(Participating were Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations, Combined Joint Task Force 7, and Dan Senor, senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority.)
Senor: Good afternoon.
A couple of quick administrative items. Following this press briefing, there will be a backgrounder at 3:00 around the corner here in the International Press Center. It is a backgrounder on an Iraqi policy that's being announced, I think within the next 24 hours. Members of the Governing Council asked us to organize here a backgrounder on it.
The information in the backgrounder will be embargoed until tomorrow, until the formal -- or whenever the formal announcement is made. But there will be a backgrounder with some details that you may find of interest, so I encourage you to attend. That is at 3:00 today in the International Press Center.
I just came from a meeting Ambassador Bremer and Sir Jeremy Greenstock were holding with a congressional delegation led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Just a -- we calculated during this meeting that we are now at approximately 200 members of Congress that have visited Iraq since liberation. And in addition to that, you have several members of President Bush's Cabinet who have visited, you have leaders from a number of coalition countries -- Poland, Spain, the U.K. There have been numerous foreign missions into Iraq over the past few months, and that is obviously a good sign, as this country continues to return to normal and more and more public officials from around the world become increasingly engaged in this reconstruction project.
Finally, yesterday 466 new Iraqi police officers graduated from the Jordanian International Police Training Center, following eight weeks of training. That is the first class to have graduated from the Jordanian center. Iraqi Minister of Interior Nori Badran spoke to the students, addressed the students during the ceremony.
A second class of 500 students has already begun its training there and will graduate in six weeks. A third class of a thousand students will arrive at the training center early next month.
Within the next three months, the training center in Jordan will have a training capacity of 3,000 students. So 3,000 students will be able to train there at any given time.
At the training center, Iraqis assist trainers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Jordan, Sweden, Finland and Austria. In addition to the Jordanian training center, the Ministry of Interior is training new Iraqi police officers at the Baghdad police academy as well.
As far as other graduations for security forces are concerned, last Saturday 779 new members of the Iraqi army graduated at their training facility in Kirkush, about which many of you are familiar. Now fourth battalion will graduate on February 28th. Next week in Baghdad, there will be a number of classes of Facilities Protection Service guards, Diplomatic Protection Service guards and Iraqi Corrections Service officers that will graduate and begin their work. We'll have those details for you next week as they're finalized.
And I come back to my earlier point, which relates to Ambassador Bremer's visit earlier this week to an ICDC -- Iraqi Civil Defense Corps -- training facility in Mosul. This is clearly a key focus of the coalition now, is continuing to train Iraqi security forces. President Bush has said that his goal for this mission is to leave behind a secure, sovereign, democratic Iraq at peace with itself and at peace with the world. And critical to the security component is Iraqi security, Iraqi security forces. As I've said before from this podium, today there are more Iraqis in security positions in their own country than there are Americans serving in security positions in Iraq. There are well over 150,000 Iraqis in various security services in Iraq.
Kimmitt: Thanks, Dan.
Good afternoon. The tactical situation in the region remains relatively stable. Over the past week, there have been an average of 18 daily engagements against coalition military, just under four attacks daily against Iraqi security forces, and just under two attacks daily against Iraqi civilians.
In the past 24 hours, the coalition conducted 1,412 patrols, 32 offensive operations, 16 raids, and captured 46 anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi suspects. In the northern zone, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 103 patrols, cleared one cache and encountered two significant weapons turn-ins.
Early yesterday morning, coalition forces conducted a cordon-and- knock, targeting an individual suspected of involvement in a late November mortar attack in Hamman al Alil. The target was successfully detained, and the unit seized almost $2,000 in new 100- dollar bills. Coalition forces conducted a cordon-and-knock targeting a former regime element cell with links to Mohammed's Army in central Mosul. Seven persons were detained, including the target.
In the north-central zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 179 patrols, five raids, and captured 40 enemy personnel.
Attackers detonated an improvised explosive device near a coalition convoy that was transporting captured individuals, killing one of the detainees and wounding 11 others yesterday morning east of Miqdadiyah (sp). The wounded were evacuated to a battalion aid station, and all are in stable condition.
Coalition forces reported an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps vehicle was subjected to a bomb attack near Baqubah. The bomb was composed of C-4 wrapped in rebar and was detonated as the vehicle approached. The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps engaged the vehicle, but the vehicle broke contact. Four Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers sustained minor wounds.
Coalition forces were informed by Iraqi police that building in Karnabad was destroyed yesterday at 11:25. The building was a police station that had just been renovated. There were no personnel in the building when it was destroyed, and the exact nature of the explosion is unknown. But it's believed the individuals that destroyed the Galabiyah government building on 25 January may be the same cell that destroyed this police station.
In Baghdad, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 502 patrols, 52 special escort missions and captured 18 enemy personnel. A raid was conducted to capture Ali Hussan Hamed al-Mushadinah and his four sons, who are suspected of conducting attacks on coalition forces for 1,500 American dollars per attack. The unit captured all five and transported them to a coalition forward operating base for interrogation.
Coalition forces conducted a cordon-and-search to capture an individual suspected of conducting a rocket attack on a coalition forward operating base. The target was captured, along with his vehicle. And a vapor test of the car came back positive for explosive residue, so the personnel are being detained for interrogation.
In the western zone of operations, coalition forces and Iraqi security forces conducted 226 patrols, executed two offensive operations and captured 27 enemy personnel. Iraqi Civil Defense Corps personnel also conducted 13 independent operations in the western zone.
At 12:30 yesterday, Mohammed Fadid Abu turned himself in to coalition forces. He is the primary -- he is suspected of being the primary courier of information and funding between Mudhir Karbat and his brother Musir. Mudhir has extensive international building holdings -- business holdings, and we have strong evidence that he is a primary financier for ongoing attacks in Al Anbar.
In the central zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 96 patrols, 27 checkpoints and escorted 37 convoys. Coalition patrols detained 524 illegal persons and confiscated 49 minibuses on the border. The illegal persons were re-transported to Iran and the vehicles were turned over to the Iraqi border police. Two bombs were discovered in the main court building in Al Hillah. They were disarmed by a special Iraqi police team. There were no injuries associated with this operation.
In the southeastern zone of operations, a demonstration took place in An Nasiriyah. A patrol observed 50 to 60 armed personnel gathering in front of the city library and, although initially heated, the demonstration broke up in the early afternoon. Yesterday afternoon, a coalition patrol in southeast came under fire from four unknown individuals in An Nasiriyah. There were no coalition casualties. Two of the attackers were captured and are undergoing questioning.
We are happy to take your questions, if there are questions. Yeah?
Q: General -- Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder -- in many of these briefings, yourself and other military commanders have talked about a decrease in the number of attacks. But as that decrease has happened, it seems that the numbers of soldiers killed have remained at a stable number. I was just wondering what that points to for you, if that points to a different enemy, the same enemy using the same tactic -- I mean different tactics, and just what the implications of that trend are.
Kimmitt: Well, first of all, I'm not sure that your assumption is correct. The number of attacks that we had in mid- November roughly ran about 40 to 50 per day. We're down in the region of about 20. The attacks have been reduced by about half. The casualties have been reduced by about half as well. The number of killed in action, in hospital, fire, disease, non-battle injury that we have had in November -- in December and January is about half that of what we had in November. So we have seen a reduction in the number of casualties as well.
We still think the number of killed and wounded is far too high. Every time we lose a soldier, it's a tragedy. Every time we have a wounded soldier, that's a tragedy. But as we have had a corresponding reduction in attacks, there has been a corresponding reduction in killed in action as well.
Q: If I could follow, certainly the number of soldiers dead in January, for instance, is lower than November, the high point since May. But in January, you have a higher number of soldiers dead than in any other month since May, other than November.
Kimmitt: That's not correct. The numbers in January -- and I'm not going to get into a debate about the numbers, but the numbers in December were half that of November. The numbers in January are about the same as they were in December.
Q: General Sanchez said yesterday that there was pretty strong proof of al Qaeda fingerprints all over Iraq.
Q: I was just wondering if you could talk to us a little bit more about that. What evidence have you got exactly, and what measures are being taken to --
Kimmitt: First of all, the evidence. We -- and I said at the last press conference about al Qaeda operating within Iraq. We have had strong suspicion over the past few months that many of the attacks took on a different tone and different tactics than we had seen in the months prior to that. For example, any time we see a vehicle-born bomb, any time you have a car bombing, a suicide bombing, you don't typically associate that with what's happening inside of Iraq or home grown. That gives us an indicator that that's probably somebody from abroad or somebody who has had some training from abroad. That kind of extremism we don't typically see here in country. As you know and as we have reported from this podium, there have been numerous times when we have captured personnel or gone into targets and found al Qaeda literature, al Qaeda products that you can pull off the Internet, and so on and so forth.
So those are the kind. First of all, our intelligence that we capture along with some of the detainees, some of the tactics they're using such as suicide bombs, and some of the information that we gain from detainees would indicate that there is a presence. We don't know what the size of that presence is. We don't think it's a large number of operational cells. But you can be assured that we're taking a hard look at that evidence and using all that intelligence to go after these soldiers in Iraq.
Senor: Go ahead.
Q: Two questions. One for General Kimmitt. How do you define the engagements when we're talking about the number of engagements per day? Because it seems like, just doing embeds with some of the units, some say they get shot at almost every time they go out on patrol. So if that were true, the number of engagements would be a lot higher if that was the definition of engagement. So I just wanted to see how you're defining engagement in these average of 20 per day and the 50 per day in November.
And then for Dan, in terms of right now, as you said recently, you're working with the security team that the U.N. -- to assess the security situation. Do you have an estimate of when the earliest electoral team might arrive?
Senor: I would defer to the United Nations on the exact schedule. The secretary-general has made his announcement about his intentions. The process is in motion. There is a team here assessing the security situation. We are cooperating with them quite closely. We've made it clear we'll provide all the resources and all the information they need to take the next step.
We have conducted a number of briefings with the U.N. security team, and we expect them to be traveling across the country. Obviously, specifics on that will not be provided, for operational security reasons. But, you know, once they work through that stage, we expect the next stage, which is the electoral team. Don't have an exact date yet. It's a decision for the U.N. to make, and I -- we really do want to leave it to them in terms of any sort of announcement.
Kimmitt: To answer your question about what defines an engagement: The reporting procedures, any time that we have a report -- and we have a very formal reporting system -- any time we have a report of small-arms fire being taken by any coalition convoy or any of our soldiers, that's considered an engagement. If we are in a coalition forward operating base or any location where there is a mortar round or a rocket shot at that location, we consider that an engagement. If a convoy is traveling down the road and a roadside bomb blows off -- blows up, clearly aimed at the convoy, we consider that an engagement. So I would hope that all of those reports that the soldiers are giving you are sent up through their chain of command and goes into our reports database.
Q: I have two questions for Dan, both related to the Iraqi dinar. We have been hearing reports about a lot of dinars leaving the country and ending up in other places in the Middle East. What does the CPA make of that?
And the second question is the dinar has risen sharply against the dollar. What are the implications of that for the reconstruction costs here?
Senor: On the first question, there have been incidents where individuals or groups have attempted to smuggle dinars out of the country. It is something we are in contact with the various Iraqi authorities, security forces, with the Ministry of Finance, with the central bank in clamping down on it. It does not appear at this point to be a trend; they have been incidents, and I have said we are addressing them accordingly. In terms of the specific steps that are being taken, I would refer you to the Iraqi authorities.
We believe -- to your second question, Tom -- we believe that the appreciation of the dinar against the dollar is a good sign. You will recall when we announced the new dinar and we began to manage the currency exchange, there were a lot of predictions that the currency would fluctuate wildly. None of those predictions came true. The currency has remained pretty steady, and even appreciated slightly and gradually; again, good indication that the economy is stabilizing, and the economic and financial situation in this country is improving.
As it relates to the reconstruction, again we view it as a good sign. The more we can -- the more stability that is in this system and in this environment will make it that much easier for us to work with the various contractors and subcontractors in deploying U.S. taxpayer dollars and other monies that are committed through the Madrid Conference in pursuit of the reconstruction.
Now, we are going to be offering a backgrounder in the next few days on various details on the actual reconstruction, and it will -- I think it will address more specifically to some of the detail that you want. And I encourage you to attend that. We will be announcing that shortly. But like I said, most companies that are coming into Iraq, whether they're foreign investors, whether they're individuals or companies that want to participate in the reconstruction and compete for the contracts and compete for the subcontracts, regard a stable currency as a good sign.
Senor: Anyone else? Yes?
Q: General, you said that there is a lot of -- you got evidence of outside fighters, outside groups coming in here. Did they bring a greater degree of expertise? And is that harder to combat? And is there any evidence they're cross-pollinating with the Saddam loyalists or whatever you want to call them?
Kimmitt: Well, we've said for a number of months that that infusion of technical expertise as comes across the border is -- whether it's through the Internet, whether it's through couriers, whether it's through mail, whether it's through literature -- do they bring a greater degree of expertise? They bring a different degree of expertise. And like anything else, it's a different enemy tactic. We just have to learn what those tactics, techniques and procedures are, so that we can fight them and beat them.
Q: (Name inaudible.) -- Romanian Radio. General Kimmitt, are you expecting any increased security threats within the next period, especially in Eid? And then aren't there any programs for financing NGOs that want to get involved in the reconstruction?
Kimmitt: Well, we're not sure if there -- well, we've done some intelligence gathering on the near term for the Eid period, and we remain fully prepared to handle any security threat during that time period.
With regard to increased security threats over the next couple of months -- that's the period you're talking about -- we have said, as we get closer and closer to Iraqi sovereignty, we expect to see an uptick in the amount of violence that we have in country, of --
Senor: To your second --
Kimmitt: -- which we're fully prepared to handle.
Senor: We are working with a number of NGOs. We encourage NGOs to come into this country to work on the reconstruction.
There are programs within the supplemental that was appropriated by Congress late last year for NGOs. There are funds, certainly on the democracy-building side, on human rights-related programs, there's much work for NGOs.
We are going to be spending, just out of the supplemental alone, between $450 (million) and $500 million on democracy-building programs over the next six months. And we have been in contact with various NGOs.
Q: What about Iraqi NGOs?
Senor: Iraqi NGOs certainly could compete. We encourage Iraqis to get involved at the contract and subcontract level.
Q: General, have you so far found any indications or something that proves a kind of cooperation or coordinated attacks between al Qaeda elements and the armed groups -- local armed groups here in Iraq?
Kimmitt: We have not seen any direct correlation or direct connection between the AQ groups fighting side by side along with the local groups. We do believe, we have some suspicions that there are many terrorist groups from abroad that will go out of their way to use Iraqi civilians. They have demonstrated time after time that the foreign terrorists will fight to the last Iraqi to achieve their aims here in Iraq.
Q: (Name inaudible.) -- Lawrence, BBC. I just want to clarify -- I don't mean to belabor the point about American casualties, but with the exception of November's catastrophic events, the tally I had made looked like roughly the same number of U.S. casualties in September and October as there were in December and January. So has that number changed? Could you tell me the number?
Kimmitt: I'd say your analysis right now is just about right.
Q: So the number is the same as it was in October and September -- January?
Kimmitt: It's roughly around the same. We're not going to debate numbers here, but --
Q: No, I'm not trying to debate. I just want to make --
Kimmitt: You're --
Q: So with the exception of November there has been no real decrease?
Kimmitt: That's what we see as well. There's been no real increase.
Q: But --
Q: General, in the last couple of briefings we've had with military officials here there's been sort of a stepped up increase in the rhetoric about al Qaeda.
Q: But in that context, both you and General Sanchez have sort of mentioned that this is something that we've sort of thought all along.
Is it just the arrest of Ghul that has sort of prompted the leadership to start talking more openly about al Qaeda or do you feel like because you're having so much success at sort of crushing the regime cells that they're becoming, al Qaeda's becoming the biggest threat in Iraq?
Kimmitt: What we've said time after time when asked the question is al Qaeda in Iraq? -- we've said repeatedly that we have nobody in detention or no direct evidence that we have somebody who has a card in their back pocket that says "I'm a member of al Qaeda."
However, all the fingerprints had been there. And that evidence somewhat culminated with the capture of Ghul. At that point we recognized that we do have somebody with very close ties to al Qaeda within the country, so we just -- that was the final brick to be able to say that yes, we see the presence in the country. We've always suspected it; that point confirmed it.
Q: And on the second point, do you feel like you've done a very good job at crushing the regime cells and that al Qaeda is now evolving into the greatest threat in Iraq or do you still think that the regime cells pose the biggest threat at this point?
Kimmitt: Well, we certainly think that the regime cells still pose a threat. We are paying a lot of attention to those; we continue to go after the former regime elements, the criminals inside the country. We are seeing here in the country, we are focusing on all foreign terrorist groups that are fighting us as well, al Qaeda just being one of them; Ansar al-Islam another of them; others that we haven't identified operating.
They have different tactics, techniques and procedures, but as we garner all of our intelligence, in all of our intelligence for operations, we just don't necessarily differentiate them in different groups. We see them as threats to the coalition, we see them as threats to the Iraqi people. As soon as we gain intelligence, we use that for actionable intelligence and conduct operations to kill or capture.
Q: Ambassador Bremer put out a statement earlier this week about the PKK. And is that related at all to some evidence that they have been carrying out terrorist activities in Iraq?
Senor: Well, Ambassador Bremer has said for some time, as has President Bush, that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism. And we will pursue terrorists in this country with great intensity; we will seek to capture or kill them. And are well aware that PKK, which has been designated for some time by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, has been operating inside Iraq. And were just putting PKK and all its affiliate organizations on notice that we will continue to pursue them; we will continue to try and capture or kill them. That was basically it.
Q: Is there any evidence that they've actually carried out any attacks, besides just operating in Iraq?
Kimmitt: We are unaware of PKK conducting any operations that after the fact have announced that they were directly responsible for it.
Senor: But obviously, when we have any information that a terrorist organization or individuals associated with a terrorist organization, or affiliate, alias organizations, are operating in Iraq, that becomes a high priority because we recognize the high stakes in this country from the perspective of the terrorists and the terror organizations. They are seeking to undermine what we are trying to achieve here. Whenever we hear of any terrorists operating in this country, we will not compromise that pursuit.
Q: What kind of progress is being made in the interrogation of Hassan Ghul?
Kimmitt: It wouldn't be proper to be answering that question in this forum.
Senor: Anyone else?
Q: I'm Ben Hasan with Spiegel Magazine. What is the current state of affairs with law 137, you know, the personal law which includes the marital status of the woman? There was a news item yesterday that Ambassador Bremer refuses to sign this law.
Senor: I think there's been some confusion on the procedural evolution of this particular law. According to Dr. Pachachi -- and I would refer you to Dr. Pachachi. In fact, he's holding a press conference tomorrow, his last press conference as president of the Governing Council for this month. According to Dr. Pachachi, this law never passed in the Governing Council. It was a technical matter. I don't even think there was a sufficient quorum there to address it. So it never passed. It wouldn't reach Ambassador Bremer's desk unless it was a measure that was passed by the Governing Council.
So it's not an issue of whether or not Ambassador Bremer would sign it. It's not an issue he has considered. There are a number -- obviously, there are a multitude of issues that are taken up by the Governing Council every day they meet. Not every single one of them reaches the attention of Ambassador Bremer, simply because most of them aren't submitted for a vote, and many of them that are submitted for a vote don't pass. Then that particular measure falls in that category.
All right, thanks everybody.
Kimmitt: Thanks for coming today.
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