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Iraq Mission 'Must Stay on Course,' Senor Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2004 – Despite yesterday's killing of a senior Iraqi official, the U.S. remains resolved to see through the establishment of a democratic Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority's chief spokesman said in Baghdad today.

The CPA regularly reviews security needs for U.S. and Iraqi officials, Dan Senor told reporters during a news conference. Izzedin Salim, the head of the Iraqi Governing Council, was killed during a suicide bomb blast near the coalition's headquarters compound in Baghdad. Ghazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawer, Senor noted, was chosen to replace Salim.

U.S., coalition and Iraqi officials, Senor noted, are currently working with U.N. envoy Lakhar Brahimi to determine the makeup of an interim Iraqi government that will take over after the CPA is dissolved June 30.

"We are always evaluating the operational security situation and force- protection details around coalition members, around governing council members, around ministers and around any other international officials that are here, like Mr. Brahimi," Senor pointed out.

The attack on Salim, Senor said, is an example of anticipated heightened insurgent violence as the sovereignty changeover date nears.

"We have said for some time that we expected more violence, unfortunately, between now and June 30," Senor observed.

Senor said Iraq continues to make progress, noting that more than half of new government ministries have been set up "and are in the hands of Iraqi ministers."

Former Baathists, Saddamists, terrorists and other malcontents, Senor explained, are trying to derail the sovereignty process by engaging in violence.

"That will not deter us," he vowed.

However, "a significant terror threat inside Iraq" would likely remain after the June 30 handover, Senor said. Iraqi security forces, he added, won't be ready to handle that challenge by themselves. Consequently, Senor noted, American security forces will continue to help Iraqis to secure and stabilize the country.

"Iraqi security forces are increasingly going to play the (security) enforcement role," he explained, "and American security forces will play the reinforcement role."

It would be "an enormous mistake" to push back the June 30 handover date, Senor said, noting that such an event would cheer and embolden the terrorists and undermine American credibility.

"We must stay on course here," Senor emphasized.

U.S., coalition and Iraqi offensive military operations continue across Iraq, said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq. Kimmitt accompanied Senor at the press briefing.

During the past 24 hours, Kimmitt said, U.S., coalition and Iraq forces conducted 1,778 patrols and 23 offensive operations and captured 21 anti- coalition suspects.

The general also reported that 472 detainees would be released from Abu Ghraib prison on May 21.

U.S. and coalition forces conducted five offensive operations in western Mosul to find anti-coalition cell leaders, Kimmitt said. Four people were detained for interrogation and the seizure of several weapons.

In Baghdad, coalition officials met with the head sheiks of Sadr City on May 16 to arrange a cessation of hostilities, Kimmitt reported. The sheiks, he said, pledged to work to stop resident attacks on U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces in exchange for a reduced coalition presence in the area. Since then, the situation in Sadr City has calmed, Kimmitt said, although two mortar attacks have taken place.

The situation in an Anbar province "remains stable," Kimmitt noted, with no violations of the Fallujah city cease-fire agreement today. Joint U.S.-Iraqi checkpoints, he added, remain in place to the north and east of Fallujah.

In Najaf, the situation was relatively quiet today, Kimmitt reported. Thirteen mortar rounds hit around the main Iraqi police station, but there were no casualties or damage from the attacks, the general said.

In Karbala, one enemy was killed in a minor engagement near a mosque complex, the general noted. Sporadic enemy mortar and rocket propelled grenade attacks, he added, occurred in the early evening from around local holy sites.

Noncombatants were temporarily evacuated today from the CPA building in Nasiriyah, Kimmitt reported. Coalition forces secured the building, as anti- coalition forces conducted hit-and-run assaults in parts of the city.

Kimmitt noted that Army Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits' court-martial starts May 19 in Baghdad. Sivits, he said, is one of six U.S. soldiers charged with alleged detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison who will be tried in Iraq.

Judgments of the accused soldiers' guilt or innocence "will be reserved until the end of all the trials," the general noted.

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