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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CENTCOM Briefing

Aired April 17, 2003 - 07:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To Qatar and Central Command and General Vincent Brooks at the podium.
BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, CENTCOM: Iraq is more stable today than yesterday. Identified pockets of resistance are fewer than yesterday. And with the ever- increasing flow of humanitarian assistance, tomorrow shows great promise.

As we advance into a new future for Iraq, we remember our comrades who have fallen, and we remember their loved ones.

Coalition Special Operations forces remained active throughout Iraq. They have been very effective in gaining capitulations or surrenders in several areas, including Arupa (ph), Kirkuk, al-Amarah, Ar Ramadi (ph), Mosul and al-Qaim. These efforts continue where remaining pockets of military presence are found.

Direct action missions against regime leadership or terrorist interests are also ongoing.

Early this morning coalition Special Operations Forces supported by U.S. Marines captured Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti. Barzan is the half brother of Saddam Hussein and an adviser to the former regime leader with extensive knowledge of the regime's interworkings. There were no friendly or enemy casualties. The capture demonstrates the coalition's commitment to relentlessly pursing the scattered members of a fractured regime. Efforts related to other regime leaders are ongoing.

Coalition maneuver forces continued clearing potentially hostile pockets while conducting assessments and aiding the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The arrival of the 4th Infantry Division into the land component operations area included a brief fire-fight in the vicinity of Taji Airfield north of Baghdad. In the engagement the 4th Infantry Division forces killed and wounded a portion of the enemy force, destroyed some T-72 tanks and captured over 100 enemy fighters.

The enemy force also had unmanned arterially pieces, armored personnel carriers, loaded multiple rocket launcher systems, a surface-to-air missile warehouse and a number of computers. The site and the materials have been secured for further exploitation and examination. The coalition force reported the airfield clear of enemy forces and continued its attack to the north, encountering sporadic small arms fire and snipers.

In the U.K. sector of southern Iraq patrols were attacked by rocket-propelled grenades near a bridge in Basra. The patrols are still finding evidence of armed regime death squad members in the city but, in general, Basra is rapidly improving in stability and security. The Iraqi-assisted discovery of five shallow grave sites near az- Zubayr is currently under investigation.

In other areas throughout Iraq the coalition forced on improving the conditions necessary for a stable and free Iraq. The coalition is focusing effort in close cooperation with free Iraqis on the restoration of power systems. As I mentioned before, power is integrally related to the continuous availability of water and other services. I'll give you an example.

Power was recently restored in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and while this is a very important accomplishment for the over 750,000 people in Kirkuk, its impact is far more significant in areas beyond Kirkuk.

In this case, the power in Kirkuk will restore function to a natural gas complex that's also located there. Once the gas complex is restored to 100 percent capability, the natural gas can then be pumped from Kirkuk to Mosul, where a gas-operated power plant is currently down. The gas operated power station will then be able to provide stable electric power that's needed to run the Mosul hydro- electric station at the Mosul Dam to the northwest of Mosul, formerly known as the Saddam Dam.

Once power is restored there, the water distribution system in Mosul can also be restored. And more significantly, the lines that run from Mosul south to Bayji can be activated. That then provides enough energy into the Bayji substation to push power straight into Baghdad and also Tikrit.

So as we have successes like the Kirkuk power plant being restored, it starts a sequence that rapidly improves conditions throughout.

Concurrently, the Baghdad south power plant is being prepared to run on a temporary supply of oil until an uninterrupted supply of both power and oil can be provided. And we are confident that there will be many more good news stories like this in the coming days.

While our efforts to restore power and subsequently water distribution are ongoing, we see increasing contributions of packaged water. The contributions are organized at humanitarian operation centers and then they're prepared for movement in concert with coalition forces to the areas that need the supplies.

I have a short video to show you of a convoy the coalition recently facilitated from Kuwait up to Asamawah (ph) and An Najaf (ph) earlier this week.

This is part of a convoy that had 13 large truck loads of water and water supplies. It began in Kuwait at the humanitarian operations center there. The Kuwaiti government donated the materials as a gift to the Iraqi people.

And I would say that as the convoy moved north, they had some rest halts. And in one case a family with a donkey cart came up and was looking for some water, and they were not refused. So along the way, if there was a request made by any free Iraqis along the road, they were not denied what was available.

And I would add also that, as you could see, this was not just water itself that was being provided, but also containers for bulk water in the same load. The download in this case was in the town of An Najaf (ph). There were members of the Iraqi Red Crescent that were also facilitating the download.

Civilian medical treatment is successfully occurring in many areas of Iraq. And the next image is of a photo taken recently at a hospital near Kirkuk. This is a functioning hospital. It was visited by a military medical team.

The coalition assists by redistributing medical supplies when it's possible. In this image, you see a military physician's assistant turning over medical supplies which were discovered at a previously looted location.

The situation in Baghdad is somewhat different. Areas that are inherently more dangerous must first be secured before any medical care assessments can take place. 3rd Infantry Division solders, as you see in this particular image in Baghdad, first had to secure the hospital and the surrounding area before an assessment of the hospital could begin.

Once military and medical experts gained access to the hospital, they were able to determine any usable areas of the facility and also to take inventory of the available medical supplies. In some cases, like this one, we may expose very disappointing conditions of the care being provided.

What you see here is a man that was found on a gurney within this hospital and he was untreated. He had gunshot wounds and broken bones in several places on his body. The assessment team provided whatever assistance they could -- whatever relief they could at the time, and we find that everyday coalition forces are finding health care facilities that are under-equipped, that are unsanitary, that are under-staffed and it's clear that quality health care was simply not a priority of the regime. It is a priority of the coalition and the reconstruction efforts that are ongoing. Nevertheless, military and humanitarian actions and the reconstruction efforts are improving the conditions. More doctors, nurses, and health professionals are returning to work everyday, medical supplies and experts are continuing to flow into Iraq.

As we complete the process of securing the country from all remnants of the regime and move towards stability operations, free Iraqi forces remain integral to our efforts. They are key to making connection with the population that is now free, and their knowledge of the culture and the areas that they are working in helps to keep our military teams focused and able to show both the energy and the compassion required to make a permanent difference in the lives of the Iraqi people.

Operation Iraqi Freedom continues.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Could you give us some more detail about the capture of Saddam's half-brother and has he been able to give you any indication about the fate of Saddam and his sons?

BROOKS: The operation occurred, as I mentioned, during the night. It was coalition Special Operations Forces, who are professionals at doing this type of an operation, and while doing so minimizing any threat to civilians and protecting the force as they get the job done in an effective way. They were supported by Marines based on the area where the operations occurred, Marines that had been operating inside of Baghdad. This was a Baghdad operation. I won't provide many more specifics in terms of the tactics that are used since we certainly have interest in finding other regime leaders.

There was information provided by some Iraqis in this case that facilitated the capture, and we're currently asking a number of questions -- of course treating him properly, but finding out whatever information we can as a result of this capture, and that will unfold in due time. And I don't want to characterize too much more precisely than that.

QUESTION: Was he alone?

BROOKS: He was captured alone in this case.

Yes, please?

QUESTION: Even with today's capture there are so many leaders missing, there have been no discoveries of weapons of mass destruction, foreign fighters are in the country. Are you at all worried that there really is an opportunity for a big bang still to come?

BROOKS: We remain concerned about any assets, resources or capabilities that might be used. We've seen a number of indications of individuals who either desire a state of lawlessness, who are looting things that are of value to the Iraqi people or who are engaging in violent acts in a number of places. While they're still out there, our work is not complete.

And so, we certainly know that there is some potential for weapons of mass destruction. We know that there are a number of methods that could be used for dispersing or dispensing these weapons of mass destruction -- chemicals, for example, and we're looking for anything that might indicate that. At the same time, our efforts remain very deliberate and focused and we act on pieces of information, joining parts of the puzzle together to be able to gain access to regime leaders like Barzan al-Tikriti last night, and others that are still out there.

The same applies to our approach to weapons of mass destruction, any weapons otherwise; conventional munitions and weapons that are still out in areas that need to be removed from the hands of those that might seek to continue actions. The same applies to finding and removing any foreign fighters with the assistance of the Iraqi people who don't need them for defense and don't seek their presence. That's the way our approach is and will continue to be that way.

Yes, please?

QUESTION: Not a question about tactics, but about policy or enforcement of it.

Let's say Saddam Hussein is located in a country like Syria, would you employ the rule of hot pursuit to cross over that border without permission to capture, fine and locate him?

BROOKS: I wouldn't want to speculate on that in terms of what actions would be taken under a specific circumstance like that. What we do know is this coalition is focused on Iraqi. This is Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we're operating under specific instructions from our national leaders as to what our responsibilities are, and that's where we'd keep it at this point in time. If there are different decisions that are made, we'll certainly be told what action to take or to not take under those circumstances.

Of course, there are a variety of capabilities available to our nation and other nations in different areas. But for us right now, this is Operation Iraqi Freedom and we'll remain focused as we are within Iraq.

Yes, please?

QUESTION: You mentioned shallow graves. Do you have any more detail on that? And the northern town of Mosul, does that remain unstable?

BRO0KS: There are initial reports that some shallow graves were identified as two U.K. forces by some Iraqis. After seeing the first one, they were guided to four more. It's just initial information. We don't know who might be inside of those shallow graves and they're just now beginning to be examined. And so, I don't have anything new to report in that regard.

Mosul is an area that, as I described yesterday, the stability situation is described as uncertain. There are pockets still of lawlessness, violence and indications of deliberate agitation to create those conditions. There were some shootings that occurred yesterday. I described a set two days ago, and there were some more that occurred yesterday when a case of some violent actions at a bank involved police and also some coalition forces. A two-way exchange of fire ensued, police were injured -- or wounded by fire and Marines were also involved in returning fire. Some were killed -- some of the suspected bank robbers were killed and there were others who were wounded in that engagement.

I think what that tell us is that there are still pockets that would seek to have instability as a better solution than stability. Our efforts have to be directed against locating such individuals, taking away their capability and simply applying a system of justice that puts an end to it. That takes deliberate work. It takes assistance by the population. And it takes a draining of the pool so that there's not an ability to hide in and amongst the population as well, and those efforts are ongoing.

There's some good news inside of this, and that is certainly that there was a police force that was involved in enforcing the law in that location and they're working very closely with the coalition. Those efforts will improve over time and we believe that we can create the conditions of stability in Mosul, as they are in other cities of the north right now.

Yes, please?

QUESTION: Regarding the suicide vests, a couple of days ago you said that about 80 of 300 of such vests have gone missing. Any idea where they are now? Have you apprehended any of the individuals who may have taken these vests? And secondly, specifically regarding the situation in Baghdad, are there still some sectors in Baghdad that are still not considered permissive sites, such as Mansour (ph)?

Thank you, sir?

BROOKS: What we saw was a place that had room for about 80 more vests. They were pretty well lined up and prepared. We can't know at this point how many have been already used from that set.

We certainly have seen some suicide vest-wearing individuals in homicide attacks. Where they may have gone is unknown. How many are still potential to be used, it could be as many as there are. And so if there's 80 that are out there, then we suspect that there's potential for at least 80 to be used.

That's one location where we found vests. We don't know that we've found all locations where there may have been supplies of vests.

So what it reminds us mostly of us that there is still a capability there for those types of attacks and for the tactics of terrorists to be used to maintain conditions of instability in places where it's in the interest of those who would seek to either try to restore power or to prevent the bright future we think is in store for Iraq from coming into fruition.

There are areas still in Baghdad that coalition forces have not been able to declare permissive. The number is decreasing significantly with every day that goes by and with the assistance of the Iraqi population, who give us more and more information, and also who really create the conditions of what is permissive and what's peaceful and stable.

Those areas will be dealt with in due time in a very deliberate way, just like you saw in our operations throughout this campaign. We'll develop a specific picture of intelligence, we'll find out where specific threats are, and we'll apply the appropriate amount of force, in a proportional way, that's necessary to rid that location of any remaining regime pockets, suicide bombers, death squad members, loyalists or any other particular threat that might be inside of there. That's how we'll approach it.

QUESTION: Was Barzan found -- was he found in a permissive site within Baghdad or one of the non-permissive sites?

BROOKS: Let me just leave it at, he was inside of Baghdad and we were able to enter and remove him with very precise work.

QUESTION: And Mansour (ph), is that permissive or non- permissive?

BROOKS: Mansour (ph) we're still working on. There's still work to be done there.

QUESTION: Two questions. One, can you comment on reports that coalition forces found two dozen political prisoners in dungeons in Baghdad? And my second very brief question is, do you have a toll in Mosul since Tuesday?

BROOKS: Do we have a toll?

QUESTION: Yes. How many people died in the shootings in Mosul?

BROOKS: First, I don't have any reports of political prisoners having been found in Baghdad. We know that there are many, many political prisoners that were held by this regime. I don't think anyone really knows what the full count is on the number of people that have been held and certainly not the number that have been murdered by the regime over its tenure.

But there's clear knowledge that that occurred, and we gain more and more information each day from free Iraqis who really wanted this regime to go away for a long time and now have the opportunity to live without such a regime being present.

I don't have a specific count on how many have been killed or wounded inside of Mosul. We know that there have been small numbers killed in each one of these engagements. Some have been wounded as well. The full scope of that is not ever completely well known. Some move away with wounds and you don't ever know about that.

What I can say, though, is our approach is deliberate, it's an effort to maintain law and order where it's appropriate and in other cases, as with both of these incidents, it's in response to threats that are directed against coalition forces or others. And that's how we'll continue to do our work.

Our coalition forces have the inherent right of self-defense. That hasn't changed and will continue to be something that is a first guiding principle for our work.

At the same time, we want to be very deliberate about any responses we make and very careful that the response is focused and appropriate to the conditions that are existing at that given time. And we'll continue in that direction.

So I don't know what the answer is on Mosul, and that will probably unfold over the next coming days.

QUESTION: Can you expand a little bit more about Barzan al- Tikriti? What was his role in this regime? Why he was sought?

And a second question, based on the number of suspected sites where there might be weapons of mass destruction and the manpower available, how long do you think it will take until all those locations are thoroughly searched?

BROOKS: We saw the role of Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti as an adviser to former President Saddam Hussein. We believe that he is an insider, and in terms of priorities about 38 on our list of 55 top individual that we believe have key information about the regime.

What real details he has we'll see as he's questioned over coming days and we believe there may be some additional information that comes that may point us in other directions about exactly how the regime worked, what were the inner workings of the regime. We'll have to wait and see exactly what his role was, but that's the foundation for why we found him to be important.

The WMD sites, the process associated with that is more a function of getting good accurate information, going to a location that bears fruit. And so it's not so much a function of how many people are available to do it, but how well we can point them to do the work that needs to be done.

We've organized ourselves to do that. We have people who have a specific role to be played in going to sites that might have weapons of mass destruction or other sites that require detailed examination. It's an organized outfit to do that. There are technical capabilities that are available to them, and things that are found may also be technically examined as we've talked about over a few days.

That's really what the long pole in the tent is, if you will, that will determine how long it will take. It depends on what information we get.

Now, as each day goes by, as each threat of information is gathered in from various sources, whether they're individuals we encounter on the street, regime leaders that are taken into our custody, other things, we may find that it very rapidly unfolds. But at the current time, we're going site by site, item of information by item of information, action by action. And it's a very deliberate process that will take some time.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you a couple of linked questions? One is there's a New York Times report saying that you bombed the basis of the Iranian opposition group, the main armed Iranian opposition group -- the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq?

And secondly, we have a correspondent who's been to Baqubah between Baghdad and the Iranian border, which doesn't seem to have been visited by Iranian forces and which appears to be run by members of the Badr Brigade, a pro-Iranian group. Is that a situation you expect to persist? BROOKS: We know that there's a presence of the Mujahedeen-e- Khalq inside of Iraq, and indeed we have been targeting them for sometime. There's work that's ongoing right now to try to secure some sort of agreement that would be a cease-fire and a capitulation. That work is ongoing and will most likely unfold within the coming days.

We have had forces go through Baqubah. The forces that ultimately went to Tikrit, their first stop was Baqubah. We had indications that it might be a location where our prisoners of war were held. And so, a combat force went through that area. We cleared a hospital there and found that our friendly prisoners of war were not present. It was a few days later that they were encountered, and indeed we may have been very close indeed at that point in time.

So we've had forces to pass through Baqubah. Having said that, there are a number of areas where we may have passed through and we need to look at again in a very deliberate way. We don't have any indications that there are problems in Baqubah at this point, but that will be one of many locations that will visited by coalition forces as time goes on.

QUESTION: First of all, I'd like to ask about Mohammad Mashen Zubaydi (ph), who's in Baghdad, says he's been chosen as the head of an interim counsel in Baghdad and that he is working with you. Can you tell us more about this interim counsel, how you're working with it, what it is doing?

Secondly, reports about this pilgrimage to Karbala in the coming days, expectations are there will be an awful lot of people turning out from various places. Given the tension in Najah recently, can you explain what sort of measures you might be taking to make sure it goes smoothly and peacefully?

BROOKS: There are a number of emerging leaders throughout Iraq and the coalition works with a number of them on a variety of levels. I'd like to just leave it at that. We want Iraq to be governed by Iraqis, we want the local leadership to develop and take ownership of the actions that are happening inside of towns, villages and cities throughout the country, and we want to see an integrated relationship of those regional governments with national-level governments. That will develop over time. That's where I'd like to leave it on the first part of your question.

We're very well aware of the pilgrimage that's coming up and it's great importance, and we certainly will have appropriate measures to ensure that the security is set as well as we can. And we also would anticipate that the Iraqi people, knowing how important it is, will govern themselves in a way that is not one of disorder, but one of the importance of the pilgrimage itself.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's all we have time for today. Thanks very much.

HEMMER: Bit of an abbreviated press conference today there in Qatar, Central Command, probably the shortest -- the briefest that we have seen of these briefings since the war began in Iraq several weeks ago.

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