(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 couple of quick announcements, after which General Kimmitt has a brief opening statement, and then we'll be happy to take your questions.
Earlier today Ambassador Bremer met with a Turkish business delegation, led by the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey. The delegation, which also includes the Turkish ambassador to Iraq, are in Baghdad for the day to look at the foreign investment climate and ways in which Turkey can further contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq. Turkey has already pledged $50 million at the Madrid donors' conference, placing it among the top 15 contributors.
Ambassador Bremer and the Turkish delegation discussed the opening of a second border crossing between Iraq and Turkey, improvements in transportation between the two countries, and how Turkish private businesses could invest here. Ambassador Bremer thanked the Turkish ambassador for Turkey's support in the war against terror and in the Iraq reconstruction effort.
This Saturday, here at the Baghdad Convention Center, the brave members of the Iraqi police, fire and civil defense explosive ordnance disposal teams will be recognized for the first time ever, at a pinning ceremony. The Ministry of Interior and coalition representatives will present the EOD technicians with pins for their service of three or more years. The ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. and is open to press.
Finally, tomorrow the -- there will be a town hall meeting in Tikrit to discuss the November 15th agreement. It will be addressing the various issues in the implementation of the November 15th agreement, the various issues agreed upon between the Governing Council and the coalition. The town hall meeting will take place at 9:30 a.m. That's tomorrow, Tuesday, February 10th. If you want actual details of location, Jared or Susan will be available. I know there's a backgrounder after this press conference. One of them will be there. One or both of them will be there and can provide you details. The town hall meeting will be held in Arabic. This is a follow-up to the town hall meetings that have been held in Baghdad and Mosul and Baqubah and elsewhere around the country dealing with the political process.
Kimmitt: Thank you.
Good afternoon. The area of operations remains relatively stable. Over the past week there have been an average of 22 engagements daily against coalition military -- just under three attacks daily against Iraqi security forces and just under one attack daily against Iraqi civilians. In the past 24 hours the coalition conducted 1,520 patrols, 16 offensive operations, 18 raids and detained 78 anti-coalition suspects.
In the northern zone of operations, forces conducted 136 patrols and detained two anti-coalition suspects. Today at 12:50 hours we had a report that two U.S. soldiers were killed in action and six wounded, vicinity Sinjar, while conducting ordnance disposal operations. Two targets, Mufook Sadiq (ph) and Salim Kudar Mutab (ph), turned themselves in to coalition authorities last night. Sadiq is a suspected Black Eagle movement member, a terrorist group in the northern area, and Mutab (ph) is a suspected bomb maker.
In the north-central zone of operations, security forces conducted 457 patrols, nine raids and captured 29 anti-coalition suspects. In Baghdad, forces conducted 484 patrols, 40 escort missions and captured 32 anti-coalition suspects.
In the western zone of operations, forces conducted 260 patrols, including 15 independent Iraqi Civil Defense Corps operations, and captured four anti-coalition suspects. Additionally, 109 persons, 18 cars and 11 buses crossed back into Iraq at Arar crossing point yesterday, returning from the hajj. To date, 226 pilgrims have returned to Iraq through Arar.
In the central-south zone of operations, security forces conducted 102 patrols, established 47 checkpoints and escorted 33 convoys.
In the south-eastern zone of operations, hajj activities have also begun. Iraqi border police are escorting coaches of pilgrims from the border and the Red Crescent has reestablished the transit camp. Last night, approximately 300 pilgrims spent the night at a school in Safwan.
Senor: We'll be happy to take your questions.
Q: Hi, on the soldiers that were killed -- were they attacked or is it because they were -- a bomb went off they were trying to dispose of today?
Kimmitt: It's our understanding that the accident happened as part of explosive ordnance disposal, not as a part of a hostile attack.
Senor: Yes, sir?
Q: Alan Fryer from Canadian Television. General, I'd like to ask you about the report in The New York Times today about this letter that they reported on, purportedly from a high-level al Qaeda person, which essentially lays out a strategy for sparking civil war in this country by targeting Shi'a. How credible is it and how seriously do you take it?
Kimmitt: We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously -- and we take the threat seriously as well.
Q: (Off mike.)
Kimmitt: Sorry? Use the microphone.
Q: I just wondered if you might elaborate a little bit. And what then might you be able to do about it or how can you respond?
Kimmitt: Well, I think there's a lot that the coalition and the Iraqi people can do about this. First of all, it is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society. And first of all, the Iraqi people have demonstrated time after time that they are unwilling to participate in any of these activities by and large. They are looking forward to a free, united and sovereign Iraq. The coalition has substantial capability, along with the Iraqi security forces, to use this intelligence and any other follow-up intelligence to kill or capture those that would try to use this capability to create anything but a safe and secure environment here in Iraq.
Senor: Yeah. I would just add that what is perhaps most striking about that memo is the extent to which it clearly outlines that the terrorists understand the stakes in Iraq; that is, they understand that failure to defeat us in Iraq will be a major setback for their overall terror war. It also outlines what is working.
The memo states that the buildup of Iraqi security forces is putting increasing pressure on the terrorists. This is a trend that we've been seeing for some time. Now that we have well over 150,000 Iraqis in security forces in Iraq, more Iraqis in Iraq today protecting their own country than there are Americans protecting Iraq, is making it more and more difficult for the terrorists to operate. It shows that the terrorists are focused on the June 30th handover of sovereignty; that they recognize that as we politically empower the Iraqi people, the terrorists will be isolated and it will be harder and harder for them to operate.
As General Kimmitt has said, their strategy is sectarian warfare in an effort to provoke bloodshed and tear this country apart. Knowing what is working by their own admission -- ramping up of American security forces, demonstrating American resolve -- is a very good indication of what we need to continue to be doing as we move forward to handing over sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
Q [Through interpreter.] Shirokush Habb (ph) from Eyan Enn (ph). Is it true that the coalition forces have detained or tried to detain a Pakistanian (sic) person who has been involved in or accused of being related to al Qaeda? So is it true? Is there any proof? Or what's your opinion about that?
Kimmitt: We have no specific report that coalition forces had detained a person holding a Pakistani passport of late.
Q: Hi. I was wondering, referring again to that New York Times report, whether you've seen any attacks of this nature, sectarian-type attacks, that would -- you might blame on al Qaeda, you might have some sort of evidence that would point to al Qaeda. Things that stick in my mind are the two attacks in Baqubah, the Shi'ite mosques that were -- one was attacked. There was a car bomb that failed to go off outside second one. There were a few others. There was something up in Samarra the other day, the Kurdish attacks, et cetera. I'm wondering if any of those you can blame on al Qaeda or might be somehow linked to this memo.
Kimmitt: Well, the memo itself says -- the author of the memo himself says that he accomplished 25 operations since he's been here in Iraq.
It is clear that the type of techniques that we have seen in certain of these attacks, such as what we've seen at the north gate, at the Assassin's Gate, perhaps in Erbil, perhaps down -- the assassination of Hakim, perhaps the attack on the U.N. building -- all of these have the fingerprints, as we have said, month after month, and hallmarks of al Qaeda, fingerprints of al Qaeda and other foreign fighters. So we can't rule out that the 25 operations claimed inside that document are untrue. And in fact that just gives us more and more evidence of these -- that al Qaeda is in fact conducting operations, or people who would like to work with al Qaeda are operating inside this country.
Senor: Yes, sir? In the back there.
Q: Kevin Flower with CNN. So back to this letter. Do you think that it is -- is it your belief that Zarqawi is the author of this letter? And who is the letter to? Was it written to al Qaeda operatives outside the country? And finally, can we see the letter? Can we -- can you make portions of it available to us?
Kimmitt: Yeah, we are persuaded that Zarqawi was the author of this letter. It is our understanding that this letter was being taken by a courier outside this country for delivery abroad. And it is our intent and our -- certainly our hope that -- in the near future that this letter can be declassified.
Let me just give you sort of a picture of the 17 pages of it on the screen here, not very -- it's not very clear to you. But we are hoping in the near future to be able to release this, because this document does in fact demonstrate what we have been assessing all along, and the impact of this letter on our operations and as we take operations forward is very, very dramatic.
Senor: It's an important reminder -- just to add, it's an important reminder of the -- of why it is so critical that we forge ahead with our plan here to beef up Iraqi security forces, which are clearly doing an effective job in combating the terrorists and are making the terrorists feel tremendous pressure and continuing to move over with the hand-over of political authority to the Iraqi people.
Q [Through interpreter.] Maria Mellapia (ph) from Sawa Radio. There are so many religious sources saying that Mr. Ali Sistani has been transferred into one of the coalition force's sites to keep him safe. He has been receiving so many threatening letters. So is it true that you have done such an action?
Kimmitt: We understand that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is currently in a safe location. We do not believe he is being held by coalition forces. He is certainly not being held by coalition forces, but he is being protected by his own people.
Senor: Yes, sir?
Q [Through interpreter.]: (Name inaudible.) -- from Iraqiya Television. Is there anything in the document that you have found – what proves the activities of the -- the purpose behind these threatenings or these affinity groups is to make discrimination between the Sunna and Shi'a?
Senor: I didn't understand your point. The affinity groups?
Q [Through interpreter.]: In fact, The Washington Post has published that you have received a document from al Qaeda that -- (questioner continuing in Arabic).
Interpreter: Okay. So what he means, that this document that you have put your hand over and you've received, it contains something related to Shi'a and Sunna. Does the Qaeda themselves trying to make problems between Shia'a and Sunna? Does it contain anything like that?
Senor: The document which was reported in The New York Times today, the memo that the article is referring to, talks about a strategy of provoking violence targeted at the Shi'a and the Shi'a leaders in the hope that it will result in reprisals against other ethnic groups within this country, all focused on provoking ethnic sectarian warfare in this country in the hope of tearing this country apart. And it also states that the biggest bulwark against the success of that strategy will be the continued standing up of Iraqi security forces, continued American resolve, and the hand-over of sovereignty to an effective Iraqi government. All three of those we are in the process of doing right now. We are on path to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30th.
It is clear that the author of that memo is focused on the June 30th deadline. He talks about taking actions and setting up operations approximately four months before the June 30th handover. That's the amount of time that this foreign terrorist organization will need to get their, quote unquote, "job" done. And so that's why it is especially critical that we not blink; that we continue to move forward on the handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people because it will do more to isolate the terrorists than just about anything else.
Kimmitt: What is clear to us is that while this author takes great pride in the fact that he has carried out small, individual, spectacular types of attacks, that they haven't had the effect that he wanted, which is to destroy coalition resolve, prevent the stand up of an effective Iraqi security apparatus, and prevent the uniting of Iraq, north, south and center. He is disappointed. The sensing we have been given by both the English reading of it and those who read it in its original language is, in many ways, this guy is disappointed in his lack of success.
And that continues -- that does not cause us to feel that we should slow down our activities. It doesn't give us any great satisfaction. It doesn't tell us that there are going to be less and less attacks; in fact, it may inspire more and more spectacular attacks. But what it does show is that the concerted effort and the resolve shown by the people of Iraq, the security forces of Iraq and the coalition are the greatest power that he is afraid of, and that's why he is trying to accelerate and inspire sectarian violence within this country. It's almost a sign of desperation.
Senor: Yes, sir?
Q: Yes, Wade Majenos (ph), Fox News. Two things. Number one, who have you shared this letter with internally -- prominent Shi'as, other members of the Iraqi assembly? And secondly, it seems -- we had a news conference here earlier today about the handover from 1st Army to Cav, moving American troops out of Baghdad per se and into eight different bases. If this letter suggests that what you're doing is working, why would you change with a -- maybe a less aggressive posture with some of the troops and soldiers, but also moving them out of the city?
Kimmitt: Well, on the second question, let me say it is not a less aggressive posture. The net effect is the same aggressive posture. The only difference is what you're going to be seeing more of is more Iraqi uniforms and fewer coalition uniforms. We are pulling out of the city -- the coalition is pulling out of the city because we have faith and confidence that the Iraqi security forces can pick up the responsibility. And we understand that by having the coalition on the outside, they serve much like a fire station in case a security situation might have some problems at certain points in time. But the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces is what gives us the confidence that the security situation can be maintained, it's just with Iraqi security forces rather than the coalition forces.
Senor: On the first question, we are communicating this document to various leaders within Iraq. Without going into details in terms of how that's going to manifest itself, for obvious operational security reasons, I can tell you that the reaction from individuals with whom it has been shared is one of confirmation that this is, in fact, consistent with what they have been seeing; efforts by foreign terrorists to ignite a sectarian war in this country and inflict bloodshed on this country by tearing it apart and pitting one ethnic group against another.
Kimmitt: And what is very helpful in all this is that it confirms that the intelligence that we have been getting, both from our own sources, coalition sources, but those sources that we have within the Iraqi security services, as well as the Iraqi people coming forward to us, have turned out to be credible.
One thing came out as well in this letter, that the author is concerned about Iraqi people coming together, providing the coalition the information. And he has great reason to be concerned because the amount of intelligence that we're getting from the average Iraqi on the street is getting greater and greater every day as they continue to renounce any kind of terrorist presence inside this country.
Senor: And just to add to that, the memo also makes clear that the author is concerned about participation, broadly speaking, in Iraqi policy development and in Iraqi security in a professional sense, professional Iraqi security forces by all ethnic groups; that in fact, participation of Iraqis in the security forces in this country isn't defined by one or two individual ethnic groups, that in fact you have individuals from all ethnic groups, from all regions of the country, serving in unified security forces, representing and enforcing laws and protecting a unified Iraq.
Q: (In Arabic.)
Interpreter: Okay, sir, I could get to the first question because he has thrown three questions at one time. So the first question is that he said is it true that after giving the -- handing over the sovereignty to the Iraqi people there will be some kind of agreement between the Iraqi authority and the coalition forces to give the authority to the British forces and the troops to have -- to be freely disseminated in the area they would like to be in? So is it true that this will happen to the British troops, and are you approving that agreement between you and the people from the new authority? The second question is that, can you --
Senor: All right, let's do one question at a time.
We, as laid out in the November 15th political agreement, will be working with the Iraqi Governing Council to address the role that U.S. security forces will play in Iraq going forward. There are a number of issues that we will need to address, not the least of which is what sort of legal protections will be in place for American service men and women, and a number of other matters.
As it relates to other countries security forces here, those are discussions that we will have and that the other coalition governments will likely have with us and with the Iraqi Governing Council. That will all play out in the months ahead as outlined in the November 15th agreement.
Yes, in the back.
Q: I am Lee of NBC-TV South Korea. General, from when the American soldiers and the Korean soldiers meet each other in Kirkuk? And what's your evaluation on security condition in Kirkuk?
Kimmitt: I didn't understand your first question.
Q: Yes, from when the American soldiers and the South Korean soldiers meet each other in Kirkuk?
Kimmitt: Well, your forces are coming into Kuwait now. They're starting to get settled in Kuwait. It will be some time before they actually come forward into the country. And there are still some arrangements that have to be discussed between your forces and our forces. However, we sincerely look forward to the contribution from the Republic of Korea and we eagerly anticipate their arrival. And we certainly understand that your forces are going to make a significant contribution on the ground here.
Senor: Someone who hasn't asked a question. Yes, ma'am? Go ahead.
Q [Through interpreter.]: She is the reporter from Mesopotamia Mahjin Saeet (ph). My questions -- regarding the issue of handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis, as we know, there are resources stating that it might be delayed until 2005. Is that true?
My second question, regarding the U.N. team that arrived in Baghdad, they are going to stay for 10 days. Do you think that this period is sufficient enough for making their evaluation?
Senor: On your first question, the November 15th agreement is very explicit: sovereignty will be handed over to the Iraqi people on July 1. June 30th will culminate the effort by which we develop a transitional national assembly; that will be done by June 1. And then during the month of June that transitional national assembly will select an executive branch, if you will, that will assume power on July 1. As I said, that's explicit in the November 15th agreement.
What happens in 2005 is a constitutional convention for the permanent constitution of Iraq and then elections at the end of 2005 for the next, what we call the permanent government of Iraq, rather than the transitional government, that will take office this summer. That will be at the end of 2005 and they will begin to take power in 2006. On the U.N. team, any questions regarding amount of time they're here, whether or not sufficient time, are all questions that they will have to answer. So I recommend that you get in touch with the U.N. team. They do have a press contact here. Someone in our press center can provide you with that information.
Yes? In the back.
Q: Do you believe the foreign fighters came into Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime or before that?
Kimmitt: All we know is that we have foreign fighters in this country right now. The coalition is determined to develop intelligence to find them and bring them to justice.
Senor: I would just add that there is obviously -- the State Department has designated the Iraqi regime as a state sponsor of terrorism going back some couple decades, and there have been charges of visibility in this country of foreign fighters before our arrival. But, to General Kimmitt's point, the focus is on the here and now, and certainly the memo that was discovered is quite enlightening in that regard.
We have time for one more question. Yes, sir?
Q: Gregor Mayer from German Press Agency. Not having seen this report in The New York Times, can you disclose under what circumstances this memo came into the public -- in the public space?
Kimmitt: Sure. We picked this memo up from the courier as part of ongoing military and security operations inside this country.
Senor: All right. Thanks, everybody.
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