Participating were Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for operations, and Daniel Senor, senior advisor.)
Senor: Good afternoon. I just have a brief statement, and then General Kimmitt has a statement, after which we'll be happy to take your questions.
About a half hour ago, the White House announced that former secretary of State and former secretary of the Treasury, James Baker III, would be President Bush's envoy on Iraq's external financial obligations. As I said, it's an announcement that came out of the White House just a short while ago.
Ambassador Bremer welcomes this announcement. As many of you know who have heard him speak from this podium, reducing Iraq's debt obligations, sovereign debt, private debt obligations, has been a high priority for both he and the Governing Council literally since Ambassador Bremer arrived here. And as the Governing Council was formed, it became a priority for them as well. They have been consulted about this decision.
The Minister of Finance, Kamil Gailani, has issued a statement that he has asked us to read from this podium, and he will be available to the press over the next couple of days. And this is his statement on the U.S. presidential envoy on Iraq's external financial obligations:
"I welcome the announcement today by the White House of the appointment of James A. Baker, III, former U.S. secretary of the Treasury and State Departments, as U.S. presidential envoy for the resolution of Iraq's external financial obligations. This appointment will give significant momentum to the process of resolving Iraq's external financial obligations and reflects recognition by the United States government of the importance of this process.
"Resolving Iraq's external financial obligations is essential for Iraq's economic development, internal stability and ability to move past the dark period of the former regime. I call on all governments to regard the debt resolution process with equal importance and urgency and to move forward rapidly with generous reduction and rescheduling of Iraq's external financial obligations."
This statement will be made available later today in English and Arabic for the Iraqi press.
One other, smaller note. Over the last couple days, there was some reporting that the Coalition Provisional Authority and Ambassador Bremer had received a proposal for a census from the Iraqi Ministry of Planning. I just wanted to clarify, because a number of you are still calling with questions on that point, the Coalition Provisional Authority did not receive any proposal for a census per that report in November. I think they said they received a report in November for a report to be done -- for a census to be complete by the fall. So it was news to us. Ambassador Bremer has not seen it, nor have CPA officials.
Kimmitt: Good evening. Coalition forces continue offensive, stability and security operations to enable the restoration of a free Iraq. The area of operations remains relatively stable, and engagements remain below recent norms. Over the past seven days, there have been an average of 19 engagements daily against coalition military and an average of two attacks per day against Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians.
The coalition remains offensively oriented and will continue intelligence-based operations to kill or capture anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi elements attempting to obstruct a safe and secure environment in Iraq. In the past 24 hours, the coalition conducted 1,578 patrols, 24 raids, and captured 118 anti-coalition suspects.
In the north, coalition forces conducted 205 patrols, three cordon-and-knock operations, three neighborhood engagement operations, and detained 13 individuals.
Numerous homes in Mosul were searched and 10 people captured in the past 24 hours as part of neighborhood engagement operations. These operations employ soldiers in designated neighborhoods to engage the populace and search the neighborhood. Members of the community are briefed what is being done and why it is being done. Various bomb-making materials were seized during this latest search.
Three arms dealers were captured by coalition forces and Iraqi police while conducting a joint raid at a market in central Mosul.
Fifty police officers graduated from the eight-week training course at the Mosul Public Safety Academy. To date, this course has trained 150 new police officers.
Twenty people suspected of anti-coalition activities were captured last night. Six of the individuals were apprehended for the manufacture of various bombs and other explosive devices.
In the north-central zone, coalition soldiers conducted 188 patrols, of which 26 of them were joint patrols with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the border police service, and three raids against anti-coalition forces, capturing 19 individuals.
Two tips from citizens led soldiers to a bomb near a school in Khanibatsad (ph), and another bomb containing seven 100-pound, 152- millimeter artillery rounds was found west of Baqubah. Both devices were dismantled. Five people were captured, including two identified by local police as suspected Fedayeen members in Salva Abor (ph) yesterday. Several weapons were confiscated.
A coalition logistics convoy was attacked with automatic weapons south of Samarra. Two civilian drivers were slightly injured, but the civilians were treated for their injuries and later released.
In Baghdad, coalition forces conducted 503 patrols, 7 offensive operations, and detained 49 individuals. One coalition soldier was killed when his convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in Baghdad early this morning. Reports also indicated approximately 12 Iraqi citizens were wounded in the attack. Another roadside bomb which exploded one hour earlier slightly wounded one coalition soldier.
Yesterday coalition soldiers conducted activities in relation to Operation Iron Justice, a cordon and search operation in the Abu Ghraib area. Forces searched 36 apartment buildings along with several other buildings in the compound area. Forty-three persons were captured -- several who have been linked to attacks on coalition forces. A large amount of rifles, bomb-making material, and intelligence data was seized.
A former Iraqi intelligence service colonel was captured during a cordon and search. The colonel was suspected of planning an attack against a bank, as well as a plot to poison the water source of a military base.
In the west, coalition forces conducted three offensive operations, 151 patrols, 9 joint patrols with the Iraqi border guard and Iraqi police. During these operations 10 enemy personnel were captured.
The fifth Iraqi Civil Defense Corps class graduated with 174 personnel yesterday. In addition, the second Al Anbar police academy class with 97 personnel also graduated. This brings in that region a total of 553 Iraqi Civil Defense Corps on the job and a 4,087 Iraqi Police Service operating in the Al Anbar province.
Civil Affairs personnel assessed the water treatment facility in Nasir wa-al-Salam. The project will provide the rural population potable water for the first time in 10 years.
The Al-Qatan police station in Ar Ramadi was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire yesterday. Coalition forces were not present during the attack, but witnesses report that four men wearing masks executed the attack that resulted in wounds to two Iraqi police officers.
Civil Affairs teams made a final payment of $7,000 to local officials in the Al-Jazeera for rehabilitation work on the Sumer (sp) primary school and the local police station. Repairs to the school will impact approximately 400 students.
In the center of South Zone, coalition forces conducted 125 patrols. Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers engaged 3-4 personnel trying to steal weapons at an ammunitions storage area west of Karbala that they were guarding. The thieves fled in the car, and where the car was first spotted the ICDC soldiers found several mortars.
Five mortar rounds impacted near coalition forces in Ad Diwaniyah. There were no coalition casualties, but an Iraqi Facility Protection Service and two local children were slightly injured.
In the multinational division Southeast Zone coalition forces conducted 236 patrols and detained three personnel. A convoy encountered demonstrators protesting fuel shortages in As Samawa yesterday. Several burning cars and barrels had been placed in the road. However, the convoy was not attacked and was able to transit through the area without incident.
A coalition foot patrol came under fire in the Al-Majar al-Kabir yesterday. Between 20 and 30 rounds were fired at the patrol, which returned fire. No one was injured, and the gunmen escaped.
Last, coalition forces continue to provide engineer and security support to a Criminal Investigation Division Mass Graves Inspection Team west of Al-Amarah.
Thank you. I'd be happy to take your questions.
Senor: I'm pointing at you. Right over your head. Hold on. AFP.
Q: Steve Cabby (sp) from AFP. Is it really going to help to ease the persistent hostility to the coalition in the Sunni belt north and west from Baghdad having a load of Kurdish pershmergas and Iranian-trained Shias running around with Special Forces?
Senor: I think the policies I articulated the other day for any recruitment of Iraqi security personnel into any of the security services, including the domestic security, is that those individuals be recruited just as that, as individuals -- not as members of a political party, not as members of a former militia. That continues to be the policy.
Q: Can you give us the latest estimate of Iraq's external debt and the countries with which it has the largest debt obligations at this point?
Senor: It's difficult to estimate with any degree of certainty at this point what the total indebtedness is. Based on very public sources -- for instance, the Paris Club estimate is approximately $41 billion, and when you add in other sources like the London Club's private creditors and you include non-Paris Club sovereign creditors and financial transactions between Iraq and the Gulf states over the years, the number of the estimates get as high as about $125 billion. So, as to an exact number, that's going require restructuring a lot of these documents and getting a closer look at them. And it's important task of which Secretary Baker and the Iraqi finance minister and the Governing Council will be looking at in the next short while. We don't have specific estimates, and we don't have the specific countries to attach to those estimates.
Q: Are there specific countries that he's going to focus on initially?
Senor: I would defer that to him. Secretary Baker, of course, will be available over -- if you want more specifics on what he plans to do, you should contact the White House, which is where all questions related to him and his activities during this project will be directed.
Q: Jerry Faddo (ph), BBC. We've seen an increase in fuel lines in Baghdad over the last couple of days. Is that a nationwide problem? And can you identify the source of that problem?
Senor: Yeah, we are looking at that and we are in discussions with the Ministry of Oil about that. What the Ministry of Oil has attributed it to in part is just the cumulative effect of the influx of automobiles as a result of relieving import restrictions and the end of sanctions, et cetera, et cetera. There are now something like a quarter of a million cars since the end of major combat operations have come into Iraq, which has just imposed an enormous demand on supplies here.
You also have the effect of hoarding, which I've talked about here before, which is, when there's a sense that there's going to be a shortage, which I think many Iraqis are experiencing right now, they tend to fill up their gas earlier than they normally would, earlier in the refueling cycle. So for instance, they do it at half a tank or quarter of a tank versus when it's closer to empty. Again, we are talking to the Ministry of Oil about it. We're aware it's a problem. And those are the answers that we've heard from the Ministry of Oil, and again, we continue to work with them on it.
Q: Ed Long (sp) from The New York Times. I spoke with the Ministry of Oil recently about the same phenomenon, and they mentioned the cars, but they said the main reason was because of attacks on northern pipelines. Are you saying that that's not a reason under your consideration?
And then, second question is just, when was the last fatal bombing in Baghdad? I think it's been a while, and today's the first time that one has taken place in a while.
Senor: With regard to attacks on the northern pipeline, that has been a problem, that continues to be a problem, but the newer development we've seen from the Ministry of Oil, which is sort of unique to this stage, is the cumulative effect of all those vehicles, according to the ministry.
As to the specific date, I'll give that to you right after this meeting. I don't have it on hand.
Q: Thanks. General, do you continue to stand by your numbers in the Samarra incident last weekend? And do you still believe that they were Fedayeen-type insurgents, or could they have just been common criminals trying to get the money? Would you change your methods in how you reported the incident, in the future? And lastly, generally have you misled the media over this incident or not?
Kimmitt: Well, first of all, that's four questions. Let me go from number four back. We have not misled the media at any time. We have categorically stated throughout this process that these were estimates and reported information, number one. Number two, we never stated from this podium that they were Fedayeen. We said they were in Fedayeen-like uniforms, because that's the report we had. We specifically said when I briefed the first time that we have no linkage to Fedayeen or Fedayeen-type organizations.
With regards to the numbers themselves, the reports stand. We have been given no new information from any source to change those numbers. If we're given information that is different, that is credible, that is going to be added into the overall investigation, the after-action review that we're going to be doing. And if the numbers change, the numbers change, and we'll give you the new numbers.
Q: Christine Spolar, Chicago Tribune. Dan, I want to go back to the gas problem. Up in Mosul they're having a problem. They say it's a pipeline problem, with the gas going to Baghdad rather than Mosul. It doesn't make sense that two weeks ago there weren't lines and there were as many cars. If you could get back with a more serious answer, I think, to this issue, based on the pipeline and problems with sabotage there, it would be helpful because this doesn't make sense, any of the answers.
Senor: No, and I appreciate the question. We think the Ministry of Oil does approach this with a high degree of seriousness. And we are analyzing the information they're providing and we're working with them on getting more clarity on it. But right now this is what they've presented to us and we continue to work with them on it going forward.
Q: General Kimmitt, Luke Baker (sp) from Reuters. Have you uncovered any evidence that some of the billion dollars that Saddam is believed to have taken from bank vaults before the war has been used directly to fund actions against coalition troops?
Kimmitt: I can't say that we have actually found specific numbered bills that we could link back to what was taken out of the banks. We do have strong suspicion, though, that many of the attacks are funded from sources other than local sources, but I think that's still part of the larger puzzle that we're continuing to work.
Q: Excuse me. Regarding the New Iraqi Army, who is going to control that army, since there is no defense ministry?
Senor: When we transfer sovereignty over to a sovereign Iraqi government this summer, the New Iraqi Army will fall under that, and they will make decisions about how to structure, whether or not there's a specific ministry assigned to it or it falls under another ministry. It's something we've talked about with the Governing Council, and obviously it's a decision that the provisional government will have to make.
Q: Who controls this army for the time being?
Senor: Right now?
Senor: This is something that is under the -- within the command-and-control structure of the coalition. We are technically an occupational force, so we have a responsibility overall broadly for security in the country, and it falls under that mandate.
Q: Is it possible we know the casualties of today's (marring?) incident in Baghdad, the New Baghdad?
They said that the Costa mini-bus -- there were a lot of civilians inside and even their brains were scattered here and there. You mentioned that there are many injured, or dozens of injured. Not dead?
Kimmitt: Well, again, the Iraqi Police Service is investigating that accident. The only actual information that we have is that of the reported American killed in that incident. But I think without over-dramatizing this, not only do we -- are we very sad for the family that will find out that one of their sons has died in this accident, but we also grieve for the Iraqi people who have become victims of that same terrorist attack as well.
Q: Also, the mini-bus was coming in the wrong way, because the mini-bus entered in the branch road and then came again to meet with the vehicles -- armored -- coalition armored vehicles, and the blast occurred. And maybe they say that there was shooting or firing from the soldiers on that mini-bus. Possible or not?
Kimmitt: I can't answer that. We have no reports that would substantiate that. We would only be speculating. I'm sure that will be part of what is investigated by the Iraqi Police Service as part of their ongoing investigation.
Q: General Kimmitt, would you estimate that the number of attacks in Baghdad decreased because the coalition is succeeding or because the guerrillas simply laid down for a while? And for then, about the traffic in Baghdad, I talked to some police officers, and they said that they can't do anything because they don't have a law to enforce traffic regulations. So who can do something about that?
Kimmitt: On the first, on the number of attacks in Baghdad, we certainly hope that the offensive operations that are being conducted against the enemy in Baghdad have sent a clear message to the terrorists that we will come after you; we will kill you, or we will capture you. We're here to provide a safe and secure environment in Baghdad for not only the coalition forces, but for the people of Baghdad as well. But it's up to the mind of the adversary whether he will continue this. We have -- that's part of the larger puzzle, but we continue to work. If we're making an effect? We'd like to think we are making an effect, but the enemy has the final vote on whether he wants to attack again. All we can do is continue to use actionable intelligence to go after him, to stop him before that next attack.
Senor: As for traffic congestion, it is a newer phenomenon. It is one that is another indication that Iraq is returning to a sense of normalcy. Street commerce is on the rise. People are returning more and more to their day-to-day lives. And traffic, as we regard it, is a healthy economic indicator. As far as it's clogging up the streets and the congestion, it's something that had come up with Ambassador Bremer when he met with the Baghdad City Council the other day. They discussed a couple of solutions, and it's something he'll continue to talk about with the city council.
Q: Caroline Hawley, BBC. Can you tell us anymore about the plot you mentioned to poison the water supply to a military base? Is it a new tactic?
Kimmitt: We have no more information on that than what I've already reported.
There's time for one more question. Go ahead.
Q: Yeah, can I just come back on my earlier question? The fact of the deployment of Kurds and Shias to Sunni areas around the capital was confirmed and welcomed by the interim foreign minister last night. How is that going to win hearts and minds in Sunni areas and put down the persistent insurgency that you're facing?
Senor: We are working with the Iraqi Governing Council in building a democratic, federal, unified Iraq, where Iraqis are not defined by ethnicity, but are defined by their national status as Iraqis. And that's what we've heard from Iraqis we've spoken to all over the country. Iraqis want to serve in their country's security services as Iraqis -- not as members of a former political party, not as a member of a former militia, not as representatives of a specific region, but as Iraqis. And those are the individuals that we will be recruiting and working with and who we believe are the future leaders of Iraq.
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