Situation in Fallujah Unchanged; Delegation Seeks Resolution
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2004 A week after coalition forces unilaterally suspended offensive military operations in Fallujah, the overall situation in and around the city remains unchanged, a coalition spokesman said today at a Baghdad news conference.
"Provocative attacks are expected to continue in Fallujah despite the observance of a unilateral suspension of offensive operations," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7. "Anti-coalition forces in Fallujah continue to use local mosques for weapons storage. They're building roadblocks in the city and continue preparations for renewed fighting."
The general said the fighters have taken over many homes, forcing out those residents while others remain barricaded in their homes. He also pointed out that a number of cities outside Fallujah still harbor remnants of anti- coalition forces.
In the past 24 hours all CJTF 7 elements continued conducting offensive operations. Attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces and coalition forces remain at about two times recent norms, Kimmitt said.
He said the northern zone of operations remains relatively calm. This includes a decrease in attacks against convoys over the past 24 hours. But Kimmitt said reasons exist to believe enemy forces still intend to damage or destroy more road infrastructure.
He noted that Iraqi security forces are visible throughout Mosul and are manning critical sites. Insurgents in that area launched mortar attacks on coalition facilities, wounding eight soldiers and two civilians.
"Nine of the 10 wounded have returned to duty and one remains in the hospital in stable condition," Kimmitt said.
Multinational Division in the central-south area remains stable, and attacks in Karbala have decreased. Anti-coalition fighters attacked an Iraqi police station with small-arms fire. There were no reported injuries, and one individual was captured, Kimmitt said.
In the northern-central zone, there has been a decrease in enemy activity over the past 24 hours with only nine attacks throughout the zone. "This lull in activity may be collated to the number of enemy casualties during last week's engagements," the general noted.
Enemy fighters near Samarra attacked coalition forces with an antitank mine and small-arms fire combined with an improvised explosive device.
Small-arms fire erupted against coalition forces near Kirkuk, an Iraqi police service officer's house, was bombed and a bomb was found at a second officer's house. No casualties occurred at either home.
Coalition forces received information leading to the capture of one individual using a water tower as a position to fire rockets. Coalition forces also detained a suspected weapons dealer and two associates.
Outside Najaf, the coalition continued to seek out and destroy anti-coalition forces.
"Anti-coalition forces attacked a coalition patrol with small-arms fire last night on the east side of the Euphrates River," Kimmitt noted. "The engagement resulted with two enemy forces killed and one coalition forces soldier wounded. The wounded soldier was evacuated to medical facilities where he later died of wounds."
Kimmitt said there has been a significant drop in attacks, both in numbers and intensity, in the Baghdad zone of operations. "Recent activity seems to be more harassing in nature than the coordinated attacks mounted by (cleric Muqtada al) Sadr's militia against the Iraqi governmental institutions last week," he said.
"In Baghdad, it's assessed that Sadr's militia has begun to fracture, and Sadr didn't receive the popular support he sought. It's also assessed that the majority of the population remains natural with respect to the increased violence and most are eager for a cessation of hostilities."
He also said coalition forces continue combat operations in Kut to defeat Sadr's militia. "The militia no longer controls any government buildings, bridges or Iraqi police stations, and Al Kut is considered secure," the general noted.
On April 16, coalition leadership members were added to the Iraqi delegation in discussions in Fallujah, according to Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor. He said the joiners include CPA deputy administrator Ambassador Richard Jones, "who is personally engaged in Fallujah as a demonstration of our seriousness in trying to bring the situation in Fallujah to a peaceful resolution."
According to a CPA news release, Jones said the talks were "a continuation of meetings in Baghdad that led to a unilateral halt in offensive operations in Fallujah by Marine forces." Besides the CPA, the coalition group included representatives from CJTF 7 and 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
The Fallujan delegation includes local professionals, including doctors, lawyers and local political leaders. "Our delegation is also planning within the next 24 hours to meet with the members of the provincial council," Senor noted.
"Based on what Fallujan leaders are saying, we are hopeful about their intentions," he said. "But our overriding question is, can they deliver? If so, can they do so expeditiously? Time is running out."
Senor said the coalition is focusing on two groups of people in Fallujah. The first are foreign terrorists and members of the former regime's paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam that have been operating out of Fallujah. But he quickly added, "We will not negotiate with this group."
But officials will talk to the second group the Fallujan people, he noted. "We believe the overwhelming majority of Fallujans want to remove the burden of foreign terrorists and Fedayeen Saddam," Senor said. "We can either remove this burden with military force or with the cooperation of the Fallujan people. The latter would minimize bloodshed and is obviously our priority."
That city's people can play an important role in pressuring the bad actors by providing the intelligence the coalition needs, Senor said. "In reaching out to Fallujans, we will also continue to show good faith on the humanitarian side," Senor said, adding that coalition officials are also negotiating with tribal leaders.
Meanwhile, Kimmitt said earlier in the day on NBC's "Today" show the U.S. military is trying to establish contact with the insurgents in Iraq who kidnapped Army Pfc. Matt Maupin. He and Sgt. Elmer C. Krause, of the Army Reserve's 724 Transportation Company, were listed as missing after their convoy was attacked April 9 near Baghdad. Arab television showed video April 16 of Maupin at an undisclosed location with masked gunmen standing behind him.
Kimmitt told NBC interviewer Lester Holt that he doesn't know where Krause is, and the military is continuing to look for him. "We don't leave anybody behind," Kimmitt said.
Meanwhile, CPA issued notices that various sections of roadways were closed and that Iraqi engineers and coalition forces were repairing them. "For your safety, watch for closure signs and do not drive on sections of the closed highway," the notice read. Certain highways "have become targets for anti- coalition forces. The highways are damaged and too dangerous for civilian travel," it continued.
The notice warned that "civilians that attempt to drive on these roads may be considered anti-coalition forces and risk being subject to attack. If civilians drive on the closed section of the highways they may be engaged with deadly force.
"These highways will be closed for an indefinite period of time for public use. Safety and security of public travel is the primary reason for closing these sections of highways."