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DoD Foresees No Change in Iraq Survey Group Mission

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2003 – American officials have no plans to move personnel or other assets from the Iraq Survey Group to bolster counterterrorism efforts, a senior Defense Department official said here today.

"Nobody is considering changing the mission of the ISG. It's not under discussion," Larry Di Rita, special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters in his office.

The Iraq Survey Group comprises roughly 1,500 military and civilian personnel working under former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay. The group's primary mission is to exploit intelligence to find evidence of hidden weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein's regime.

Press reports cited unnamed government officials saying defense leaders are considering moving assets from the ISG to boost anti-terrorism efforts throughout Iraq as coalition forces continue to fall prey to terrorist attacks.

Rumsfeld just wrapped up two days of talks with L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, and Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command.

Di Rita said the issue of shifting intelligence priorities didn't come up in the meetings. However, defense leaders have in recent weeks discussed applying additional intelligence resources to fighting the terrorists who continue to attack both coalition forces and Iraqis who are friendly to the U.S.-led coalition.

Commanders have shifted assets to the counterterror fight, Di Rita said, but they've done so without moving assets away from the ISG.

Officials are, however, looking at ways to better leverage the intelligence assets of the ISG, Di Rita said. "If you're having people interrogate (suspects) on the basis of leads on intelligence that may be WMD-related, is there anything you could do to enhance the counterterrorism mission while that individual might be interrogating someone?" he asked.

"In other words," he continued, "what dynamic relationships can be established between those two problems in a way that does not detract from the principal mission of (searching for) WMD?"

Iraqi citizens also are getting more involved in fighting terrorism, Di Rita said. As coalition commanders get to know the people in their regions better, they gain a better understanding of where to get reliable intelligence information.

Commanders "are getting a lot better at knowing who in their areas have things to offer," Di Rita explained.

Commanders on the ground also have a much more positive picture of the situation in Iraq than does the American public, he asserted. People should give credence to these assessments, Di Rita said, because the commanders are the ones who are in a position to know what it's like there.

"The commanders over there see the picture in a way that's much more comprehensive than we're capable of seeing the picture," he said.

A senior defense official used the Oct. 26 assassination of Baghdad Deputy Mayor Faris Abdul Razzaq Assam as an example of how things can be looked at in different lights. The assassination is a tragedy, but it also can be used to illustrate positive developments, the official said.

Assam was shot in the head while playing dominoes in an outdoor caf. "You've got -- without wanting to be accused of (creating) rosy scenarios -- clear progress going on in the country that's undeniable," this official said, speaking on background. "Cafes are open; people are on the streets; we've extended the curfew because of Ramadan; people want to be out."

The official described comparing this picture of normalcy with the pictures of car bombs and assassinations as "a sort of dissonance."

"There's a surrealism to the place," he said. "When you go there, you're an optimist. When you sit around here and everybody watches all the horrible things on television, you want to get down in your cups. But (the commanders on the ground) come back and say it's going in the right direction, and the progress is undeniable, and it's getting better every week."

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