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Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

Presenters: Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director for Coalition Operations and Dan Senor, Senior Adviser, CPA
March 18, 2004 9:20 AM EDT
Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

            SENOR:  I have a statement to read that is being issued by Ambassador Bremer, after which General Kimmitt has a statement, both in response to the recent attacks, and then we'll be happy to take your questions.

 

            Immediately following our briefing, General Dempsey, as you know, will be holding a press briefing as well that will address in greater detail the incidents of last evening.

 

            I'll read now Ambassador Bremer's statement.

 

            "On behalf of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the United States of America, I extend condolences to the injured and to the families of those murdered in the Karrada district last night and Basra earlier today.  Civilized people everywhere share your sorrow.

 

            "This latest outrage is piled atop other terrorist attacks against unarmed innocent civilians all over Iraq, as well as the terrorist bombings in Madrid last week.  From Nairobi, to New York, to Bali, to Moscow, to Karbala and Irbil, earlier bombings have circled the globe.  Those who deny that terrorists are operating around the globe and are willing to attack any target are denying reality.

 

            "Here in Iraq, there is little doubt that terrorists are doing everything within their power to stop Iraq's progress toward democracy.  Their increasing tendency to attack any available target that offers the chance of mass casualties tells us that literally nothing is sacred to them.  They are willing to kill religious pilgrims, innocent Iraqis living next to a lightly protected hotel, or anyone else.

 

            "Terrorists in Iraq seek to break the will of the Iraqi people.  They believe that if they spill enough Iraqi blood, they can halt Iraq's progress to democracy.  They are wrong.  I meet Iraqis every day.  I have no doubt that the people of Iraq will not be cowed by these terrorists.  The Iraqi people have waited too long for democracy.  After suffering oppression, unnecessary wars, and hundreds of thousands murdered by Saddam's regime, they are not going to permit a small band of terrorist evildoers to stand between them and democracy.

 

            "We of the coalition will stand with the people of Iraq against terrorism."

 

            General Kimmitt.

 

            KIMMITT:  Thank you.

 

            Let me also add the condolences of the coalition military forces to those of Ambassador Bremer.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families affected by this senseless violence.

 

            As to the facts as we know them, yesterday at 8:09 p.m. a car bomb detonated in the Karrada district of Baghdad in the vicinity of the Mount Lebanon Hotel.  Iraqi police, fire, and medical units responded to the incident along with support provided by coalition forces.  An unknown suicide bomber triggered the device inside the vehicle and died in the explosion.

 

            The bomb was estimated to consist of approximately 1,000 pounds of explosives and artillery shells and caused structural damage to the Mount Lebanon Hotel and a number of buildings nearby.  As of 16:00 the Iraqi police service and the Iraqi Ministry of Health reports seven civilians killed and 35 civilians wounded.  No coalition personnel were injured, no group has claimed responsibility, and no persons have been detained at this point in connection with this incident.

 

            Importantly, the coalition remains resolute in our mission to hunt down extremists who attack innocent civilians and stand in the way of a free, democratic, and sovereign Iraq.  The terrorists will fail.

 

            SENOR:  We're happy to take your questions.  Yes, go ahead.

 

            Q:  Hi, what can you tell us about what happened in Basra today?  And also, any details on the fighting in Fallujah?

 

            KIMMITT:  Two incidents.  The first incident we've got some sketchy reports on what came in from Basra.  It is our understanding that there was either an improvised explosive devise or a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, a car bomb or another bomb, which exploded outside of the hotel in Basra.  The casualty reports right now are quite sketchy; we believe we only have one or two persons that were injured or killed in that.  There is a large demonstration going on at that site.  The reports we have is that the demonstration is not focused against any particular group such as the coalition, but just expressing their anger.  We do have coalition forces in overwatch.  The area has been cordoned off.  There are personnel standing by to try to bring security to the area and control to the area.  But right now everything seems to be under control.  And even though we don't have the exact casualty count right now, we expect those numbers to be quite low.

 

            We also had an incident today in Fallujah where we had a military force that was, as I understand, working in one of the provincial  buildings, had moved some people for a meeting with some of the local authorities.  As we typically do, there was a number of troops that were on rooftops nearby providing overwatch and security -- (audio break).

 

            Q:  (In progress following 1 minute audio break) -- used by American company?

 

            KIMMITT:  We have no indication that this was being used by an American company.

 

            Q:  How do you know it's a suicide bomber?  How do you go from 27 to 17 to seven dead?  And is there anything on whether the Jabal Lebanon Hotel was actually the target?

 

            KIMMITT:  How do we go from 27 to smaller numbers?  Initial reports, we have found, have a tendency to be incorrect.  The longer you wait after an incident, the more precise you can get on your numbers.

 

            How do we know it was a suicide bomber?  Very simply, remnants of the suicide bomber's person were found connected to pieces of the vehicle all around the area.

 

            Was the hotel the target?  We're not certain if the hotel was the target.  Quite simply, the hole was in the middle of the street.  At this point it is not definitive whether the hotel was the target, because it is unclear why the bomber would not have driven the car closer to the hotel and exploded the bomb right next to the hotel for more damage.  But given that it's in the middle of the street, there is a chance and there's a likelihood that this might not have been the target, that the vehicle may have prematurely detonated or may have been hit by another vehicle, rear-ended, causing the detonation.

 

            We have an investigation ongoing.  We're simply unsure of either the motivation or the target of this attack, and that's why we're not being more definitive at this time.

 

            Q:  Just a quick follow-up.  Judging from the hole in the street, you couldn't have gotten much closer to that hotel.  The hotel was on the street.

 

            KIMMITT:  No, you could have gotten much closer to the hotel.  You could have driven the car right into the side of the hotel.

 

            SENOR:  Next question.

 

            Q:  …from The Times.  I understand a British man was killed in the explosion, and the Foreign Office has released his name, but nobody seems to know what he was doing here.  Do you have any information on what he was doing here?

 

            KIMMITT:  No.  We have been asked to refer all questions regarding foreign casualties to the appropriate embassies.

 

            SENOR:  Yes, go ahead.

 

            Q:  Hi.  There are a number of people, local Iraqis, who believe that this was a missile.  And I'm wondering what you are doing about preserving and presenting evidence to show people that this was actually a car bomb.

 

            KIMMITT:  There are pieces of the car bomb still in the street.  We have recovered portions of the engine block.  We have recovered portions of the transmission.  And I know that there are some people that would like to believe it was a rocket or it was missile.  If you go to that location and see how narrow the street is, it would be very unlikely that you'd have that kind of precision to be able to hit that accurately into the middle of the street.

 

            SENOR:  And I would just add, obviously it's part of our broader efforts to communicate with the Iraqis on these sorts of issues and clarify any misunderstandings, which it sounds like that is.

 

            Earlier today Ambassador Bremer taped his weekly information news program with a group of Iraqi journalists that airs this evening, I think at 9:00 p.m.  And in the program he was getting questions on some of the things that we are doing to address the issue of terrorism and he talked about the specifics of the incident, and I think is going to clarify or at least try to clarify some of that confusion.

 

            Yes, go ahead.

 

            Q:  Earlier today some members of the Governing Council seemed to indicate or said that they were looking at Zarqawi or that you all were looking at Zarqawi, or that you all were looking at Zarqawi as the chief suspect.  Can you address that?

 

            KIMMITT:  Yeah.  It's likely that this was of the same ilk, of the same methods, of the same groups that we've seen up to this point in other places such as in Iskandariyah, Khalidiyah, Karbala, Najaf.  If you take a look at the fact that a suicide bomber was used, clearly the intent was not for a military purpose but for a spectacular purpose, attempt to kill as many civilians as possible.  And if you look at the symbology of trying to attack inside the center of a city rather than against a military target, those are some of the fingerprints, those are some of the techniques that we have come to associate with terrorist bombings, whether it was Zarqawi's group, Ansar al-Islam, al Qaeda.  We don't have definitive proof of that yet except for the style and the techniques used, but I'm sure as days and weeks go forward and the investigation moves forward we'll have more clarity on which group was specifically involved.

 

            SENOR:  I would just add that also, if you look at the timing of the attack, it certainly fits with the sort of strategy that Zarqawi talks about.  It's just a matter of days following the signing of the interim constitution by the Iraqi Governing Council, which is an enormous step forward in the path to a sovereign, democratic Iraq which Zarqawi, in his blueprint for terror, talks about being the greatest obstacle to the terrorists here.

 

            Just yesterday, actually, the Governing Council reached agreement, according to their own statements, on how they intend to communicate with the United Nations in inviting them back here and talking about their role.  Again, the Governing Council reached this through compromise, and the United Nations' role obviously will be in the area of establishing direct elections, working on the formation of an interim government.

 

            So as you move closer and closer to June 30th and you have all these steps going forward to establish the exact sort of self- governing Iraqi democracy about which Zarqawi and his ilk -- as General Kimmitt said, if it's not Zarqawi, it's people with the same strategy of Zarqawi, which are people who are terrified of the success of an effective, self-governing Iraqi democracy here, and so the timing is certainly of note.

 

            Yes, go ahead.

 

            Q:  Two questions.  One -- just a quick, minor one -- can you just tell us what you know about the incident with the journalists, Iraqi journalists today in Baqubah?  And number two, obviously we're coming up -- there's been a step up in activity leading into the anniversary tomorrow of the launch of the U.S. invasion.  What if any sort of additional precautions are you taking?  And what sort of does your intelligence tell you about the threats going into this anniversary period?

 

            KIMMITT:  Yeah, on the first question, about the IMN employees, we've got very sketchy reports, since there are no coalition forces present.  We have some information from the government of Diyala that would indicate that four civilian employees may have been ambushed today in a minibus as they were driving to Diyala TV station.  But that's very, very preliminary information, and I think we're going to need a little more time before we find out specifically what happened on the ground.

 

            On your second question, about -- as we get closer to different holidays, festivals, significant days, all the commanders typically review their force protection measures and their force protection levels, and they do take whatever measures they deem necessary.

 

            For example, General Dempsey, I'm sure, will talk about that. And I'd also ask you to ask General Dempsey about that in the follow-on presentation, where he could talk about that in some level of detail.

 

            KIMMITT:  Okay.

 

            SENOR:  Go ahead.

 

            Q:  (Through interpreter.)  Mr. Dan Senor, can you explain the agreement that has been between the Governing Council and the American government?  And what do you mean by a compromise?

 

            SENOR:  I'm sorry.  Can you -- what's the first part of the question?  I got tuned in late here.

 

            STAFF:  (Off mike.)

 

            Q:  (Through interpreter.)  You said that the Governing Council has reached an agreement about its relations with the United States, and you said that this --

 

            SENOR:  Yeah, I'm just responding to what Dr. Chalabi said yesterday.  He held a press conference yesterday afternoon, in which he talked about -- there had been discussion, I guess, within the Governing Council about inviting the United Nations back here to help with the formation of an interim government for the post-June 30th interim phase and then also for recommendation on preparations for direct elections.

 

            Then there was discussion -- it is my understanding there was discussion within the Governing Council about the degree to which U.N. involvement should be considered, and they reached agreement on what that degree would be, how much involvement they would want the U.N. to be.  And they were actually, he said yesterday, drafting a letter to the United Nations which would include transmittal -- formal transmittal of the transitional administrative law, the interim constitution, as well as a formal invitation to the United Nations to help play an advisory role going forward.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q:  (Through interpreter.)  What do you expect that Zarqawi will gain from all these attacks against civilians?  How will he hinder their government through these acts?  Can't you put an end to this bloody acts against the Iraqi people?

 

            SENOR:  What I think his strategy is essentially to link the occupation with the havoc that he is intending to wreak here in Iraq.  So in the minds of Iraqis, if he can provoke ethnic bloodshed, if he can provoke civil war, if he can pit the Shi'a against the Sunni and the Sunnis against the Kurds, and create a result in which a lot of Iraqis will die, and all this happens during the occupational period, somehow Iraqis will revolt against the path that they are currently working with the coalition on pursuing, which is a path towards a sovereign, democratic Iraq.

 

            He says in the letter that once the coalition hands over political sovereignty and the Iraqis are on a path towards developing a sovereign, democratic government, the terrorists will lose their pretext; that's his word not mine.  They will lose their excuse for operating here in Iraq.  So my view is whether or not he was involved in this attack, the attacks that he has been involved in and whoever was behind this attack, their goal was to create this sense of instability, foster and provoke a sense of frustration among Iraqis so that they revolt against the path on which they're making so much progress right now.

 

            KIMMITT:  And you asked a very interesting question about what is his vision, what is his purpose.  And that's the hardest thing to understand and the hardest thing to explain, because all that the terrorists offer -- the type of terrorists such as Zarqawi and al Qaeda -- is 10 centuries old.  They offer a return to a country that would look much like Afghanistan did after the Taliban took over there; one where individual rights are not respected, one where democracy is not respected, one that is kept in very, very tight control by those that are not elected by the people.  And that is probably the most foreboding aspect of what the terrorists bring.  It is not just the death and destruction that they bring, but it's their vision of the future that they're trying to impose on your country. And that's why we're absolutely convinced that this mission is so critically important and why we are also so convinced that the terrorists will fail.

 

            Q:  As you guys probably well know, after almost every bombing, including last night, there are people in the crowd who will say:  "It was a missile.  I saw American helicopters.  It was an American missile."  I mean, spreading stories like that.  I'd like to know, first off, how you deal with that as a communications problem, because there seem to be an awful lot of people who end up believing these theories, they get widely spread around.  And secondly, in this particular instance, I wonder if you could explain just a little more of the basic science.  How do you know that the pieces of the car that you discovered were the ones that contained the explosives?

 

            KIMMITT:  On the first issue about trying to quell rumors, we all know how difficult that is and our only solution to that is -- first of all, as we so often see at times like this, there is a tremendous amount of grief and anger that outpours, and that grief and anger often is pouring out against the coalition.  But we understand that that is temporary, that's transitory, and the most important thing to happen is to get the soldiers at the right time back out on the streets, side by side with their coalition partners; for the people to understand when the dust settles that the coalition is here for their security, it is here for their safety, and it is here to advance the sovereignty of this nation.

 

            As for the science, I would have to defer to a forensics expert, but it would be hard to imagine that, as we saw today, that a vehicle somewhere near an explosion of this magnitude would have a cracked engine block, an engine that was completely exploded, parts of transmissions all around and the number of pieces that this vehicle had exploded into.  All the forensics experts would suggest that the vehicle parts that were found were probably at the loci of the explosion.  But I'd leave that judgment to the forensics experts and we can be proven wrong, but in this case the evidence suggests otherwise.

 

            Q:  And those parts were flung in every direction from the center of the explosion?  It wasn't like the car was blown to one side?

 

            KIMMITT:  That's my understanding.

 

            Q:  Thanks.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes, sir?

 

            Q:  (Through interpreter.)  My question is to Mr. Dan.  You said yesterday that Ambassador Bremer met with members of the Governing Council and he talked with them about the role of the United Nations.  Are there any reservations in the Governing Council about the personality of Lakhdar Brahimi, who is going to come?  Some say that the coalition, they don't want the presence of the United Nations.  What's the attitude of the coalition towards this issue?  Do you want the participation of the United Nations, or do you want just their advice?

 

            SENOR:  On your first question, I would defer to the Governing Council and the individual members for those who did have concerns about, I think, Mr. Brahimi is who you are referencing.  But the Governing Council, I think, was quite clear in the statements that were coming out of there yesterday that they are prepared to send a letter and they are comfortable with Mr. Brahimi's return, and we think that's an enormously positive step forward.  He is someone who has been a world-class diplomat for decades, has been involved in many of the resolutions of major conflicts around the world over the past several decades and can make an enormous contribution here.

 

            As for the U.N., broadly speaking, following the end of major combat operations President Bush was quite clear that the U.N. had a vital role to play in the reconstruction of Iraq.  And they did play -- make important contributions in that initial phase that they were here; that culminated, sadly, in the tragic suicide attack or terrorist attack against their compound here in Baghdad, shortly after which they withdrew.  And Ambassador Bremer had said from that time forward that he regretted the U.N.'s departure. He communicated that to the U.N., specifically to the secretary- general, Kofi Annan, on several occasions; that he regretted the U.N.'s withdrawal and he hoped that they would return.

 

            And we have said all along that they have an important role here in advising the Iraqis and working with us in forming an interim government here and in getting the infrastructure in place that is necessary for credible and legitimate direct elections.  And we feel quite strongly about this, and we've communicated this to the U.N., to the Iraqi Governing Council.  We've heard it from many Iraqis that there is an important role here for the U.N.

 

            Q:  Thanks, Dan.  Mr. Zarqawi's name is mentioned almost every day here.  Aside from the letter, which may or may not be genuine, what actual evidence do you have that he is responsible for any of these attacks?

 

            KIMMITT:  There's a body of intelligence evidence that connects him and his group to a number of these attacks.

 

            SENOR:  Go ahead.

 

            Q:  Military commanders in the region say they've had a lot of success from Iraqis walking in and telling them of improvised explosive devices that have been laid overnight.  How would you characterize the success or otherwise of walk-in intelligence, voluntary intelligence like that, in regards to the big attacks that -- in Baghdad and elsewhere?

 

            KIMMITT:  We judge that by the number of IEDs, for example, as you mentioned -- the number of IEDs that are found and reported to us ahead of time.  These are civilians either talking to the Iraqi security forces or coming directly in to coalition forces, who are actually saying, “As I was driving down the road today, I saw a bag, I saw something that looked out of place.”  And frankly, any time that an Iraqi citizen comes in, provides us with information about an IED -- for example, today five were found in the last 24 hours, before they exploded -- any time that an Iraqi comes in,    provides that information, potentially saves the life of a fellow Iraqi or a coalition soldier, we consider that a success.

 

            I would also ask that question of General Dempsey, who deals with this issue every day and who will be far more eloquent than I in answering that question.

 

            SENOR:  I'll just add, before we go…One thing also that we have seen for certain is, since the capture of Saddam Hussein, we have seen an increase in the quality of intelligence we have gotten from the street, because it has opened a whole new group of Iraqis who are cooperating with us and providing intelligence.  Before Saddam was captured, we think that there was a group of Iraqis who were either hopeful that Saddam Hussein would return or fearful that he would return, and were therefore restrained in their cooperation with us. And now that he is captured and Iraqis know that he is never coming back, what we call “the hopefuls” and “the fearfuls” are now in play, and they're providing information.

 

            In addition, we are working now to better develop the counterterrorism capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.  And one of the things Ambassador Bremer is working on, along with the CJTF-7 is the formation of a committee that will help coordinate the intelligence gathering within Iraq, coordination between the coalition and within the respective ministries within the Iraqi government, and will involve bringing in international experts -- counterterrorism experts from around the world to play a role, a substantial role here in this coordination initiative.  Because the quality of intelligence is improving, and we've got to continue to capitalize on it increasingly, certainly in the months ahead.

 

            Thank you, everybody.

 

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