(Participating was Army Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commanding general, 4th Infantry Division.)
Staff: Good morning, and welcome to a press briefing brought to us live from Tikrit. Today the 4th Infantry Division commanding general, Major General Raymond T. Odierno, joins us. Major General Odierno will address issues such as coalition military actions in his area of operations centered on Tikrit, as well as security measures and reconstruction efforts.
Sir, if you have opening comments, that will be fine, after which we'll take questions from the Pentagon press corps. And the reporters will give their name and their news organization when they ask a question.
Odierno: Okay, great. Yeah, I'd like to give first an opening statement. And first I want to thank everyone. It's good to see everybody this morning. I'd like to open with a brief overview to bring you up to date on operations in our area since we last talked.
We have made significant progress during combat operations against non-compliant forces while continuing the steady improvement in the quality of life for the Iraqi people through civilian-military operations.
The former regime elements we have been combating have been brought to their knees. Capturing Saddam was a major operational and psychological defeat for the enemy. But a more important result of his capture is the increase in accurate information brought forward by Iraqis allowing us to conduct numerous precise raids to kill or capture financiers, IED-makers, and mid-level leaders of the former regime. These groups are still a threat, but a fractured, sporadic threat with the leadership destabilized, finances interdicted and no hope of the Ba'athists' return to power.
The number of enemy attacks against our forces has been declining since a peak in November during Ramadan. And now their desperate attacks are targeting civilians; terrorist car bombs have killed innocent civilians and Iraqi police; ambushes attacked civilian supply convoys and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers, demonstrating the enemy's disdain for peace and prosperity in Iraq and for Iraqis. The enemy is focused solely on indiscriminate murder and promoting their own cause.
The attacks against Iraqi security forces have not deterred brave Iraqis, however, from joining these organizations. In my area alone we have recruited over 5,000 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers, 18,000 police officers and 2,000 border police. These forces are conducting joint patrols with coalition forces as well as independent operations to defeat anti-coalition elements. Many of these men have given their lives defending the prosperous future Iraqis are building.
We're still conducting combat operations. We continue to focus on extensive civil-military operations. Over the past 10 months we have completed nearly 2,000 improvement projects valued at $41 million throughout our area of operations. Today we have another 700 projects worth almost $42 million in progress. We have another -- we have refurbished over 600 schools, 70 mosques, 75 medical facilities, improved over 500 miles of roads, completed hundreds of other projects for children, such as soccer fields and youth centers. These projects have created over 60,000 jobs and have been a major boost to local economies.
To decide which projects we fund, we confer with the Iraqi leaders in the towns, communities and provinces. Every day we meet with civic, religious and tribal leaders, political parties and local government bodies. These people are clearly our partners, advisors and consultants as we seek a balance between combat operations against those who do not want Iraq to succeed and rebuilding Iraq with the majority of Iraqis who want to move forward.
I'm very proud of our soldiers who are able to balance these two contrasting missions and remain focused on our mission after 10 challenging months. Soon we will transition operations to the 1st Infantry Division. We have been working for months to ensure there's no degradation to mission. In fact, just a few hours ago, Major General John Batiste, the commander of the 1st Infantry Division, and I completed a rehearsal with commanders and staff working the details of the seamless transfer that will mark the beginning of our redeployment.
We look forward to our reunion with our families, but will not let up our diligence until the mission is complete and we are safely home. Our soldiers' morale remains high and their focus hasn't wavered. We will continue to conduct precise surgical raids to capture remaining enemy forces and to protect the successes we've enjoyed so far in this campaign.
And finally, I cannot close without thanking our incredible families back home. Their strength and steadfast support has been inspirational to us all.
With that, I'll take questions from you at this time.
Q: Specifically, what has caused the insurgency to, as you put it, to be brought to its knees? The capture of Saddam? Other factors? How much fight is left in the insurgency and do you have any feel for how many armed fighters you're facing?
Odierno: I don't. I think the threat has changed and it continues to be evolution. And I think the threat is moving toward somewhat of a nationalistic threat and away from a former regime threat. And I think there's still some reorganization going on because of how much we fractured them in the last -- specifically the last 60 to 90 days.
So, I'm not sure how many are out there, but what I do know; the attacks have decreased significantly. They are -- it's clear that they have financial problems, and I believe that what they're trying to do now is either attacks that are criminally related or are trying to forge their way to establish their place in the future government and where each one of the factions will be in a certain government -- i.e. the Sunnis, where will their role be in the future government. And I think that's where a lot of these attacks -- why these attacks are occuring, along with the fact that they always would like to see coalition forces leave so they could have more of an influence on the future of Iraq. And I think the attacks are more to deter our will, which is just not going to happen.
Staff: Yes, sir?
Q: How much -- this is Will Dunham again with Reuters, sir. How much effect did the capture of Saddam have in undermining the resistance?
Odierno: Well, I think first, there's a lot of people now coming forward with much more information. A lot of people have said that. But what you're seeing is they clearly now understand that the Ba'ath Party is gone and people are now ready to move forward. And you see that in the majority -- the large majority of Iraqis; they are now ready to move forward. And I think now you're starting to see some posturing by some of these insurgents on where they will fit in the future of Iraq, and I think that's what we're seeing now as we still fight a bit of an insurgency.
Q: General, this is Bob Burns with Associated Press. Could you give us the latest you have on the incident today; the mortar attack, I believe, that killed at least two American soldiers? I think it was in your area.
Odierno: It was. What I would tell you is -- it actually happened last evening. And actually there was one mortar round, 120- millimeter mortar round, that landed in one of our forward operating bases. And it landed close to several individuals who were having a discussion, and unfortunately two soldiers were killed.
Q: That's it?
Odierno: In fact, over an -- about an hour ago, we conducted a raid to -- we believe to potentially capture the individuals that conducted that attack, but I don't have the results of that raid yet.
Q: Thank you.
Q: General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC. There's increasing concern within the administration that some of those long-standing rivalries and bitter land disputes between Kurds and Arabs in the north could eventually explode into what would amount to a civil war. You've spent a lot of time there working with these people. How concerned are you? How serious is that potential threat? And what can be done about that?
Odierno: Well, I think first we always have to be aware of that potential because there has been disputes for years and years and years, and that doesn't go away overnight. So we have to keep an eye on it. Just this week I was up in Kirkuk, which is also my area of operation. And we just refreshed the new government in Kirkuk, the province of Al Tamin, which also includes Kirkuk. And it was extremely successful in the fact that we have a good mix of Arabs, Turkomen and Kurdish people on that council. I think that is, in fact, a very good step forward. And we have been having a lot of dialogue with the leaders of the political parties that represent each one of them in the Kirkuk area and we've made some great progress over the last few weeks. So I think we just have to watch it very closely.
In addition, Ambassador Bremer here in the last few days signed a memorandum, which was also done by the Iraqi Governing Council, that lays out the policy for dealing with land disputes within Iraq. I think that is a help. And we're going to put the commissions together in each one of the provinces that will now be able to deal with these issues. We've been given some initial guidelines. I don't have the specifics in front of me. But it is a good step, and that's what we needed. So now we'll be able to -- they are registering for land disputes. There is a process that is now clearly defined that we can go through. That, along with the people now working together in the government positions that we've set up, I think, will help to stabilize the area. But again, we must continually watch it.
And one of the key things we must do is ensure that they do not use force to implement one side against the other. We must use it through political means, through discussion. And we have to set those up. And the Coalition Provisional Authority has been working very hard in doing that over the last several weeks.
Q: General, Martha Raddatz from ABC News. If I could follow up on Jim's question. You said it's something you always have to be aware of. What kind of evidence are you seeing that this is happening? Is it getting worse, the Iraqi /Iraqi violence against one another? What do you do that? The assassinations there, are they getting worse? And also, if you wouldn't mind talking about foreign fighters, what you're seeing. Is that declining? Who they are?
Odierno: Yeah, a couple things. First, I think, again, it's not getting worse. But again, I think it's sometimes it's almost posturing because they see where Iraq is heading. So we are seeing a bit of Sunni-on-Shi'a violence. We are seeing a bit of Turkish- Kurdish discussions now, which is good -- not violence. We are also, I believe, in a phase now where the foreign fighters are trying to become organized within Iraq. So it's important that we conduct interdiction operations in order to keep that from happening.
I believe the insurgency has not maintained itself as long as they wished. And I'm not quite sure the foreign fighter-al Qaeda links that are, I believe, trying to get in the country have properly organized themselves yet. But I believe they are going to try to organize and they will try to recruit probably what's left of the former regime elements to join together. But I've not seen that as of yet. But I believe that's a potential threat in the future.
Q: You believe al Qaeda foreign fighters are trying to organize outside and get in? You have evidence of that?
Odierno: I think we have some reports that they are trying to infiltrate into Iraq and organize themselves in order to conduct operations against coalition forces. We have no specific evidence yet. We have not had any specific contact in my area of operation with al Qaeda. But we do believe that they are trying to organize and then try to conduct attacks. Our job is to try to, again, interdict that and I think we've been fairly successful so far. But we have to work that very hard. And we are looking for that very carefully every day.
Q: General Odierno, Bret Baier from Fox News Channel. There have been some raids in your AOR that appeared to be successful in the -- heading toward the hunt for Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. Can you give us an update on that hunt and your perception of, perhaps, how close or not close we are?
Odierno: Well, we picked up another one two nights ago that are one of his close associates that are operating within this area -- very close in the Ad Dawr (ph) AOR. We are working them for information, but we have not gotten any specific information on where Mr. al-Douri is. There's contradictions about his health still, whether he's healthy, whether he's not healthy. There's -- we believe -- there's some reports that he's trying to put out false information purposely, to throw us off track. We're aware of that. But we are continuing to work it very hard.
Q: There was the belief that he was somehow doing some command and control with these attacks. What do you see his role as currently, as far as the former regime elements?
Odierno: I see it mostly as a -- again, I don't see him doing any direct coordination. I believe that he is trying in some cases, I believe, or people under him or close to him are trying to keep the fight alive by using his name, or he's doing it. I think it's more he's a rallying point. But I don't see any direction specifically on his part in directing anti-coalition activities.
But I believe, by capturing him, it's just another symbol that is taken away from the Iraqi people. But he nowhere near carries the clout that obviously HVT Number 1, or Saddam Hussein, carried. It's not equal.
But he is a figure that has been known throughout this AOR for being ruthless for many years now. So it would be helpful to get him off the streets.
Q: General, Jamie McIntyre from CNN. We continue to get these briefings from commanders in Iraq that are very upbeat, that talk about the insurgency being defeated and not succeeding in impeding progress. But we're also continuing to get a lot of bad news. Can you just give us an idea -- do you -- are you -- do you think you're presenting a realistic portrait of what's actually going on in Iraq and the challenges that you're facing there and the difficulties that you're having?
Odierno: I do. Listen, it's -- believe me, it's extremely frustrating to me, because I know these soldiers that are giving their lives for this. And so it's frustrating to me.
And it's important that we do honor them and we do report when soldiers have been killed, because they're over here for a very honorable cause. And it's important that we do that.
However, it is so clear here on a day-to-day basis the difference -- the difference from 30 days ago, the difference from two weeks ago. If you -- you see the construction going on, the roads being paved in the center of Kirkuk. You see the amount of people now working. You see the amount of people volunteering to be policemen, volunteering to be in the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. You see improvements in -- the gas lines have now gone away again. So I mean, we see constant improvement. And so it is getting better. The type of attacks are really much less violent, much less coordinated, but they still do have effects sometimes.
So I think -- that's why I try to make sure I paint the picture that it is improving, that we are making significant progress. That's not to say that there are still not people shooting at us here, there are still not people trying to work our will. But the progress really is very, very good. And that's why it's important for me to say it because I want you to hear it from me, that it is in fact improving every day, and it's significantly better than it was a month ago right now.
Q: Sir, this is Jim Garamone. I'm with American Forces Press Service. More and more of the attacks seem to be directed at Iraqis. Is this having a backlash within the Sunni population against these anti-coalition forces?
Odierno: I believe it is. I believe that the Iraqis feel why are they doing this? They're getting very frustrated with some of these attacks, where a lot of civilians, young children are being killed, and we are seeing a backlash. There's a backlash in several ways. Again, a backlash in that they are coming forward more readily and freely with information.
We're standing up joint operations centers in all the major cities -- in Baqubah, Tikrit, Samarra, Kirkuk -- and those are joint centers with Iraqi police, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. We have people coming in and giving us information in these joint operations centers. We have Iraqis conducting more of our -- when we do a raid, almost every one of them now have Iraqi Civil Defense Corps or police involved in it. They're leading; we're there in support.
So I mean, that's what's -- that's what's happening. They are more readily volunteering. They more readily want to get involved in fighting this insurgency. That's another big difference I have seen here lately. The people are frustrated. They're tired of the violence. They're tired of seeing loss of life, and they want to get on with it. They want to get their sovereignty. They want to take over control of themselves, but they also know that we have to be here for security until we can get their police force and other civil defense forces stood up.
Q: General Odierno, Martha Raddatz again. Could you just -- to make sure I'm clear on this, when you say the number of enemy attacks is down, are you including the attacks on Iraqi civilians? And do you have any sort of figures on that?
Odierno: We do. What we've seen is -- first, the total number of attacks are down. The attacks on Iraqi police and civil defense are up, actually. Those attacks are up. In a way, I see that as positive because that shows that they are capable of doing their operations, and they fear them being successful and so they've done some attacks, more attacks on the police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. And they've actually done heroically well in these attacks. But the total number of attacks, to include attacks against Iraqi civilian defense corps -- Civil Defense Corps, police and coalition forces combined, are still down from what they were in November, significantly down.
Q: Could you give us figures on the attacks on the Iraqi civilians and police and Civil Defense Corps?
Odierno: I don't have it in front of me, but to give you an idea, for the last two weeks, in my total AOR we had about 15 attacks on Iraqi Civil Defense Corps or police. Some -- most of those are what I call drive-by shootings, people in cars that go by checkpoints that they're manning that shoot at them. There have been some mortars shot at their control points, almost all ineffective.
What they've done and what's encouraging to me is, independently, then, they have then conducted ambushes on these individuals trying to conduct these attacks. And we had one successful one last night conducted solely by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. Now, I said 15, and that's above what it was a month ago when it was two or three in a two-week period, so it has increased. And again, I think it's because of their effectiveness. But when you add total number of attacks to even include those, it's still significantly less.
Q: General, Jamie McIntyre again from CNN. Is there any way that you could -- do you have any educated guess on a time frame that it's going to take to effectively neutralize the insurgency in the area that you're responsible for?
Odierno: Well, I think -- and again, it depends on how you quantify "neutralize." You know, what's interesting is -- I had this discussion today with my commanders, actually. And what we talked about is how do you quantify that? You know, how do we know that some of this isn't normal activity? What I mean by that is, there was always some level of -- there's always some level of violence in a society; what is the level of violence here that's normally associated? And it's hard for us to determine what that is.
But what's interesting is we are now talking in those terms now, and I think that gives you an idea how we think the level of violence is. You know, when does it get down to where we're seeing some small- arms fire that can be classified as, you know, drive-by shootings, and how much of that has occurred forever here in this country? So, what is normal, might not be normal for what we're used to, but what is normal for this region?
But on a timeline, it's hard to say. But I would tell you I believe within six months I think you're going to see some normalcy. I really believe that.
Now, it depends on the effectiveness of the foreign fighters being able to get organized and how well they're able to do that. I think the threat will change. And we've already seen the adjustment. You'll see the threat go to, again, more suicide attacks, vehicle- borne IEDs, which I think shows desperation for both so they can get themselves in the news so people around the world can see them, and to show that they are in fact frustrated that they can't really make an impact any other way. So you could see more of those activities here in the near term, I believe. And we'll have to wait and see.
Q: General, Bret Baier again with Fox News Channel. Right after Saddam's capture, we learned of this cell structure that had been set up, not only in Baghdad, but in your AOR. And with the new intel, we were hearing that these cells were being broken up. In fact you, when we were there in Iraq, talked about that in Samarra. I'm wondering if you can give an estimate of how many cells of former regime members you believe are still active in your AOR and if you're having success breaking them up, still.
Odierno: We are. And in fact, we've been extremely successful in Samarra. We conducted an operation in December, and we are now turning that back over to the police and the ICDC. And in fact, it's a different city than it was 45 days ago. So we have broken up. I believe there's probably still one cell, small cell operating out of Samarra.
But I believe we're down to a handful of cells in my AOR. And I believe they are somewhat fractured and unable to coordinate. They're doing it very locally. And that's a much different picture than I would have painted for you 45 days ago, when I would have said there's probably 15 to 20 cells with some coordination, and coordination looking like it was starting to grow. I, in fact, believe the coordination is now waning. That's been taken away. And I think the financing piece of it has been fractured a bit, which has caused them to really reduce the number of cells. So I feel pretty good about that.
I still believe there will be some people try (sic) to reform more cells, again, but it's our job to interdict them so that does not occur.
Staff: (Off mike.) -- take one more, if that's all right.
Q: General, Mike Mount with CNN. How confident are you, when you change positions with the 1st AD, that the insurgents won't take advantage during that changeover? Are you doing anything in particular to kind of mitigate those concerns?
Odierno: Yeah. First, it's the 1st Infantry Division -- I don't want to hurt their feelings -- that's taking my place.
But what -- our goal is a seamless transition, so they won't know the difference. And I believe -- I am very confident that we will be able to do that. They won't know -- they will conduct the attacks, they will get the same response as if the 4th Infantry Division was here or the 1st Infantry Division, and that's our goal. And we have worked very hard towards that goal here for about three months, four months now, working very closely with them and their leaders. And the training that they've been going through, I know, I believe, we’ll be able to do that.
The hard part is the relationships that you build, and it's personal relationships that you build with the leaders. That will always take some time.
But I believe we'll be able to hand off the intelligence piece, they'll understand what the tactics, techniques and procedures are that they need to do, and I believe that piece will be seamless.
But always -- as always, it will take a bit longer to build the personal relationships. But I don't believe that will have an impact on their ability to react to the former regime elements. It will have an impact -- a little bit -- as they start to continue to move forward with reconstruction and helping out with the government as we establish it here in the summer.
Army Lt. Col. (promotable) Gary L. Keck, deputy director, DoD Press Office: Sir, this is Lieutenant Colonel Keck. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule. Do you have any other final comments you'd like to make?
Odierno: No. The last -- I would just like to say that -- again, how proud I am of the soldiers here. And this has been -- this is tough. This is tough fighting. I tell everyone that what makes this specifically hard is every day, when my soldiers, these great soldiers, go out there, they never know what they're going to face. You can face 10 days of absolute peace. On that 11th day, there is some sort of contact that you have that's significant. And they have dealt with it magnificently.
And over time it is a bit wearing on you, but -- and they are still very motivated and focused on what they're doing, and I'm extremely proud of them for what they've done. And it's -- we should be very thankful for their dedication. I know I am. And that's all, that's the last thing I'd like to say.
Again, thank you very much. And I appreciate all your great questions. And any time, if you need anything, I'd be happy to talk to any one of you. Thanks.
Staff: Okay, sir, we appreciate that.
If you can, Bob Burns from AP would like to verify one fact.
Odierno: Sure. Go ahead.
Q: Hey, General, it's Bob Burns. I just wanted to clarify, in your opening remarks you said that the threat was evolving more from the regime element to something you called "nationalistic," and I wonder if you could explain what you meant by that term?
Odierno: What I mean is it's those that really just want Iraqis to run their own country and they want to do it quickly, as fast as they can. And I'm not referring to the Shi'a, but what I'm talking to is elements that are going to try to use Iraqi nationalism and say we need to get the Americans, coalition forces out of Iraq, and that they will continue to attack us to try to drive through our will.
It's a whole different -- what it is, it's a different mindset and it really causes a different organization. And that's why what we have to look at is it's not the same organization as before as the former regime elements, it's a different organization that could form that I call a nationalistic threat. It's limited and I think that we can deal with it very quickly. But that's kind of the thing we're kind of looking towards now.
Staff: Again, sir, thank you very much for being with us today.
Odierno: You're very welcome.
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