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Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

Presenters: Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director for Operations
December 30, 2003 9:00 AM EDT

(Participating was Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, Deputy Director for Operations and Daniel Senor, Senior CPA Adviser.)

 

            MR. SENOR:  Good afternoon.  General Kimmitt and I have brief opening statements, and then we'll be happy to take your questions.

 

            Ambassador Bremer returned today from Washington, D.C., after a couple of days of meetings there with administration officials, including a meeting with the president of the United States.  The focus of the meetings primarily were on the implementation of the November 15th political agreement reached with the Governing Council, as well as other priorities as we enter this final stage of the reconstruction process on the civilian side, which will involve hand- over of sovereignty to the Iraqi people in six months.  There is a lot of work to do over these next few months, and that was the basis of the consultations in Washington.

 

            In addition, Ambassador Bremer and the coalition continue to work very closely with the Ministry of Oil to head off the smuggling and sabotage and black market profiteering, which continue to be among the   greatest challenges plaguing the Iraqi oil industry, the Iraqi Oil Ministry and the Iraqi people.

 

            The causes, as we have said before and as the Ministry of Oil has said before, primarily include two elements, one being the increase in demand, almost a quarter-million new cars in Iraq since the fall of the former regime, in part based on the lifting of customs, and also in part there's this new infusion of cash, higher salaries in the economy.

 

            Another cause, the other element here is a problem of supply.  We are dealing with antiquated, chronically underinvested-in oil production technology and equipment and infrastructure.  This infrastructure is highly susceptible to sabotage, to attacks, and we continue to work with the Ministry of Oil and the security forces to head those off.  But that said, it will take time to improve the quality of the infrastructure, to build in the necessary redundancy, and to make it less vulnerable to attacks.

 

            As I said, we are working hard on these problems.  And in that regard, we welcome the support of a number of clerics, leading clerics from across the country over the recent days that have issued strong statements, in some case fatwas, against attacks of political sabotage and against another problem which I will speak to, which is that of the black market profiteering.  But these sorts of things are attacks against the Iraqi people.

 

            We are also working, as I said, on the security front, on the -- on heading off the oil issues.  Two nights ago, coalition forces caught smugglers stealing fuel from a gas station in Samarra, filling a tanker of gasoline from its storage tanks.  And then just yesterday, Iraqi police seized another tanker, fuel destined for the black market, on the outskirts of Baghdad.  The coalition forces and the Iraqi security forces are stepping up their security at gas stations, at production facilities, at these critical areas across the country, working together, working side by side, and beginning now to make progress, with these examples I've cited, to address this critical issue.

 

            General Kimmitt.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Thank you.

 

            First, on behalf of the coalition, let me start by offering our condolences to the nations of Bulgaria, Poland, Thailand and Iraq for the losses suffered in the wake of the criminal attack in Karbala. This cowardly attack on the citizens of Karbala and the coalition forces serving there to maintain security was heinous and senseless.

 

            Despite this attack, coalition forces in Karbala and throughout Iraq will remain offensively oriented to kill or capture anti- coalition elements and enemies of the Iraqi people, and will provide support to rebuild a free Iraq.

 

            To that end, the coalition conducted 1,639 patrols, 40 offensive operations, 29 raids, and captured 101 anti-coalition suspects in the past 24 hours.

 

            In the northern zone of operations, coalition forces conducted a series of cordon-and-search operations against brigade targets.  The first operation took place in southwest Mosul, where initial questioning indicated that this was a possible safe house for terrorist activities.  The second operation killed three enemy personnel, and three individuals, including two coalition targets, were detained.  Other operations resulted in the capture of three additional targets, including an associate of a ranking high-value target.

 

            In Al Sulimaniyah, coalition forces reopened two bridges outside the city.  The rebuilding was a joint Al Sulimaniyah public works and Commanders' Emergency Response-funded effort.

 

            In the north central zone of operations, coalition forces conducted 142 patrols, five raids, and captured 43 individuals.  Seven of the patrols were joint operations conducted alongside the Iraqi police, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the border police.

 

            Soldiers discovered a significant weapons cache southeast of Samarra, in a raid targeting a suspected IED manufacturer.  The cache consisted of a large number of weapons and bomb-making material, but it also included al Qaeda literature, ceramic body armor and a VHS tape labeled "Sheik of the Muhaddin (sp) Osama bin Laden."

 

            Twenty enemy personnel were captured, including 10 targets, during a raid in Shahab Al Mab (sp).  Weapons and ammunition were also seized in that raid.

 

            Ten enemy personnel, including two suspected weapons dealers, were captured during a raid on December 28th.  Multiple small arms and explosives were also confiscated.

 

            Eight Sala Adin (sp) imams received the keys to automobiles on December 29th from Civil Affairs soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division, based on a request during Ramadan.  The religious leaders wanted a way to travel to the more remote locations in the district to speak with the residents of smaller towns and villages, and the coalition wanted to express their commitment by supporting this request.  The cars will allow the imams to spread the message of peace and reconciliation to every Iraqi in the province.

 

            In Baghdad, coalition forces conducted six raids yesterday as part of the continuing Operation Iron Grip.  Thirteen enemy personnel were captured.

 

            Of note, on Saturday, Sarhid Ab Sarhid (sp), a former Directorate of Military Intelligence officer suspected of leading a large anti- coalition group in the region and suspected in -- suspected of responsibility for attacks on coalition forces, to include the downing of the DHL jetliner, died at a coalition medical facility from wounds received in a targeted raid on his complex.  A significant amount of documents and electronic media were captured in this raid.

 

            Demonstrating a complete disregard for noncombatants, terrorists detonated a booby trap in Baghdad on Sunday, killing one coalition soldier, two Iraqi children, wounding five coalition soldiers and eight Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers.  This has been followed again by another attack today, reportedly killing one civilian and wounding several others.

 

            In the western zone of operations, coalition forces captured four enemy personnel in Ar Ramadi yesterday during a cordon-and-search   operation.  They're suspected of being part of an organization moving foreign fighters and large sums of money in cash through the region.

 

            Civil Affairs soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division met with local officials in Hazwah (sp) to finalize repair plans for the Sana (sp) Intermediate School.

 

            Civil Affairs soldiers also met with local leaders to initiate renovations on two primary health clinics in Al Jazirah (sp).  The primary health clinics will allow local family practitioners more access to the populace.

 

            In the wake of the Karbala bombings, the area of Multinational Division Central-South has been relatively quiet.  Working with local police, coalition soldiers captured two enemy personnel yesterday in al Kut, one suspected of being an arms dealer and another of bomb attacks.  In the vicinity of Basra, six enemy were detained by coalition forces following a search where both Ba'ath Party uniforms and passports were confiscated in this raid.

 

            Let's turn it over to questions.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes?  Go ahead.

 

            Q     Yes.  General, could you give us some explanation about roadside bombs, as we have seen some cases recently?  What are the general measures that the public can take to avoid to get involved in those attacks?  And second, could you just tell me if it's quite easy for someone to plant those bombs without being noticed by the police in a crowded area like in central Baghdad, that there were two ones in the recent three days?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Well, certainly what we do, what we tell our soldiers and we also tell our soldiers to tell the local population, anything that looks out of the ordinary along the roadside, something that doesn't belong there, you should report that immediately, whether it's a bag of trash, whether it's a piece of concrete, whether it's a piece of cinderblock, something that just looks out of place, we tell them to report that so that we can get EOD experts down there to determine if in fact that is just some garbage that was thrown out or in fact an EOD that might have been placed there.

 

            We also run a significant number of IED patrols.  On those areas where our units will be transiting on a frequent basis, we will send out patrols ahead of time specifically for the purpose of checking out possible IED locations to try to keep those areas clear.

 

            We also use as much actionable intelligence as possible to go after bomb makers and suspected bomb makers, to go at their homes and their locations to try to catch those bombs before they're put on there.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes?

 

            Q     Tatiana Anderson (sp), CNN.  A German publication, along with the L.A. times, are reporting that certain documents obtained indicate that Syria was providing Iraq with weapons even just weeks before the war.  Can you shed some light on that?

 

            MR. SENOR:  I don't have anything to add to that.  I would refer you to the Department of Defense on that particular issue.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     Sara Deep (ph) from the Associated Press.  There have also been reports about Saddam speaking about where he's hidden some of his funds, and some of the Council members have said that you told them or they were told about the result of the investigation or his confession during investigation where he actually hid the money.  Is that true? And how far has that gone?

 

            MR. SENOR:  I'm not in a position to comment on any discussions Saddam Hussein had with members of the Governing Council.  I can't characterize them or comment on them.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     General Kimmitt, can you comment a little bit more about Iron Grip and the activity that's been going on in Baghdad in particular?  There seems to have been a stepped-up bit of activity in Baghdad over the last week on both sides.  I'm curious if you can give us a little bit more detail on what Iron Grip is targeting, if it's fresh intelligence that they're working on.  It sounds like there was a significant capture on Saturday.  But also, whether you think the activity on the insurgents' side -- there's been a lot of talk that that was targeted around the Christmas period -- whether you believe that that was indeed sort of a Christmas offensive or something along those lines.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Sure.  Well, first of all, I will give you part of the answer because tomorrow night General Dempsey will be here providing a very, very comprehensive press conference covering all the operations that he and his unit have been running since the last time he gave the press conference.  But rather than preempting him, let me just tell you that there were indications, and have been reported in the press, that we expected a large amount of enemy activity during the Christmas time period, for, as we've said many, many times before, the enemy is going to try to use that as an opportunity, knowing that it's a holiday for some, a religious holiday for others, to try to use that to exploit and come up with some spectacular attacks.

 

            We were able to detect some of those activities.  We found a number of weapon systems pointed at different locations and were able to preempt those.  There were a series of engagements that happened during Christmas Day, approximately 18 between the hours of 0600 and 0800 on Christmas Day.  Fortunately, none of those had any deaths associated with them.  And to our knowledge, only one Iraqi civilian was wounded during that time period.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes?

 

            Q     James Hider from The Times.  I was down in Karbala after the bombings, and the place is full of Iranian pilgrims.  And the police down there say the Iranians don't have visas, they're all illegal pilgrims.  They were saying there's actually probably more   Iranians there than Iraqis.  I was wondering how you expect to stop attacks of this nature if anybody can just wander across the Iranian border -- in the thousands, in fact.

 

            MR. SENOR:  We are working -- I can't speak to the specific numbers of Iranians down in Karbala, but I can speak more broadly.  We are committed to building up a modern, effective Iraqi security infrastructure that, when we are finished, will number in the range of about approximately 220,000 Iraqi security personnel, which will include a robust border police and customs personnel team.

 

            In the supplemental funds that the U.S. Congress recently appropriated, for security alone, there is over $3 billion dedicated toward training and equipping and arming this very advanced and modern Iraqi security personnel.  And we think this will be -- help a great deal in securing these areas of the country where you cite the sorts of problems that you have referenced.

 

            Q     But the borders do appear to be completely open at the moment.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Well, I think it's a topographical fact of life that these are very porous borders.  Iraq has very porous borders.  It's an issue we have to contend with.  But like I said, by ramping the Iraqi security personnel, ramping up the numbers, giving them effective training, giving them the tools they need, and certainly, in the short term, working alongside coalition forces, we believe we can address the security problems that are here.

 

            I -- Ambassador Bremer has said for a long time, as has President Bush, that Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror.  And this war on terror has two very distinct elements that, unfortunately, often work together:  elements of the former regime and foreign fighters, terrorists coming over in this country that are trying to destabilize the situation.

 

            And we believe, working alongside the Iraqis in this stepped-up security personnel infrastructure that we are helping them build and that we are paying for, we can address these problems.  But we have to remain focused on it.  We have to remain committed to it.  We will remain committed to it.  It's a tough job.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     Yes.  Tom (surname inaudible), ABC News.  Following up on that, about the Iraqi security services, concerns are being raised about how fast this is moving along:  that it's being pushed ahead too quickly, that proper vetting isn't in place, that corners are being cut.  How do you respond to those concerns?  And can you also give us an update on the current state of the -- both police services and the Iraqi army?

 

            MR. SENOR:  The numbers of Iraqi police today are approximately 70,000.  As far as the new Iraqi army is concerned, there are 400 new Iraqi soldiers on duty with the 4th ID.  A second battalion of the new   Iraqi army is scheduled to graduate next month.  Those are the numbers both for police and the new Iraqi army.  The goal to get -- with the new Iraqi army is to get in the neighborhood of 35(,000) to 40,000.

 

            As far as the police is concerned, when Ambassador Bremer arrived here in May, there was not a single Iraqi police officer on the streets.  As I said, today there is over 7,000, about -- over 70,000 nationwide and about 7,000 in Baghdad alone.

 

            And as far as -- what was your first question?  About the vetting?

 

            Q     Just -- there's been concerns about vetting, that this being pushed ahead too quickly for them to be really useful; again, that there's vetting problems; that corners are being cut --

 

            MR. SENOR:  Sure.

 

            Q     -- that basically people are being pushed out there, but they can't do the job or haven't been trained to do the job.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yeah.  We have a robust vetting process for all the security forces.  Do some individuals slip through the cracks? Absolutely.  When they do slip through the cracks and it's brought to our attention or we notice them, we seek to rectify it immediately.  I think that is a situation you will find in any security service anywhere in the world.  Some people make it in, for various reasons, that probably shouldn't make it in, for various reasons.

 

            I think it's certainly the case when you are rebuilding a -- when you are building a security infrastructure up from scratch.  Like I said, when Ambassador Bremer arrived here in May, there wasn't a single police officer on the street.  Today there are over 60,000. And that's in approximately six months.  So we are moving quickly, but we are committed to a robust vetting process to address the sorts of things you are raising.

 

            I think it's very important, as we have said all along, to get -- and as I said a moment ago, to get these security forces up and running quickly, to help, you know, address the security situation.

 

            When we first arrived here, in the months immediately after, one of the biggest problems of security in Baghdad was violent crime -- robbery, homicide, those sorts of acts.  Those numbers are way down, in the neighborhood between 30(,000) and 40,000 in Baghdad, in terms of violent crime.

 

            So having security, having Iraqi security on the streets, doing patrols, making arrests, on the front lines -- on the front lines, a lot of these men are risking their lives every single day; many of them have engaged in very heroic and courageous acts -- is critical to this project.

 

            And now we need to further beef up the Iraqi security personnel to address the two other elements I mentioned earlier:  the former regime elements and the foreign terrorists that coming in the border -- coming over the borders.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  And if I could, I think if you were to query all the commanders on the ground right now that if they'd had a choice of waiting for a longer period to get perfectly formed and trained police forces, ICDC and new Iraqi army, vice (sic) having partially trained but still sufficiently trained forces working alongside with them, providing intelligence, providing translating services, acting as the intermediaries for the military forces out there, so that if you have   to go into a mosque, for instance, you don't go in with a coalition soldier, but you go in with an Iraqi soldier; I think, on balance, the commanders would come back and say the decision to not wait until we had the perfect solution was the wise one, the prudent one, and one that's probably saved a significant amount of coalition lives in the process.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yeah.  And I would just add to that that we are -- by deploying Iraqis on the front lines of the security situation, we have access, as General Kimmitt said, to individuals who have a deep sense for the rhythm of life, for the language, for the culture, in a way that the coalition forces just do not.  It's an invaluable tool in this effort.

 

            Yes, sir?

 

            Q     Tom Frank from Newsday.  I just wanted to follow up on the police question.  I hear some Iraqis saying two things.  One is, they want more police, because obviously security is a big concern. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the full figure will be 71,000 for the entire country.

 

            MR. SENOR:  It's a little higher than that.  It's between 75,000 and 80,000, but, yeah.

 

            Q     Okay.  My paper publishes in New York City, a city of 8 million people with 40,000 police.  I'm wondering why so few police? And secondly, I understand a lot of the police now are people who were police when Saddam was in power.  I'm wondering if you know about how many of the police are, you know, veterans from the prewar period, and if there's any concern about having those people, because there was some, I guess, pretty widespread corruption in those days.  So, the two questions.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Sure.  Your comparison to New York City isn't entirely applicable because we also have these other security forces at work that would tend to address some of the security issues that occur in New York City.   We have the Facilities Protection Service that's protecting the infrastructure of the country.  As I said, we have the new Iraqi army, members of which are already being deployed. And we have the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps that are working hand in hand -- approximately -- over 14,000 of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps working hand in hand with the American security forces.  So, we have a number of Iraqi security forces deployed doing the work, not just the police force.

 

            To your second question, yes, we are recruiting Iraqis for police training, some of whom who served in former security forces of the former regime and some who are brand new.  Those that served in the Iraqi police force go through what we call the TIP (sp) program, which is a transition training police program.  It's a program we bring them in and teach them the skills that they didn't learn under the former regime; basic things like policing with basic restrictions for human rights, and professional investigative skills, and the high standards of professionalism operating in a democratic society.

 

            So, we are taking those police who pass the vetting process, who we believe pass our standards on de-Ba'athifciation, giving them the tools and teaching them the skills and the standards that we think is important for policing in a free and democratic society, and putting them to work.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder.  I was wondering whether you can comment about changes or shifts you've seen in anti-coalition   insurgency; if you have seen them, what sort of changes you've seen in terms of tactics, organization; and whether those changes, if they do exist, seem to be pinned at all to the capture of Saddam Hussein, and whether post-capture you've gotten a different or better idea of the role that he did or did not play?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Let's sort of go back to front on those.  Since the capture of Saddam Hussein, we've seen the number of engagements stay relatively the same.  Unfortunately, some of those engagements have been a little more deadly, as we saw down in Karbala.  I don't think that that has anything to do with the specific capture of Saddam Hussein.  We've been on record as saying the capture of Saddam Hussein has provided intelligence which has been helpful in continuing the operations.  Yes, the numbers of personnel that we're capturing is about the same that we've been capturing consistently over the last couple of months, but the quality of captures has gone up a bit.

 

            Do we fully understand where Saddam fit in?  We're putting that puzzle together.  We don't think, as some have speculated, that he was the central figure managing the entire anti-coalition operation, nor do we believe that he was simply sitting in a hole waiting for somebody to come and capture him.

 

            MR. SENOR:  I would just add to that Ambassador Bremer, sort of at a high level here, sees the situation playing out this way:  There are the diehards, people like Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, who are the diehard former-regime loyalists, who it remains to be seen whether or not their dynamic changes -- our ability to catch them or kill them changes as a result of the Saddam capture.

 

            But there are two other groups that we are beginning to see are now in play as a result of the Saddam capture.  Those are sort of the midlevel Ba'athists, midlevel elements tied to the former regime, individuals that were hoping that Saddam would return.  They were hoping Saddam would return because they wanted their jobs back at the ministries, they wanted the cars, they wanted the salary back, they wanted, particularly in the Sunni areas between Baghdad and Tikrit, wanted access to the largess that Saddam used to shower that area with.  Those folks were hopeful.

 

            Another group of more junior-level Ba'athists are people who weren't tied to the Ba'athist party at all -- to the Ba'ath Party at all but were simply fearful that Saddam would return.  The rumors were alive in the shouks, in the markets, that Saddam would return and that these people better be careful, not cooperate with the coalition, the new Iraqi leadership, because if Saddam would return, there would be return to the mass graves and the torture chambers and the rape rooms.  And so those folks were just fearful of a Saddam return.

 

            So what we call "the hopefuls" and "the fearfuls."  We feel that "the hopefuls" no longer can hope that Saddam will return.  They know his days are over.  And "the fearfuls" no longer have to fear that he will return.  And we believe that opens up a large number of individuals in the geographical area I just described that are now in play.

 

            Yeah?

 

            Q    But have you seen a tactical or organizational evolution in the insurgency?  And if so, over what sort to time period?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Well again, let's remember it's only been two-plus weeks since the capture of Saddam Hussein.  But with regards to that, at this point we haven't seen it.  We continue to look for it.  We continue to watch it, watching how the enemy operates is a daily activity for us, so that we can find out, as he is changing his tactics, we can respond and be proactively engaged against him.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Yes?

 

            Q    Evan Osnos from the Chicago Tribune.  You mentioned that Ambassador Bremer was discussing the November 15th agreement in Washington.  Can you elaborate on that?  And specifically, does that mean that the coalition is considering amendments to that agreement to reflect the concerns that have been raised since then, or is that document considered the definitive, final text and nothing more will happen to change that reflecting the concerns of people like Ayatollah Sistani and others?

 

            MR. SENOR:  I can't comment on whether or not it will ever change in any degree, any element.  I mean, it was a framework.  It was a set of principles.  Now we're working on setting up the process for implementing those principles.  And we are moving forward.  The Governing Council has set up several committees to work on the key elements, to work on the implementations, to set up a process for drafting the basic intermittent law, the administrative law.  They set up a committee to work on procedures for drafting -- for electing drafters to the constitutional convention.  So the Governing Council is in play here working on implementation of November 15th, and so are we.  And that's really the focus of the discussions and that was the primary focus of the discussions Ambassador Bremer had back in Washington.

 

            Q     To make sure I understand something, does that mean that the discussion now is confined to implementation, or is there also an effort -- to what degree is it important to respond to the concerns of people outside the Governing Council, or is that not considered part of the priority at this point?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Ambassador Bremer is committed to implementing the November 15th agreement.  All our indications are the Governing Council is equally committed to implementing the November 15th   agreement.  If they choose to engage with other leaders and individuals within Iraqi society, all the power to them.  I mean, you know, this process is something that can be accomplished in a free society.  A healthy, vibrant, if not at times controversial, dialogue is a critical component of this process.  So we encourage debate.  We encourage discussion.  There was a town hall meeting held yesterday in Basra, in which the governor of Basra was one of the key participants, where they had a very lively debate about the political process.  We hope there will be debates like that all over the country.  We expect one in Mosul in the next couple weeks and in other parts of the country.  So that is not something we discourage.  We encourage that. We hope the Governing Council will be reaching out and having discussions.  As far as we're concerned, we are working on implementation of the agreement with the Governing Council.

 

            Yes?  Go ahead.

 

            Q     What is the scale in terms of the situation of foreign fighters in Iraq?  What sort of incidents does the coalition suspect foreign fighters of?  And what does the coalition suspect their numbers are, as well?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT;  Well, we've said a number of times that we think that the number of foreign fighters is a small minority of the overall enemy that we face here in Iraq, probably on the order of 10 percent, no more.  But that could change on a daily basis.  What type of activities do we sort of instantly say, "We better look at that one because that might be foreign fighters"?  Any time that we see a car bomb, we start saying that probably is not something that was home grown, that that might be from somewhere else.   We've seen tactics being used by some of the belligerents, some of the enemy, that would indicate that they might have had training in other than former-regime element, former Iraqi army.  And that's sort of how we say we better take a look at that one a little bit closer.

 

            MR. SENOR:  Someone who hasn't asked a question.  Go ahead.

 

            Q     General, you spoke earlier about intensified activity on both sides around Christmas.  Does this extend to New Year?  And what special measures, if any, do you have planned for tomorrow?

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Well, we have not seen it extend, thus far.  The last couple of days have been quite -- relatively passive, with the exception of the dreadful attacks of the roadside bombs that we've seen here in the Khaladia (ph) district.  I can assure you that our commanders are reviewing the time period, taking the appropriate force-protection measures.  And as I said at Christmas time, anybody who would want to take on the coalition during this time period would be well advised to think through that process before he does so.

 

            MR. SENOR:  We have time for one more question.  So, someone who has not asked one, if there is someone who hasn't asked one.  No?  All right, go ahead.

 

            Q     If I could just follow-up on the Sistani issue -- Peter Spiegel, Financial Times.  On the narrow issue of the selection of members of the Transitional National Authority, the Governing Council has set up a committee -- gosh, it was a month ago, I think -- to look at this issue, in which they were supposed to report back, I think, in a week and sort of come back with an idea.  Can you give us some insight as to what the debate is going on right now, whether Sistani has given up hope of direct elections?  There was some talk about bringing the U.N. in.  On that narrow issue of the TNA elections, where are we in terms of the Governing Council debate?

 

            MR. SENOR:  I don't want to comment on the Governing Council or their debate.  They are 25 people with -- they have their own spokespersons and they have their own individual channels to provide information, so I would refer you to them.

 

            As for the debate over direct elections, when we -- leading up to the November 15th agreement, we realized that the Governing Council -- they came to us and basically said that they had reached an impasse; that they could not move forward on the constitutional process unless there was joint agreement between us and them to allow for direct elections to the constitutional convention.  And that was the change we made; we agreed to direct elections in that context.  And that has been the discussion, that has been the focus, up to this point, in terms of implementing direct elections for the constitutional convention.

 

            Q     But on -- backing up to the TNA itself, there's also been discussion about that, correct?

 

            MR. SENOR:  Right.  And the Governing Council, as I think you mentioned, wanted to talk to the U.N. about it.  General-Secretary (sic) Kofi Annan has spoken; he reported on December 15th to the U.N. about the difficulty or the challenges of direct elections in an environment where there is an accelerated path of sovereignty along the time line that we have agreed upon with the Governing Council on November 15th.  So I would just point you to Kofi Annan's statement on that.

 

            One more.  Go ahead.

 

            Q     Kofi Annan just asked for a meeting with Iraqis and the CPA.  We haven't heard anything from the CPA, whether they're going to be attending or not.  Is that going to be an issue of discussion -- direct elections -- and are you going to be attending?

 

            MR. SENOR:  My understanding, just from news reports, is that the Governing Council does intend to participate.

 

            Ambassador Bremer and I just arrived from an all-night plane from the United States, so we're just getting settled here.  We have no scheduling or travel plans for the next couple weeks.  That may change.  I know the meeting is very soon.  But we have no -- nothing on the schedule right now.

 

            Thanks, everybody.

 

            GEN. KIMMITT:  Look forward to seeing you tomorrow night, with General Dempsey's briefing.

 

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