MR. SENOR: (In progress) -- has been the lead on the investigation. That is -- according to him, that will be on the record but off camera, a press conference today at 2 p.m. in this room.
As far as Ambassador Bremer's schedule is concerned, today he had one of his regular meetings with the Governing Council, which was about two hours; he's beginning shortly a meeting with the Iraqi Ministerial Committee for National Security, which includes the minister of Interior, the minister of Defense and other Iraqi officials; later on this afternoon he has a meeting with the Iraqi Interior minister, Nori Badran; and later in the afternoon he has one of his regular sessions with Iraqi journalists.
GEN. KIMMITT: Thank you. Good afternoon.
The coalition is conducting ongoing combat operations to take the fight to the enemy in order to restore order in Fallujah, to destroy the Mahdi Army and to continue civil-military operations throughout the rest of the area of operations. The coalition and Iraqi security forces will not tolerate violence, those that incite violence nor those that execute violence.
Since the outset of violence on Sunday, the coalition has conduced over 4,600 patrols, 58 targeted raids, and captured over 200 enemy. In the west, ongoing operations along the border have significantly impacted the enemy's ability to bring in foreign fighters and equipment.
In Fallujah, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, along with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, continues Operation Vigilant Resolve. The cordon around Fallujah, with multiple blocking positions on all motorized avenues of approach in and out of the city, has isolated the city and ensured the curtailment of all traffic in and out, with the exception of humanitarian supplies.
This cordon has allowed the initiation of stage two of Operation Vigilant Resolve, with firm positions taken within the city limits. There have been -- there has been enemy resistance, and Marines have repeatedly repelled that resistance as well as conducting raids against key targets in the heart of Fallujah city.
In Ar Ramadi, forces encountered resistance from a number of attacks, but remain in firm control of the city. Throughout the fight, members of the Iraqi police service and the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps secured key government facilities and helped control traffic in and out of the city.
In the center and southern regions of Iraq, the coalition and Iraqi security forces are conducting operations to destroy the Mahdi Army. In Baghdad, the 1st Armored Division remains on the offensive, conducting intelligence-based raids to destroy elements of the Mahdi Army attempting to intimidate the population, secure government buildings and Iraqi police stations. Despite earlier attempts to incite violence and attack key infrastructure, the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Cavalry Division units are in firm control of the city, and offensive operations continue against Mahdi Army elements inside of Sadr City. No government or police buildings are in the hands of insurgents.
In the south-central region of Iraq, continued attacks by Mahdi Army elements are met by determined coalition response, while offensive operations continue to take the fight to the Mahdi Army fighters, leaders and supporters. There were a number of key fights yesterday, as insurgents are attempting without success to gain a foothold in the major cities of the south. Despite the attempts of the Mahdi Army to win over the moderate elements in the south, the vast majority of Iraqis reject this message. The coalition and the Iraqi security forces will continue deliberate, precise and powerful offensive operations to destroy the Mahdi Army throughout Iraq, restore civil order to Fallujah and establish a secure environment throughout Iraq.
MR. SENOR: And with that, we'll be happy to take your questions. Yes.
Q James Hider from the London Times. A question for Dan first. There are reports that Saddam Hussein has been flown out of the country into Qatar. Can you confirm that and explain why?
MR. SENOR: I cannot confirm that.
Q Okay. Well, in that case, a question for the general.
GEN. KIMMITT: Yes?
Q I was down in Najaf and Kufa yesterday. The Mahdi Army was completely in control of those two towns. There were hundreds of men with RPGs, had taken police cars. They were manning police checkpoints. How are you going to go in and get those people out?
GEN. KIMMITT: Yep. Najaf is one of those cities that we do have some concern about. We do have a fairly strong coalition presence on the outskirts of the city. But we've got to recognize the time and the number of pilgrims inside of Najaf city right now. We are weighing our options, thinking very carefully about the way to restore order to Najaf. But at the same time, doing it in such a manner that does not alienate the pilgrims who are celebrating one of the most important observances of the Muslim calendar.
MR. SENOR: Yes?
Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) -- from Al- Hurriyah. Mr. Dan Senor, don't you see that the political -- the American policies have been a little bit difficult for the Iraqis to understand? The situation is escalating and it's getting worse. There are some of those who are inciting some violence and they are just making attacks against the coalition forces. And later the coalition forces responds against those attacks by blocking the area and blocking also some of the entrances that lead to the inhabitants' houses. So how are you going -- what are the measures that you are taking for the future operations and attacks in case that it would affect the life of the inhabitants of that area?
MR. SENOR: First, I will say that the operations that General Kimmitt is speaking to are targeted at a minuscule percentage of the total Iraqi population. A tiny percentage of the country is taking up arms and they are -- represent individuals and organizations that have a fundamentally different vision of the future of Iraq from our vision, and from what we believe the majority of the Iraqi people envision for the future of their country, which is a democratic Iraq; which is an Iraq in which decisions about who will govern this country are determined by the ballot box, not by the barrel of a gun. Elections determine who has authority in this country, not mob violence. Those who believe mob violence is the way to go are the individuals and organizations we are confronting today. Our message is quite clear on that.
As for the overall political process and reconstruction effort, despite the military operations that are ongoing, that General Kimmitt is speaking to, so does the reconstruction, so does the political process. There are U.N. teams in the country today working on next steps for the interim government and preparations for direct elections. Reconstruction across the country continues.
That is not to say that there aren't military operations. As I said, General Kimmitt has spoken to them and will continue to speak to them. But the political process and the reconstruction effort does continue and is dual-tracked with the military operations. They are equally important, both tracks. One is to confront the enemy in a military sense, and the political and economic efforts in which we are engaged are designed, among other things, to isolate the enemy by politically and economically empowering the Iraqi people.
GEN. KIMMITT: And you raised up a very good point in your question with regards to the notion of the civilians who are standing on the sidelines watching this and who are concerned about how this might affect them. We are horrified by the fact that the insurgents are trying to conduct their operations amongst the population that doesn't support them, to try to drag them into this conflict, to try to cause them to be innocent victims between the coalition and the people who are fighting against the coalition and fighting against a free and democratic Iraq.
We have said that as we move closer and closer to handing off governance, that there will be an increase in violence. And this is exactly the kind of violence that we were most concerned about, because this is the kind of violence that is trying to derail the process. It is trying to intimidate the population. It is trying to break the will of the population for the notion of moving forward to a free, democratic and sovereign nation. It's the type of violence that is trying to demonstrate that the coalition can't provide for the security nor that the Iraqi security forces can provide security; that the governmental institutions in this country can't provide governance. And all the people who are watching this understand this.
And it really comes down to the message of extremism versus moderation. The extremists want to split the population from their government, from their security forces and from the coalition, so that they can take this country back to an authoritarian regime, as they had for so many years, or possibly, even worse, take it back to some sort of Talibanization of this country, where anarchy and chaos rule.
And it's important for the people of this country to understand that the coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces are here to prevent that from happening. We will conduct offensive operations. We will attack to destroy the Mahdi Army. Those offensive operations will be deliberate, they will be precise, and they will be powerful, and they will succeed.
MR. SENOR: Go ahead. Right in the back. Yeah.
Q Luke --
Q (In Arabic) --
MR. SENOR: (Off mike) -- right there. Go ahead, Luke. Sorry.
Q Thanks. Luke Baker from Reuters. General Kimmitt, you used the phrase "destroy the Mahdi Army" on several occasions. Can we interpret from that that this now is your biggest concern, bigger even than the insurgency you're facing? And how are you going about sort of adapting to fighting a war on two fronts?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, first of all, we are not fighting a war on two fronts. There's only one front, and that is the country of Iraq. We are -- at this point, it would appear that -- in the Al Anbar province, working towards restoring civil order in Fallujah -- that program, that operation, is going quite well at this point, on schedule, on target.
With regards to the southern and the central portion of Iraq, as we continue to go against the Mahdi Army we're getting our foothold into this. We are now understanding more and more about the Mahdi Army -- how they operate, where they operate, against whom they operate.
So in terms of fighting two fronts, I think that is probably a misrepresentation. We've been fighting simultaneous operations in this country for quite a while, and we don't seem to -- have not encountered any problems continuing the operations up to this point.
Q Just a very quick follow. Will you take on the Badr Brigade as well? Do you intend to disarm them?
GEN. KIMMITT: It is very simple with regards to militia. The policy is well known, the policy is well understood. Militias are outlawed in this country. Those militias that take to violence, they will become a target for the Iraqi security forces and the coalition.
MR. SENOR: Yeah? In the back.
Q Thank you. (Through interpreter.) I would like to ask a question about the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr. And we know that the -- (inaudible) -- of most of the cleric -- clergymen in Iraq are against that warrant. Don't you think that by issuing that warrant of detention it's going to open a door which will be -- which can hardly fight those people -- or stand against those people?
MR. SENOR: This is not our warrant, this is a warrant issued by an Iraqi investigative judge based on evidence he has collected that connects Muqtada al-Sadr to the brutal murder of Mr. al-Khoei, a murder that involved multiple stabbings and gunshots, and a murder that took place in front of one of the holiest shrines in the world. This is just one of the crimes that the investigative judge, who will be here holding a press conference later today, believes that Muqtada al-Sadr is tied to.
So we are working with the Iraqi authorities, but the arrest warrant was issued by an Iraqi judge who will be -- the individuals to whom warrants are issued will be tried in Iraqi courts under Iraqi law. They're being held in Iraqi detention facilities.
Q Gregor Mayer from the German Press Agency, the DPA. General Kimmitt, can you tell us the number of the casualties the U.S. military, especially Marines, have received in the last two days during these operations in Ramadi and Fallujah? Do you have a picture -- just a picture about the civilian casualties? There were awful pictures this morning in Al-Jazeera. And do you know about an incident which was reported this night that insurgents have attacked the U.S. base in Ramadi with 12 Marines killed?
GEN. KIMMITT: On the third question of an attack on the Ar Ramadi base, don't know anything about that.
With regards to the casualties, I think those casualty numbers are out in the press. Once we go through the notification process for the families I think those will become part of the public record, and I would refer to DefenseLINK for those numbers at any time.
With regards to civilian causalities, it goes back to my earlier question. We run extraordinarily precise operations. Our soldiers go out of their way to avoid civilian targets, avoid even being in the presence of civilian targets when they're conducting their offensive operations. They recognize that they have a twofold mission here; not only to complete the combat operations, but also to win the trust and confidence of the Iraqi people. It is clear when we conduct those operations that we go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that these are as precise as possible.
And when we see televisions running footage -- don't know the quality of the footage, don't know the veracity of the footage -- which somehow tries to trump up the charge that we are incurring massive civilian casualties in the conduct of our operation, that just frankly doesn't square with the facts. There have been times when we have taken -- we have conducted operations, and in the process of the operation there have been unintentional casualties. When that happens we thoroughly investigate. If improper actions have been taken, we take the proper prosecutorial actions. But in the main, as a matter of policy, we run deliberately precise operations so that we make sure that our focus is on the target, and we minimize any opportunity and any chance of bringing damage onto the surrounding area.
MR. SENOR: Yes.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. SENOR: We need you to use the microphone, please.
GEN. KIMMITT: While you're doing that, and I would just finish up by saying to Mr. Mayer that I would contrast that with what would appear to be a clear policy on the part of the insurgents to try to create civilian casualties for the spectacular nature, for the shock value that that presents. And I would wish that the insurgents -- the former regime element, the terrorists -- would focus their operations as precisely as we do.
MR. SENOR: Go ahead, ma'am. You had a question? The microphone's right behind you.
Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) -- from al- Iraqiyah Television. I read a piece of news -- I read a piece of a new thing, that Muqtada al-Sadr is willing to quiet the situation and he is willing of negotiation. So, how far this information is true? And if it is true, how would be the coalition response?
GEN. KIMMITT: If Mr. al-Sadr wants to reduce the violence and calm things down, he can do that. He can turn himself in to a local Iraqi police station and he can face justice.
MR. SENOR: Yeah?
Q Tomas Etzler at CNN. I've got two questions, one for the general, one for Dan.
General, how do you think that the current unrest may affect -- you already mentioned it earlier -- may affect the religious events this weekend, when hundreds of thousands of Shi'a Muslims -- thousands of them, perhaps, from Iran -- will be gathering in Najaf and Karbala?
GEN. KIMMITT: And your second question?
Q How do you believe this current -- what may happen, how prepared are you, and how do you think this current unrest will affect those celebrations?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, the observances of Arba'in are a very, very important holiday observance in the Muslim calendar. We intend to have those go forward. Religious expression is something that this country has not seen or had for quite a long time. We have gone to extraordinary lengths in some of the cities to set up joint communication centers, working closely with the first responders, working closely with the police force to try to minimize and mitigate the risk associated with it. As I've said numerous times from this podium, I can't guarantee you that we will be 100 percent successful 100 percent of the time; but despite the ongoing insurgency in the southern region, we remain committed to providing support to minimize and mitigate the threat during Arba'in.
Q For Dan I had a question. We are now around 84 days away from the hand-over of the power to the Iraqi Governing Council. And I wonder, do you believe that the Iraqis can manage situations like this by themselves? Can they maintain law and order if -- you know, in cases like the recent uprising?
MR. SENOR: Iraqis will be -- after June 30th will be in control of their political destiny. We will be handing over political sovereignty to them. The coalition's role, Ambassador Bremer's role in the Iraqi political process will end, but American forces will still have a substantial role in Iraq, on the security front, on the reconstruction, the infrastructure reconstruction of this country, in the training of Iraqi security forces. That will continue well after June 30th.
So Iraqis will not be alone to face crises post-June 30th. And they should all understand that, understand that we are deploying close to $20 billion here that will be deployed over the next several years, rebuilding the oil infrastructure, rebuilding the oil refinement/production infrastructure, rebuilding electrical infrastructure, continuing to work on hospitals and schools; substantial funding, over $3 billion, dedicated to the training and equipping of Iraqi security services. The largest U.S. embassy in the world will be here. Largest -- probably the largest foreign mission of any country in the world will be right here in Iraq. And as General Kimmitt has spoken to, there will be a substantial U.S. troop presence post-June 30th as well. So Iraqis will not be alone in facing crises.
There will be an Iraqi political leadership that will be ultimately, come January -- at least come January 2005, chosen directly by the Iraqi people. So the Iraqis will be in control of their political future, but we will still continue to be here, to help -- Nadjaf (sp), go ahead.
Q (Through interpreter.) I have two questions, one for Mr. Senor. Do you expect that you are facing a war in Iraq for a long period?
And Mr. Kimmitt, since you have begun the urban war, do you think that there are new cities in Iraq that will be seized?
MR. SENOR: What was -- the first question is, do we expect there to be a war for some time?
Q (Through interpreter.) Do you expect to have a long war?
MR. SENOR: Yeah. Sure. Okay. Okay. Yes. Your colleagues are saying yes.
I'm not going to speculate on the future. I can just tell you what is going on now. What is going on now is we are engaged in military operations that General Kimmitt has and continue to speak to. I can tell you that the majority of this country, the majority of the population, is returning to normalcy and wants a stable, democratic Iraq to take hold. Majority of this country wants political sovereignty. They want Iraqi leaders in charge, and they're going to get that, post-June 30th. That's where a majority of this country is heading.
If there continues to be a security, if there continues to be a terror threat, American forces will continue to be here, to work with Iraqi forces, which now number in the area of 200,000. And we will be prepared to handle future security threats in this country.
Right now, as we have said for some time, Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. There are foreign international terrorist groups that are deciding -- have elected to stake their ground in Iraq. And we will confront that threat now, and we will confront that threat after June 30th.
There are small groups within this country, like the Mahdi Army, that are trying to set a precedent here and set ground rules as to how leaders will be chosen in Iraq. And they hope that those ground rules will be dictated by mob violence. That we will not tolerate. We will not tolerate that now. We will not tolerate that after June 30th.
GEN. KIMMITT: On the question about do we anticipate any further cities being attacked or attempted to be taken over by insurgent elements, such as Mahdi's Army, I would be very careful if I was an insurgent, if I was a member of Mahdi Army or any other organization in this country, and I would watch very carefully the determined response of the coalition at places such as Fallujah, at places such as Nasiriyah, at places such as al Kut. If they attempt to take over government buildings, if they attempt to take over legitimate facilities such as Iraqi police stations, there will be a response from the coalition. That response will be deliberate, that response will be precise, and that response will be powerful. It is unacceptable, and it will not stand.
MR. SENOR: Yes? Go ahead, Jennifer (sp).
Q (Inaudible) --
MR. SENOR: Right behind you. I'm sorry.
Q Sorry. Jennifer Glass from "The World" program. General Kimmitt, it seems that the more the forces fight, the more people -- these are just the Iraqis that I speak to -- the more Iraqis want to fight. And it seems to inflame things. I mean, everyone I've spoken to has said, watching what's going on Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, with the fight in Fallujah and pictures coming out, it seems to be creating more fighters. Is that a concern and a concern that Shi'a and Sunnis seem to be fighting together -- particularly, we saw, in Asirmiyah (sp) two nights ago.
And Dan, many Iraqis don't believe that the promises of American democracy mean anything. They say the Governing Council is a handpicked puppet government by the United States. How would you answer that kind of public opinion?
MR. SENOR: On the first question, we don't have a vision for American democracy here in Iraq. We have a vision for Iraqi democracy. We recognize that every democracy has its own look and feel. Each democracy is unique. American democracy looks different from French democracy, which looks different from British democracy. The notion that Jeffersonian democracy will take hold here in Iraq is simply unrealistic. Iraq will have its own version of democracy.
And in the future, that will be determined by direct elections. The Iraqi people -- as outlined in the transitional administrative law and the interim constitution, the Iraqi people will directly elect their own leaders. Those leaders will be held directly accountable to the Iraqi people. That is the plan. We've been quite clear on it.
In the interim, however, it would be irresponsible to thrust upon this country direct elections before the country has the requisite electoral infrastructure in place, because without the requisite electoral infrastructure, you have potential for individuals and groups to manipulate elections, to sort of wreak havoc and create chaos in the election process. And those elections would ultimately result -- would produce illegitimate results, result in a government that may appear or may be perceived in the eyes of the Iraqi people as lacking credibility. And so it would be irresponsible to force direct elections right now. Therefore, in the interim we have to find a way to hand over sovereignty to the Iraqi people, give the Iraqis as much political authority as possible, and do it in a way that is as representative as possible until the country is ready for direct elections.
One step in that direction was the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council, which is by far the most representative government in the history of this country. It is arguably the most representative government in this entire region. It is a political body that has been recognized by the U.N. Security Council as the embodiment of Iraqi sovereignty. It is a body that has been recognized by international organizations from the Arab League, to OPEC, to the World Trade Organization, to the United Nations, as I said. And so that's one step in the direction of handing over sovereignty and giving political authority to the Iraqis.
We are going to do more. The interim government that will take over after June 30th, according to the U.N. teams that are engaged in wide consultations right now, will even broaden Iraqi political representation, and ultimately, in just a matter of seven months after we hand over sovereignty, the Iraqis will be in a position to directly elect their own representatives.
GEN. KIMMITT: In answer to your first question, they want to fight; fight for what? Fight for a return to an authoritarian regime? Fight to bring in an extremist regime? Fight to promote civil war? No, the fact is that the fight is for democracy. The fight should be for democracy. The fight should be for a united Iraq. The fight should be for individual liberties, for freedom of the press, for self-governance, for sovereignty. That is the fight that is important. And that is the fight that the majority of Iraqis want in this country, because they recognize these voices, these fighters, these extremists offer hollow promises.
So it is important for the majority of people in Iraq to understand that their aspirations -- which is for democracy, sovereignty, liberty and independence -- is the same fight that the coalition is fighting for. And while it may seem somewhat glamorous to the young every once in a while to pick up the arms and fight against the occupier, ask the furthest -- the next question: Fight for what? What you should be fighting for is for your children, so your children can grow up in a country of liberty, can grow up in a country of democracy, can grow up in a country where freedom of the press is honored, freedom of expression is honored, freedom of religion is honored. That's the fight that we should be fighting. That's the fight that the Iraqi security forces and the coalition is fighting. And that's the fight we're going to continue to fight until the voices of extremism and the voices of authoritarianism are wiped out from this country.
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible) -- newspaper. General Kimmitt, what is your response what is being conveyed through this in the Iraqi street that what happened between the coalition forces and the Muqtada al-Sadr loyalists were a reaction of the closure of their newspaper? And they say there also that -- they say that also some of the Muqtada al-Sadr loyalists have just planted some of their members and people of the Mahdi Army among the Iraqi people so that they can ignite the sectarian conflict among the Iraqis and to light the fire between the Shi'as. So what will be your reaction, or what is your answer regarding this incident, that what is conveyed in the street?
GEN. KIMMITT: I think the right answer is what -- I mean, the right question is what is going to be our reaction. Certainly it was not the closure Hawza, the arrest of Yacoubi, or any other recent events which caused a call to arms. These were used as an excuse for someone like Muqtada al-Sadr to create violence in this country.
What is our reaction going to be? Continued offensive operations to destroy the Mahdi Army, to restore the country to stability, and move it on to democracy, sovereignty and liberty. That's our reaction.
MR. SENOR: Sewell.
Q Hi. Sewell Chan with the Washington Post. General Kimmitt, if I could just ask you about a few reports about military operations that we've been hearing recently today, one about apparently an attack or killings of Iranian tourists or pilgrims in Karbala, second about a helicopter down in Fallujah, both of those today, and thirdly about the 12 casualties -- the 12 dead Marines from Ramadi from last night. Could you give us more details about any or all of these?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, yeah, I certainly can on the third one. I haven't seen those reports on the first two about the helicopter or the Iranians.
It is my understanding that last night there was a firefight in Ramadi. Marines and Army forces were operating near the government building when there was a number of disturbances that broke out. There were a series of firefights that went on for a long period of time. During those firefights, an extensive number of enemy were killed, and sadly, a number of coalition forces were killed.
Q Any more details as to what kind of government building it was?
GEN. KIMMITT: I was told that it was the government building in Ramadi.
Q For the province of Al Anbar?
GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah, right.
MR. SENOR: Thank you, everybody.
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