(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.
I just have a brief opening statement and then General Kimmitt has a statement. And then we will be happy to take your questions.
From time to time we just point to examples here of ways in which Iraqi society is returning to normalcy. Often that manifests itself in Iraq's reemergence on the world stage; Iraq's openness for business, for foreign investment. It also manifests itself in terms of democracy building initiatives that are going on at the grass roots, literally across the country at the community level -- efforts to rebuild democracy from the bottom up.
I have a few examples that speak to all of those.
One, as many of you know, the Iraqi Governing Council, the Iraqi people will be represented at the upcoming G-7 meeting. The Iraqi finance minister will be attending; I think there will be a statement from the Iraqi Finance Ministry coming up on that matter.
Today Iraqna, the first mobile telephone service in Iraq's central region launched its monthly services. Iraqna has already committed to a capital investment of over $100 million U.S. dollars in the first year in building out network infrastructure. As far as the roaming capabilities are concerned, Iraqna's customers will be able to reach most of the world with international calling options. This is a service that would have never been allowed in the former regime's Iraq. Iraqna provides emergency calls to 104 and for fire, 122, free of charge. This is something Iraqna has agreed to do.
And then finally, 90 percent of Iraqna's employees are -- the number of employees are increasing; right now it's approximately 250 -- 90 percent of those employees are Iraqi nationals. Again, we believe cell phone service is a critical element in making Iraq a healthy environment for business and for foreign investment and improving the lives of the Iraqi people and their ability to communicate.
Next, Ambassador Bremer today announced that the Iraqi Olympic team has been invited -- the Iraqi Olympic wrestling teams have been invited as guests of the American people and the U.S. Olympic Committee to train for the next five months in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This is the most advanced facility in the world and will help prepare these athletes for their goal of participating in Athens. They should hopefully be leaving for the U.S. within the next month.
Now this Olympic Committee initiative is not only about participating in an international sports event; it says a lot about where Iraq, how far Iraq has come and where it is going. Eleven months ago, Iraqi Olympic athletes were literally tortured to death under the brutal regime of Saddam and Uday Hussein. Their families were held in captivity. Every day was a day of fear for an Iraqi athlete.
The democratic election this past week of a new, legitimate Olympic committee was only the final step of a process that produced hundreds of local elections across the country, including those for over 200 sports clubs, and provincial as well as national elections for 41 sports federations, all carried out in accordance with established international rules. What is important to appreciate is that hundreds of elections occurred, were organized by Iraqis and for Iraqis. Democracy is built from the ground up. This is truly an example of how it is working in the new Iraq.
And I -- Ambassador Bremer often talks about the idea that civil -- civic societies -- civic institutions like sports federations, like lawyers' associations, like women's training centers, all these groups and organizations and clubs and entities that are forming across the country are often the shock absorber between a national government and a local society. And that is -- these efforts are sprouting up, as I said, across the country, and it is a key sign that as Iraq is in this post-regime, post-totalitarian development stage, the key seeds of democracy are being planted, and they're being planted by the Iraqi people.
Kimmitt: Yep. Thanks.
Good afternoon. The area of operations remains relatively stable. Over the past week, there have been an average of 24 engagements daily against coalition military forces, four attacks daily against Iraqi security forces, and just under two attacks daily against Iraqi civilians. The coalition remains offensively oriented in order to proactively attack, kill or capture enemies of the Iraqi people and anti-coalition elements in order to obtain intelligence for future operations and to ensure the people of Iraq of our determination to establish a safe and secure environment. To that end, in the past 24 hours the coalition has conducted 1,316 patrols, 27 offensive operations, 10 raids, and captured 106 anti-coalition suspects.
In the northern zone of operations, coalition forces conducted a transfer of authority ceremony today, passing command of northern operations from General David Petraeus to General Carter Ham. Coalition and Iraqi security forces also conduced 114 patrols, two offensive operations, and detained 20 anti-coalition suspects. On Thursday morning, coalition forces conducted five joint cordon-and- knock operations targeting former regime elements and facilitators, detaining 19 individuals. In a separate operation, coalition suspects -- coalition soldiers recognized and captured a suspected Ansar al- Islam facilitator, Wafsi Hunan (ph).
In the north-central zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 189 patrols, three raids, and captured 19 personnel. On Tuesday, coalition forces conduced a raid near Tikrit, targeting a weapons dealer suspected of possessing Saddam Hussein's personal collection of firearms. Six individuals were captured, one the brother of a suspected Fedayeen member, and another individual, Nessar Shayhab (ph), reported to be the nephew of Ibrahim al-Douri and a member of the local Fedayeen cell.
An Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldier was shot and killed near Tormea. Witnesses reported that a blue Opel fired at the soldier while he was walking down the street and hit him three times in the neck, head and chest. The car then stopped and took the soldier's AK- 47 and fled the scene. Coalition forces and Iraqi police are investigating.
On Wednesday afternoon, after detonating an improvised explosive device against a coalition passing -- against a coalition convoy passing west of Tormea, two Iraqi civilians were wounded and were taken to the local hospital for treatment. They are both in stable condition. Coalition forces identified the four attackers, returned fire, wounding one and capturing the other three.
In the early morning's -- in an early morning raid this morning, forces raided a location in Tikrit, looking for Abu Aimad (ph) al-Tikriti, a former brigadier general and the former director of military intelligence for northern Iraq. Al-Tikriti was also targeted for suspected leadership in a cell responsible for attacks against coalition forces and civilians. Al-Tikriti was captured along with three other individuals.
Majeed Ali Abbas al-Dousi (ph), suspected of being involved in the car bomb suicide attack on a Samarra government building on January 24th was captured on Wednesday. Today, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps conducted a cordon and search in Samarra. The targets were suspected of attempting to bomb the home of Fallah al-Raquib (ph), a member of Salahadin government. They were also suspected of attacking ICD soldiers' homes with bombs and bomb attacks against coalition forces. The Civil Defense Corps captured six targets. There were no U.S. personnel involved in this operation. No injuries or damage to ICD personnel or equipment were sustained.
In Baghdad, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 550 patrols, 44 escort missions, and captured 16 enemy personnel. Coalition forces conducted a cordon and search of three neighborhoods to seize illegal weapons, bomb-making material and former regime elements, and seven individuals were detained.
In the western zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 249 patrols, including 15 independent Iraqi Civil Defense Corps patrols. They captured 40 enemy personnel. Coalition forces are also prepared to support the return of the hajj pilgrims through the area of operation, beginning today.
Earlier this morning, coalition forces conducted a cordon-and- search of two objectives northeast of Hit to kill or capture the Gota (sp) and Moleq (sp) brothers, believed to be weapons dealers and active supporters in the region of anti-coalition elements. The operation was conducted without incident and resulted in the capture of 23 enemy personnel, including six of the eight primary targets.
In the central south zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 87 patrols, established 25 checkpoints and escorted 38 convoys.
The Iraqi police station in Am Al-Mahawal (sp), located north of Al Hillah, was attacked by a group of belligerents yesterday. The Quick Reaction Force for Multinational Division Central South was dispatched to the location, and upon arrival two police were found wounded and seven assailants were captured. The patrol conducted a joint search with Iraqi police around the city and arrested four additional suspects. While returning to the police station, the patrol was attacked and one Iraqi -- an additional Iraqi policeman was wounded. Additional military assets were sent to reinforce the QRF, and a total of 11 detainees were taken to the Al Hillah police station for further investigation.
In the southeastern zone of operations, Bechtel is rehabilitating the sweet water canal system in southern Iraq, which will restore potable water to the 1.75 million residents of al-Basra.
Senor: We'll be happy to take your questions. Yes?
Q: (In Arabic.)
Kimmitt: I think you asked me two questions. The first one: Do the coalition forces depend on X-rays? And on the intel tips, do we depend on corroborating that evidence before or after the mission? Is that correct?
We certainly use X-ray devices, primarily backscatter radars, to look through vehicles, to ensure that we understand what is in those vehicles. The individual soldiers do not carry any kind of X-ray device. He carries night vision devices, but certainly nothing that would allow him the capability to, say, look through clothing or look through skin, at the bones of the personnel.
On the second question, on the intelligence tips, we always remain concerned that people may come in and provide intelligence for other than noble purposes. That's why we very rarely, if ever, conduct operations based on what we call single-source intelligence. We always try to get multiple confirmations of our intelligence before we conduct raids, specifically so we don't perhaps inadvertently conduct a revenge raid based on, perhaps, a grudge that might have been held between neighbors.
Q: Hi. Jim Krane with the AP. General Kimmitt, we were wondering if you had any information on a group called Ansar al-Sunna, which has claimed responsibility, apparently, for the bombings in Irbil, as well as issued some pamphlets in Fallujah and Ramadi, warning about, you know, once the Americans leave, that they are going to try and set up their own government and, you know, fire policemen, and warning for folks who cooperate with Americans to leave when the Americans leave.
Kimmitt: We also have an indication on -- that translates as the Ansar al-Sunna Army in Iraq. We also have information -- it was reported today that they have taken claim for the al-Faqwa (sp) police station in Mosul that was attacked on the 31st of January. We believe that to be one of the splinter groups of the Ansar al-Islam movement, but I don't have any more information than that.
Q: Do you find those claims of responsibility credible at all?
Kimmitt: We're certainly going to follow up on those claims to see if in fact they could be the people that perpetrated the twin suicide attacks in Irbil and against Mosul.
Q: Charles Dewey (sp) with the Los Angeles Times. Is there any update into the investigation of the suicide bombings up in -- suicide attacks up in Irbil?
Kimmitt: Other than the information that we received on a specific group claiming responsibility, and that's the only claim that we're aware of right now, we aren't any closer than we were a couple of days ago. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has provided some forensic support. The Iraqi Police Service does have the lead for the investigation. I know there's been a lot of speculation out there, potential theories and conspiracy theories, of who was involved, but we're no closer than we were 24 to 48 hours ago to determining either the group responsible or the motivations behind the attacks.
Q: There is a report today of, I guess, an arrest of a guy, I think in Kirkuk, with a Yemeni passport, tied to Irbil. Do you know about that?
Kimmitt: Yeah, I saw that report as well, contacted the 4th Infantry Division. What they said is the authorities apprehended an individual suspected of being involved in the Irbil bombings this morning at Kirkuk based on a tip from a HUMINT source. The individual behaved suspiciously and was discussing the bombing. After questioning, it was determined that the detainee was not involved in the bombing. He was released approximately 0900 this morning. So at this point we have no reason to suspect that the report of the apprehension or the arrest got us any closer to finding that out.
Senor: Yes, sir?
Q: (Off mike.)
Senor: It's not on. Do you want to try the mike next to you?
Q: (Off mike.)
Senor: All right. Do you want to just come up? We'll take one other while you're getting ready here. Yes, ma'am?
Q: I'm Jan (O'Brien?) with Reuters. Does the U.S. military or the CPA keep records of civilian casualties in Iraq? And if so, why aren't they made public? And if not, what's the reason for that?
Kimmitt: Well, every time I come up here I brief -- I not only brief coalition attacks, attacks on Iraqi security forces and attacks on civilians. We don't track -- we don't have the capability to track all the civilian casualties for any number of reasons. The coalition forces aren't everywhere. We don't always have civilians anywhere near a coalition base when an event or a tragedy occurs. We typically rely on the Iraqi police service, the Ministry of the Interior for that type of information. And as we are moving towards self sufficiency on the part of the Iraqi people, civilian casualties not related to coalition activities is the province and the responsibility of, in this case, the Ministry of the Interior.
Senor: Chris, yeah? Sorry.
Our experience is the same as CJTF-7's. I would add that our experience in some areas has been -- it's -- you often get conflicting reports or numbers that sort of float up and down. For instance, in Irbil there were numbers coming from various sources that varied for a number of reasons, not the least of which is some families found their deceased loved ones at the site of the bombings and removed them for burial immediately without registering them. Some hospitals where some individuals who were wounded in the attacks, who had minor injuries, came with their minor injuries, were asked to wait in line, and they registered and then moved to another hospital, registered a second time. So you have different numbers from different sources, and it's sometimes hard to marry them up. But that aside, we rely on the same reporting procedures that General Kimmitt referred to.
Chris? The search for a microphone.
Q: Oh, there we go. Sort of -- a couple of technical questions for General Kimmitt. First of all, we have seen a couple of instance recently where armor-piercing 7.62 rounds have been used against civilian-type vehicles, that is presumably fired from Kalashnikov -- armor-piercing rounds. I'm wondering if those are common now in Iraq.
And secondly, what is backscatter radar and how do you use that on the cars? Do you use that on cars at checkpoints, or do you use it from the air? I have no idea what you were talking about there.
Kimmitt: I don't have the answer on the armor-piercing rounds. We'll look into that.
What we typically do with the backscatter radar, you see these often in the United States as well, where a vehicle actually goes into what somewhat looks like a car wash, vehicle has the backscatter radar actually go through the vehicle to determine what's inside. That's much easier than actually having to download everything inside the vehicle.
Q: So this is only if you bring the car to the base or something like that. You don't have this in the field? You don't have these car washes in the field, as it were?
Kimmitt: I don't know where they actually are. I can find that out, where they're actually being used.
Q: We're not passing through them unknowingly, is my question?
Kimmitt: No, no, absolutely not.
Senor: Thank you. Question? Yes, sir?
Q: Ramzi Ar-Akabi (ph), Al-Ahram Weekly. I was just reading in a press release the other day and you mentioned something similar with these two brothers, and I believe the city was hit. The procedure is to kill or capture suspected anti-coalition forces. I'm wondering what kind of -- this is kind of similar to her question -- what kind of intelligence are you going on? And who authorizes someone who could be killed by coalition forces for suspected activity?
I'm referencing this from yesterday -- the 3rd Brigade in, I think it's somewhere in Al Anbar province -- someone suspected of conducting rocket attacks on coalition forces. Who is exactly making these judgement calls? If a house is raided, when is the permission given to kill someone who is suspected of these kind of things?
Kimmitt: All of our -- yeah, all of our soldiers operate within very narrow and prescribed rules for the use of force and rules of engagement.
Q: I'm sorry, just one more thing. But in a way this almost seems like it's amounting to some sort of extrajudicial executions in a way. People that are suspected -- the operation is to kill or capture.
Kimmitt: I think -- again, our forces in this country are operating under generally accepted Geneva Convention rules. They have very specific rules of engagement, rules for the use of force.
Senor: Yes, sir?
Q: (In Arabic.)
Senor: On the reconciliation initiative, the most recent numbers that we have are the ones I reported two days ago, which is between 180 and 200 detainees matched with guarantors eligible for release. There are fewer guarantors than there are detainees, because some of the guarantors vouched for more than one detainee. The actual number of detainees that have been released to date is approximately 100, which is consistent with what Ambassador Bremer stated -- there would be 100 slated for release immediately. And now we're working on the next group, which will get us to 500. And so we're entering into that zone right now. And as I said, we're lining up the guarantors to do it and we have between 180 and 200 detainees matched with guarantors.
Kimmitt: And I can assure you that none of the top 55 have been released.
Senor: Yes? Back here.
Q: Yes. Kirk Troy with VOA. Could you give us an update on the coalition weapons inspectors and where they are operating at the moment and just any other update you can give us?
Senor: That is a question for the Iraq Survey Group. I would refer you to them. I do not speak for them.
Q: Dan Murphy from the Christian Science Monitor. Just what are the rules of engagement, or could you direct us to a website or document that could sort of lay it all out for us?
Kimmitt: Sure. We can take question, and we can talk about it right after the press conference.
Senor: Someone who hasn't asked. Yes?
Q: Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder. I was wondering, General, whether it is still the case that January was not the second deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in Iraq since the end of major combat operations.
And for Dan, I wonder if you could speak a little bit about the sort of two tracks of Iraq right now; that you do have ongoing progress, many examples of which you cited earlier, but also of the continuing violence against civilian, Irbil the most example, Mosul the day before, and I mean, you know, hundreds dead or wounded in the past six to seven weeks. If -- you know, it seems to me there's sort of a duality going on there -- progress on one end and this sort of terrible violence on the other.
Senor: (Off mike.)
Kimmitt: Yeah. January was not the second most deadly month for U.S. soldiers in the campaign.
Q: Is there -- other than going through press releases from CENTCOM and, you know, trying to measure those up with DOD releases, is there any sort of centralized database, or is it a sort of --
Kimmitt: I'd refer that question to the Department of Defense. That's where the central database would get -- would go.
For example, we may have a soldier who was wounded in combat here, who has been sent to Walter Reed and subsequently passes away. So on our database, it would still show that that soldier is wounded. That's why it's best to go back to DOD for that question.
Senor: Tom, to your first question, I think your characterization is accurate. On the one hand, there is tremendous progress. On the other hand, attacks continue. There are good days in Iraq, like today, and there are some really bad days, like Sunday.
And we believe the bad days occur precisely because there are so many good days; precisely because as we move closer and closer to June 30th and get prepared to hand over sovereignty and hand over more and more authority each day, that those enemies of freedom, the -- whether they are the domestic insurgents, the members of the former regime or the foreign fighters, the foreign terrorists that have come into this country -- that group collectively has an enormous stake in the failure of the new Iraq, has an enormous stake in our failure here. And so the more progress that is made, the more pressure they feel that they are under to thwart our efforts. And this is the reality of life here right now.
The important point, I think, is that the Iraqi people understand this, and they've remained steadfast. They do not get intimidated by the attacks. I was struck on Sunday listening to the statements that came from the Kurdish leaders following the attack in Irbil. They made it crystal clear that they intend to move forward with the political agreement. They viewed this as an attack not on the Kurds, but on the Iraqi people. And they intend to move forward on the implementation of the November 15th agreement. They are going to continue to plug away on this political process. They want to live in a free and democratic and independent Iraq, and they're not going to be intimidated by terrorists to that end.
And that is what we hear across the board, when an Iraqi Governing Council member was assassinated in the summer; when Iraqi police chiefs -- a number of Iraqi police chiefs have been killed, and yet recruitment numbers for the Iraqi police force continues to go up and up and up. There are over 70,000 -- some 70,000 Iraqi police on the streets today. The number of Iraqis stepping forward to work in the ministries and work in the various security forces, and to play a part in the rebuilding of their country continues to increase despite the attacks. So my takeaway from that is that the Iraqi people understand the stakes as well, and they are not going to be turned away from this effort.
Q: If I could, how would you characterize the stake that those groups that you cited, the former regime elements and foreign fighters, what is the stake they have in disrupting Iraq?
Senor: We have said all along that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. And we believe there is no greater threat to terrorism as a tool, as an institution, as an ideology, than building a vibrant democracy in the heart of this part of the world.
Q: Evan Osnos from the Chicago Tribune. How much has the coalition given out, in rough terms, not down to the dollar, but do you know, in rough terms, how much has the coalition given out in terms of compensation to victims?
Kimmitt: I think the last time we checked that number it was somewhere on the order of about 13,000 claims, and a little over -- somewhere between $2 million and $2.5 million, which translates to about 4 to 5 billion Iraqi dinars.
Senor: Yes, ma'am?
Q: (In Arabic.)
Kimmitt: To answer your question, we are about one-third of the way complete with the transfer of soldiers. We started in November. We'll finish in about May. We started -- today, for example, we did the almost complete -- we have almost completed the transfer of outbound 101st Airborne soldiers and the inbound soldiers from the 2nd Brigade -- the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division. We have already completed down in multinational division southeast and multinational division central-south. We still have to do the Baghdad region, the west region and the north-central region.
And we think that the distribution of the soldiers will be approximately the same footprint that we had with the soldiers that are departing. There will be some differences in terms of the type of equipment and, in certain areas, some numbers, but in general, the departing soldiers, what they've left behind is what the arriving soldiers will fall into and fall on top of.
Senor: As for the U.S. embassy here, the transition to an embassy is really at an embryonic stage at this point. There are individuals, I understand, from the United States State Department who are looking at this issue, but that's really it. They're just evaluating the situation, conducting some assessments. No decisions have been made, certainly.
Q: Abdel Rahim -- (Inaudible.) -- from the BBC. A U.S. military source said that some fighting groups are using force as a means to get a larger share in the next government, next Iraqi government. Could you please give us some details about this?
And second question is about the salaries of coalition forces. Are there any disparities between different nationalities or -- between different nationalities, especially that there are some reports from South Korea that 18,000 soldiers applied for the job here in this country, while (you?) just offered 3,600 jobs.
Kimmitt: Well, on the first question, about political discourse, that is healthy. We know that there are a number of political groups that are vying for power, that are looking for the opportunity to be the guide for the democratic, sovereign and united Iraq. And we encourage political discourse as a very healthy aspect of the process towards democratization and sovereignty. This is discourse that they have not enjoyed for 35 years, and the coalition invites it and applauds it. On the other hand, when that discourse goes beyond being healthy and it starts to become -- moves towards violence, that goes beyond the pale and goes beyond the limits of what the coalition will accept.
With regards to the salary disparities, salaries are determined on a national basis. Each of the countries set their own salary scales for their militaries. I can tell you what we make as American soldiers. I have an idea of what some of the other countries make. But if you are particularly interested in what the Korean soldiers make in their salaries, I'd recommend you ask a Korean official for that.
Q: About the Americans?
Kimmitt: Excuse me?
Q: About the American soldiers -- I mean, salaries and incentives, if you like, given to American soldiers coming to this country.
Kimmitt: We typically will allow certain salary offsets and tax deductions when you're deployed abroad into a hostile fire zone -- some tax exemptions; you get a family separation allowance. I certainly would not suggest that we're doing it for the money -- anything but. But there is a difference in what we are paid while serving abroad -- vice -- what we make while we're serving in the United States.
Senor: And to your first point about the activities or the political activities of new political parties and new groups of Iraqis that are active in the political process for the first time. As General Kimmitt said, this is an incredibly healthy sign. I mean, for the first time Iraqi leaders from the north can engage in a dialogue with Baghdad about what federalism means in Iraq without having to worry about being on the receiving end of chemical attacks. And Iraqi leaders in the south can make their voices heard on the role of direct elections in any political process without having to worry about winding up in mass graves.
This is what the new Iraq is about. It is about all Iraqis being able to participate in the political process and be able to speak out and have freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly, and freedom to express themselves in the press without being under threat or fear of a totalitarian regime. Nonviolent political activity is something that is encouraged and welcomed in the environment in which we are operating.
We have time for one more. Someone who hasn't asked a question.
Q: (In Arabic.)
Senor: Yes, we are familiar with it. It is something that the Governing Council has been in discussions with the coalition about. It is my understanding that they're making a formal press conference on this issue on Saturday. But I would double-check with Hamid over at the Governing Council to find out the exact date. But last I heard Mowaffak Rubaie was holding a press conference on Saturday on the issue with a formal announcement.
Based on what we hear, we think this is a very good thing. Setting up the institutions to combat corruption in Iraqi government -- going forward will be an incredible legacy of the Governing Council. And all the actual details in terms of how it will be implemented, I would refer you to the Governing Council. All right?
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