from the streets. You are seeing a return to normalcy. You are seeing Iraqis down in Najaf going back to work, going about their daily business, traffic, commerce -- all the positive signs and indications of return to normalcy. That's in less than a day. What we're saying is we want to give it approximately 72 hours from the point of announcement to see where it is. It's not a deadline. It is just a period, a reasonable timeframe within which we think we can monitor the progress and see if this is sort of an isolated situation or is part of a broader trend to really resolve the situation peacefully.
Q Just one more? In the eyes of the coalition, does Muqtada need to physically surrender? I mean, is there a distinction being held to justice in Iraqi court and physically showing up to a law enforcement or judicial branch and saying, "Here I am -- take me into custody"?
MR. SENOR: You know, I don't want to -- Tom, I don't want to comment on how exactly Muqtada al-Sadr should resolve the situation. He knows how he can resolve the situation. He knows there's an Iraqi arrest warrant out for him. He knows he must face Iraqi justice. He's quite aware. That's been made clearly publicly and privately through multiple channels. So if he wants to resolve this situation unilaterally he can.
Q Yes. You're constantly saying that you insist that he faces justice, but no action is being taken. For any outside observer, they would guess that you're a bit worried that arresting him would inflame the whole situation. So why are you hesitant?
MR. SENOR: You know, I don't want to comment on the operational decisions that are made by the multinational force and by the Iraqi forces in how they deal with Muqtada al-Sadr directly, and why they have not or could not to this point have detained him. I will just say that they have made a number of operational decisions that have played a role in -- we believe have played a role in his decision to withdraw from a number of cities, to scale back the violence -- not ramp it up -- and to seek a peaceful resolution on our terms, not his. And that's a constructive role. As for the operations, that's something that's held -- I'll leave to the military planners to explain. But the strategy which includes the military offensive, the diplomatic and political forces at work and the Iraqi leadership and Iraqi initiative seem to have played a positive role to this point.
Q Looking back at how this whole issue with Sadr blew up at the end of March and early April, was it -- I mean, in retrospect was it a miscalculation to arrest the newspaper, or was that part of a strategy to try to bring him in? The newspaper was arrested, then his aide was arrested, and after that the announcement of the warrant for Sadr was announced. By then the fighting had started --
MR. SENOR: Yeah, I -- as we explained on multiple occasions, those were isolated incidents. The decision to temporarily close down the newspaper was based on the fact that the newspaper was repeatedly printing inflammatory articles that were designed to incite violence against Iraqi leaders and incite violence against the coalition. And we have an obligation to ensure that those sorts of news organs are not used to incite violence that will result in the loss of life. We truly believe that if action had not been taken with regard to the newspaper specifically, American lives would be lost, Iraqi lives would be lost. We had a responsibility to deal with it. That was completely separate from the issues related to the Iraqi investigative judge who had made a decision to more intensely pursue the arrest of Muqtada al-Sadr.
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