(Also participating Charles Heatley of the British Foreign Office)
MR. HEATLEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Ambassador Bremer, as you know, is away for a few days over the holiday period. Ambassador Greenstock is still here. He had a very good meeting today with the Governing Council, primarily focused on the political process and the importance of implementing the 15th of November agreement. They're very focused on this and on the steps that need to be taken between now and July next year, when we are planning, as you all know, to transfer remaining authority back to the Iraqi people.
GEN. KIMMITT: Thank you.
Good afternoon. The area of operations remains stable. Over the past week, there has been a daily average of 17 engagements against coalition military, two attacks daily against Iraqi security forces and two attacks daily against Iraqi citizens.
The number of attacks against coalition elements continues the downward trend that began in the middle of November, but coalition forces remain poised to adjust to any upward activity on the part of the enemy, while forces in the area of operations remain offensively oriented and continue to obtain actionable intelligence for future operations.
To that end, in the past 24 hours, the coalition has conducted 2,000 patrols, 19 offensive operations, 31 raids and captured 54 anti- coalition suspects in the past 24 hours. In the North, coalition forces conducted a series of neighborhood cordon-and-knock operations, covering more than 565 homes.
Two Iraqi police officers were killed in the line of duty, and one was wounded during a small arms attack in Mosul yesterday. Acting on a tip provided by an Iraqi citizen, coalition soldiers and Iraqi police detained two individuals suspected of carrying out the attack. Several weapons and ammunition (were) also seized from the suspects.
In Mosul, court Judge Yusif Korshid (sp) was shot and killed yesterday during the -- near by the Sadiq Rashon (sp) Mosque in east Mosul. The Mosul police are investigating this incident.
Tomorrow 117 police officers will graduate from the Iraqi police academy in the North. This will increase the police in the sector to one -- 17,876.
In the north central zone, as part of Operation Ivy Blizzard, Task Force Iron Horse soldiers conducted 214 patrols, seven raids and captured 52 individuals in the last 24 hours. Four enemy personnel were captured following an attack on coalition solders in Samarra yesterday. One of the suspects was carrying a picture of himself in a Republican Guard uniform and was also carrying anti-coalition propaganda.
Four coalition soldiers were wounded when a grenade was thrown at them and a group of Iraqi citizens yesterday in Hujawah . The soldiers were evacuated to an aid station and are in good condition.
Thirteen enemies in Kirkuk were captured during a raid.
In Baghdad, coalition forces carrying out Operation Iron Grip conducted raids and captured five individuals suspected of bomb- making. Large amounts of bomb-making material (were) seized.
Operation Iron Grip will continue. Coalition forces are using a wide variety of ordnance, to include artillery, Army and Air Force aviation, to attack specified targets in use or used in the past by the enemy. The intent of this large-scale precision operation is to capture or kill individuals conducting actions against the coalition forces and the Iraqi people.
In the West, the 82nd Airborne Division continues Operation Rifles Fury. During the past four days, coalition forces have conducted 35 raids, captured 87 personnel, and 17 of those captured were targeted for committing crimes against the coalition.
In Rawah (sp), coalition forces began phase two of Rifle Furies , with direct civil-military operations. A one hundred and forty U.S. -- $140,000 U.S. project was started to renovate a medical clinic, a sanitation building, the city government building, water stations, the electric office and construction at the mayor's office.
One hundred and eighty-five soldiers from the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps graduated from the Naviyah Training Center yesterday. That brings the total of Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers in the West to 733.
In the central south zone, anti-coalition forces placed explosive devices on three bridges over the Tigris River in al Kut yesterday. Six Iraqi civilians were wounded and treated by a nearby -- treated at a nearby hospital. In response, Iraqi police have increased patrols in the area.
In the southeast zone, the al Nasiriyah planning department plans to rebuild 950 houses at three former Iraqi military bases to house an estimated 1,250 homeless citizens.
Let me finish at this point and offer everyone holiday greetings from the coalition. This is a special season for many, but anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi elements would be well-advised not to misjudge this period, nor miscalculate our capabilities. Coalition forces understand much work remains to be done, and we will not diminish our offensive operations. We will not lower our guard; and we will not relax our vigilance until the mission is complete.
Thank you. Let's go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q: Cho (ph) from NHK. I want to ask a question about the blast that took place in northern Iraq this afternoon or this morning, 11:15. That's the time that it was heard.
MR. HEATLEY: In Erbil, or where do you have in mind? In Erbil. I'll let General Kimmitt brief you with what details we have. It's clearly an early stage of the investigation. Let me just say this: This is another very clear terrorist outrage. It's clear enough to think from the early indications now that this was a terrorist attack, and it follows the same pattern as previous attacks, of attacking an area where there's progress has been made. It's been a traditionally a quiet area, up in the predominantly Kurdish area up in Erbil. The terrorists clearly have an intent to try and attack progress where they find it, and to try and sow dissent among the Iraqi people. And, we've already seen from the reaction up there and elsewhere in the country of the disgust that the Iraqi people share with the coalition of this attack.
GEN. KIMMITT: The details we have at this time: Again, the incident is under investigation. But we have at approximately 11:50 today a suicide bomber drove a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device to the front of the Ministry of Interior office in Erbil and was able to detonate the vehicle. Wounded in action are estimated to be numerous, due to the amount of students in the area at that time of day, although at this time we can only confirm two killed, one civilian and the suicide bomber.
The explosion blew out all the windows of the building, and brought down the protective wall in front of the building. Mr. Mantik, the governor of Erbil, Mr. Sinjari, the minister of Interior of Erbil, and Mr. Nymon (ph), the chief of police of Erbil were not injured.
The area is secured, and the investigation is ongoing.
Q: Ram Ramkupad (ph) from CNN. Sir, I want to ask you a little bit about Operation Iron Grip. We heard a series of blasts last night. There were also signs that aircraft, as you indicated in your briefing, were involved. What sort of targets are you taking out at this point? On what basis are you selecting those targets?
GEN. KIMMITT: First of all, the selection of the targets were based on known enemy activity that had been either emanating from last night or in the past from those locations. The targets that were attacked last night were mortar firing points, and it is my understanding that three targets were attacked last night.
Q: Was there an exchange of fire between the soldiers and Ba'athists?
GEN. KIMMITT: I'm not aware of any, but I would --
Q: (Off mike.)
GEN. KIMMITT: I'm not aware of any attacks on coalition soldiers or an exchange of gunfire between coalitions soldiers and the enemy last night, although I would ask you to check with the 1st Armored Division for specifics.
Q: Tom Poppick (ph) with ABC. We tracked one of those sites that was targeted last night. It's a little more than an empty field in a location that has been targeted in the past by a coalition airstrikes at the beginning of Iron Hammer. The locals described it as little more than target practice with really no military significance. Is this little more than a show of force?
GEN. KIMMITT: It was the judgment of the commander on the ground that based on previous acquisitions, previous intelligence, that that location had been used to fire mortars at coalition forces and Iraqi people. In his judgment, the best thing that could be done for that location would be to make sure that it is not used in the future against the Iraqi people nor coalition forces.
Go ahead, Ned.
Q: Ned Parker with AFP news agency. So what -- there was artillery fire last night and there were aircraft that were firing what exactly?
GEN. KIMMITT: We don't typically disclose operational details of the kind that you're asking for, but I can tell you that artillery was used and aircraft were used last night to take out the targets.
Q: What type of aircraft?
GEN. KIMMITT: Again, we're not at liberty. I'd ask you to -- I'd refer that question to 1st Armored Division.
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, we've used artillery throughout the area of operation on numerous occasions since the end of the war.
Q: Hi. Chalace McDonough from the Voice of America. Was all of the fire last night in Operation Iron Grip concentrated on those targets, or could some percentage of it be classified as harassment and interdiction? And then if so, how much? Thank you.
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, I think it was really a combination of both, and I'd prefer not to go into the specific details of the percentages.
MR. HEATLEY: (Inaudible) -- we're fighting a war on terrorism here, and we have to remain on the offensive. And when we have intelligence, we will act on it.
Any other questions? Yeah.
Q: (Inaudible) -- the intelligence that is something related to like the Christmas offensive that is rumored that resistance would do in this season?
MR. HEATLEY: We have -- I mean, you will have heard statements that have been made in Washington about intelligence indications of terrorist activity globally. We remain on the offensive here, just as security forces in the United States, in Europe, and in other countries worldwide remain on the offensive against terrorism. This is a front on the war against terrorism. We will do what we need to do to secure our mission here, to succeed in our objectives here, to protect coalition forces and to protect the Iraqi people.
GEN. KIMMITT: I would just add on to that that last night was a clear demonstration that we have the capability to respond to any level of attack that we would have in Baghdad or throughout the area of operations. And we continue to maintain that capability through the Christmas season. If the enemy makes a decision to begin what you suggest as a Christmas offensive, we are more than prepared and more than able to respond to any offensive on his part.
MR. HEATLEY: So we'll just take more questions. Yeah?
Q: Tom Lassiter, Knight-Ridder. As you continue these raids based on intelligence and gathering further intelligence, how do you avoid alienating local populace that's not involved?
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, a good example was Operation Rifles Fury. As I'd mentioned in the briefing, we started out with very targeted precision operations. We don't go for large sweeps that are going to -- that will go after large numbers of areas of which we have incomplete information. These are targeted attacks, very precise, to go after what we believe to be targets of which we have significant intelligence.
Along with that, we recognize that there is a need to balance both the military operation and the civil military or the humanitarian operations. So as the 3rd Armor Calvary Regiment has finished Rifle Fury in the Rawah area, it has now completed the military portion of that operation, the direct-attack portion of that operation, and now is going into the humanitarian portion of that. So that rather than just focus on attacking the enemy, it also can help with civic action programs, not only to endorse and underwrite, but also to prop up and support the legitimate authority in those towns as well.
MR. HEATLEY: Let me just add to that. It's clear that who's alienating the Iraqi population here is the terrorists. We have seen an Iraqi judge, who was working to enforce law and order in Mosul, assassinated yesterday, which distresses us, Ambassador Bremer, Ambassador Greenstock and others as much as the Iraqi people.
people. We have seen a terrorist attack today in Irbil, again in which innocent Iraqis have been killed. We've seen other attacks that General Kimmitt mentioned in which innocent Iraqis are dying. It's the terrorists who are alienating the Iraqis here.
We have a job to do here: to maintain law and order, to enforce security in this country. And we will take the fight to the Iraqis in order to do that while we are taking our steps on the political process and in reconstruction of this country to deliver basic services and to deliver a political future in this country which serves the Iraqis.
GEN. KIMMITT: And every commander on the ground is sensitive to the fact that he does need to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the area of operations that he's working in. Those are the people that are providing intelligence. Those are the people that will be the legitimate heirs to the area after we rid them of terrorists. And those are the people who we will work with side by side to provide a safe and secure environment here in Iraq.
Q: If I could follow up, we saw large numbers of detainees out of -- specifically talking about 3ACR in Rawah, dozens and dozens of detainees. For each of those people, there is actionable intelligence that they are in some way involved with the insurgency, or there is evidence, you know, when the soldiers interact with them that they are now involved or in the past have been involved?
GEN. KIMMITT: We detain -- we do not detain people indiscriminately. If they are security detainees, usually it is because there is reason to believe that these people have either taken actions against the coalition, have supported people who take actions against the coalition or the Iraqi people.
MR. HEATLEY: We're finding more and more -- let me just make this point as well -- that those who we are picking up are in many cases those people who were released by Saddam Hussein from the jails in this country last year, and that was a cynical policy by him. We are taking action now to ensure that those who we are picking up who we found were in jail before, that we will make sure that they are not re-released onto the streets to commit further crimes against the Iraqi people.
We will just take a couple more questions. Yeah?
Q: Thanks. I'd like to ask about the --
MR. HEATLEY: Is your mike working now? Yeah, okay.
Q: -- the outlook for the benzene situation, the gasoline situation. In the past, (it) had emphasized the -- kind of the increase in consumption and some hoarding and them some of the problems with production. But talking to some people, it seems actually production is far down from last year, and there's huge amounts being smuggled out of the country. What's the way out of this, as you see it? Where's the --
MR. HEATLEY: Well, the fuel lines, the longer fuel lines that you've seen, particularly in Baghdad, but in also other parts of the country recently, are due to a number of factors, and I think we've discussed these before: supply issues and -- primarily supply issues and distribution issues.
On the supply side, we are ensuring that the supply that is generated locally from the local refineries gets to the gas stations, to the petrol stations. Military assets are being used to ensure that. And indeed the military is interdicting those tankers which are not being taken to the correct distribution centers, to the gas stations, but are being stolen by the tanker drivers and by other forces. And in fact, I think yesterday I read 37 or so tankers were interdicted in theater.
So we are making sure that those people who are trying to steal the Iraqis' petrol and are trying to make money on the expense of those people who are standing in line are unable to do so.
We are also ensuring that sufficient gasoline and other petroleum products are being purchased and are brought into the country. And I think that the Pentagon will have an announcement on this later today, as to how we are reviewing the way in which that is being done. So I encourage you to turn to them for further details on that.
So essentially, on supply, we are ensuring that the refineries are producing as much as they can. We are rebuilding their supply -- the refineries and repairing some of the work that's being done -- some of the damage that's been done by the saboteurs. And on distribution, we are ensuring, along with the Oil Ministry, who have the lead, clearly, in this area, ensuring that the supplies meet their destinations. And as you well know, the -- I think the Oil Ministry has imposed a 30-liter temporary limit on the amount of petrol that people can pick up at an individual station,' in order to meet the demand of all citizens.
Q: (Name inaudible) -- Romanian Radio. About alienating Iraqis, several days ago I've been to Adhamiya in Baghdad, and I saw people there very angry. And word on the street is that people were shot, executed by American forces. Doctors told me that they saw -- they received a number of bodies that were shot from close range, in the head or in the neck. I know these might be rumors, but aren't you worried by the fact that these rumors exist and people buy them?
GEN. KIMMITT: We are always concerned about rumors out on the street. And that's why any time we are told about these rumors, we'd ask you to bring substantive information to us, so that we can do our -- take our -- the responsible action to investigate those rumors, ensure that those rumors are in fact just that, rumors, and then get the news out to the people that those activities that are brewing around as rumors are in fact not correct.
MR. HEATLEY: We will deal with rumors in this country not like in the past. We'll deal with these rumors within a free media environment. There are clearly people out there who want to spread disinformation about the coalition. Our job will be -- we will show to the Iraqi people, through the progress that we make, what the coalition's intentions are in this country. And we will respond to those rumors correctly, through an open press, and allow the Iraqis to make up their own mind as to what our real intentions are and how our behavior really should be judged.
And the last question, please.
Q: On the point of Ivy Blizzard in Samarra, two questions. It's been claimed that the arrests -- I think 111 people have been arrested -- at least partly came as a result of the arrest of Saddam Hussein, the capture. The arrest was Saturday, and the arrests in Samarra started on Tuesday, which seems a very short period between the capture of Saddam Hussein. I'm just wondering, was the intelligence for the arrests as a result of this capture of Saddam Hussein?
And also, the locals in Samarra, rather like the previous incident where the Americans claimed 54 insurgents were killed and the locals claimed it was something like eight -- they're now saying it wasn't -- there aren't 111 people captured, that it was far fewer. I was just wondering if you could perhaps expand.
GEN. KIMMITT: Well, on the first issue, about Operation Ivy Blizzard, Samarra has not been a -- has been a problem for the most recent past, for a number of weeks. The operation kicked off, coincidentally, near the time of the capture of Saddam Hussein. However, we don't typically comment on the sources of intelligence. But I will tell you that Ivy Blizzard was conducted with far more intelligence that had been obtained well before the capture of Saddam Hussein.
And as regards the numbers of personnel that have been detained, I think those numbers stand for themselves. And we have a process by which we very carefully count the people that we capture, we very carefully account for the people if they go into detention facilities. And those numbers stand as reported.
Q: Just a quick supplementary on that one --
GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah.
Q: Do you think -- the operation, I think, is winding down. Do you think it medium- to long-term will prove effective in disabling the resistance in Samarra, which has proven difficult?
GEN. KIMMITT: Samarra has been as quiet in the past few days as it has been since coalition forces came into Iraq. It is certainly our intent to continue to work with the legitimate authorities in Samarra to ensure that that is a safe and secure environment, so that that country -- so that city can move forward, away from the grip that the terrorists had been holding on it for the last few months. Time will tell if we're successful, but we plan to be.
MR. HEATLEY: Since it's the holiday season, we'll be generous and take one last question. Go ahead.
Q: Yes. Mike Georgi (sp) with Reuters. Despite these operations like Iron Grip, your biggest problem seems to be the IED. And there are reports that three soldiers were just killed in Samarra by one of these roadside bombs. How are you coping with this problem?
GEN. KIMMITT: That's a good question. The IEDs do remain a threat inside the country. However, I would tell you that the number of IEDs that are -- that we capture and discover, based on tips from local citizens, based on our own reconnaissance patrols, means that the number of effective IEDs, as a percentage of the total, has gone down dramatically.
We will not be satisfied until the IEDs are no longer at threat against Iraqi civilians or against coalition forces.
Q: (Off mike) -- could you comment on the attack on the three soldiers? Do you have any details on that?
GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah, let me tell you what I do have right now. (Consults materials.) The report that I have states that a three- vehicle convoy traveling south on Highway 1 was attacked with an IED, vicinity Samarra, at about 9:10 this morning. The IED attack caused, at that time, two U.S. killed in action and one wounded. And the third -- the wounded soldier subsequently passed away.
The convoy observed a vehicle in the vicinity, and an individual was seen departing the area. We have notified all units, and we're conducting an exhaustive search for the vehicle and the individual. And one of our units is securing the IED site.
I would tell you that our hearts go out to the families that are going to be getting information that is absolutely unnecessary at this time of year or any time of the year. And our deepest regrets go out to those families, and they will be in our thoughts, and they will be in our prayers, as well as the Iraqi Police Service members that were shot and killed today as well. These are senseless, unnecessary deaths, and the sooner we can get these deaths down to zero, the better.
(Off-mike conferral of briefers.)
MR. HEATLEY: Okay. Thank you very much.
GEN. KIMMITT: Thank you very much.
C) COPYRIGHT 2003, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1919 M ST. NW; SUITE 220; WASHINGTON, DC - 20036, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED. UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION. FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES. FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT 202-347-1400.