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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers News Briefing

Aired April 7, 2004 - 15:32   ET

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


RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.
The vast majority of the 25 million Iraqi people want freedom for their country. Nonetheless, as we have said for some time, as the date for Iraq's transition to self-governance approaches, those opposed to a free Iraq will grow increasingly desperate, and indeed they are.

What we're witnessing today in Iraq is a power play between those who favor terrorism and a return to oppression, and those determined to have freedom and self-government.

The terrorists, assassins, are threatened by the Iraqi's people's progress toward self-government because they know that they will have no future in a free Iraq.

They know, as Al Qaida associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi put it in his letter recently that we intercepted, democracy is coming, he said, and there will be no excuse thereafter for their attacks.

They know that the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people oppose them, and that, given a free choice, the Iraqi people will choose the rule of law, not rule by murderers.

This much is certain: Those who oppose the Iraqi people's transition to freedom and self-rule will not be permitted to derail it. U.S. forces are on the offense. The United States and our partners and free Iraqi forces are taking the battle to the terrorists.

We will certainly not allow fugitives from Iraqi justice to stop progress toward a better life for 25 million Iraqi people. We will not allow Sadr to get away with murder. We will not Zarqawi and others to block the path to a free Iraq.

This is an important moment in Iraq's history. The future of the Iraqi people is certainly at stake. So the stakes are high. They're high for Iraq, they're high for the region, and indeed they're high for the world.

The United States will stand resolute with the Iraqi people and those brave Iraqis who have stepped forward to defend, and also the officials who represent them. Those who may be fearful that our forces will leave when sovereignty transfers or before the job is done, you have nothing to fear. The United States will stay the course, we will stay until the task is complete. As President Bush has said, we did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties to liberate 25 million people, only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins.

We're facing a test of will, and we will meet that test. It is also a test of the will of the Iraqi people who seek freedom and the chance to live a decent life, and we're determined to prevail.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are against those who are looting, intimidating and stopping children from going to school at the point of a gun. Zarqawi, former regime elements, Sadr and their militias are enemies of a free Iraq.

We have no intention of allowing the enemies of a free Iraq to undermine the movement toward a better future.

We knew that Sadr would react when the coalition took action to shut down his newspaper and to arrest his deputy. We knew that Zarqawi had declared that the Shiites should be killed. We knew there were risks during our troop rotations, deployments and redeployments. And we knew there would be a growing risk of violence during the pilgrimage period and a risk of increased attacks as the transition to Iraqi sovereignty approaches.

U.S. and Iraqi security forces have taken all possible precautions to minimize risk for the civilian population participating in the pilgrimage, but we have been asked not to provide security in the cities.

We are working closely with Iraqi security forces to mitigate the risks in these cities during the pilgrimage. We caution all pilgrims that the holy cities are potentially dangerous places during this period.

U.S. and Iraqi security forces took precautions to mitigate those risks and to prepare for the possibility of violence.

We have military plans to systematically address the situations we are currently facing. Those plans are now being implemented.

Because we're in the midst of a major troops rotation, we have a planned increase in the number of U.S. troops in the CENTCOM area of responsibility and, indeed, in Iraq. We're taking advantage of that increase, and we will likely be managing the pace of the redeployments to allow those seasoned troops with experience and relationships with the local populations to see the current situation through.

This much is certain: We will take robust military actions, as necessary, to deal with the challenges to Iraq's transition to sovereignty.

There are those who don't want Iraq to be free. They're trying to stop progress toward freedom and self government (ph). We will not allow them to succeed.

General Myers?

GENERAL RICHARD B. MYERS, CHAIRMAN OF JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

This map, of course, of Iraq, depicts a couple of things that are of interest. You'll see some arrows on there. And the arrows depict a couple of different kinds of threats.

In the red are what are labeled former regime elements. Now, this is short-hand for former regime elements and Baathists, Iraqi extremists, extremists from outside, the Zarqawi network as well.

They're primarily working in areas that they've always worked in out here. And 1st MEF is the primary force that has gone against them, as you're well aware, because of the engagements in Fallujah and the engagements in Ar Ramadi.

This is operation in Fallujah, Vigilant Resolve, that we refer to.

And the green arrows depict, as accurately as we can, those thugs and gangs that would associate themselves with Sadr. The number of arrows does not indicate their strength. It is not a lot of people. But this is where we think we have to conduct operations not just the United States, but others to conduct operations to deal with this particular issue as well.

What they have in common is not command and control, but a desire to keep Iraq from progressing toward peace and freedom and self-rule. They do have that in common. And clearly, certainly all of these folks are challenged to the Transitional Administrative Law that is approved by Iraqi authorities and which is going to govern Iraqi governance standards between 30 June and the next phase.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, despite what you and the general said about thugs and gangs, the facts appear to be that U.S. forces are fighting pitched battles with both Sunni and Shia in many cities in Iraq today. More than 30 U.S. troops have been killed since the weekend.

QUESTION: The Kazakhs said today that they will not send troops back to Iraq after July. The Bulgarians called in ambassadors to say they demanded protection for their 450 troops in Iraq. Are things out of control there now?

RUMSFELD: We've spent a good deal of time on the phone with General Abizaid and General Sanchez and with Paul Bremer, Ambassador Bremer. And the answer is no. You're correct. There are a number of lives have been lost, U.S. and coalition. And needless to say, our heart goes out to the families and loved ones of those whose lives will not be lived fully.

On the other hand, the arrows that were up there are really relatively small numbers of people. You say pitched battles. The number of people that are involved in those battles are relatively small. And there's nothing like an army or a major large elements of hundreds of people trying to overthrow or to change the situation. You have a mixture of a small number of terrorists, a small number of militias, coupled with some demonstrations and some lawlessness.

And it's a serious problem. And the problem's being worked. And General Abizaid and General Sanchez and his team have high confidence.

QUESTION: Just a brief follow-up, if I may, sir. You said that the transition will be managed -- I'm paraphrasing -- so that more experienced troops might remain longer. Does that mean some of the troops who are there now, some of the ones who have been there a while, might remain longer than a year -- their year's tour of duty on the ground?

RUMSFELD: It is certainly possible that General Abizaid will make a judgment about the kinds of forces he will need during this period. And since we do have a larger number than normal, that is an advantage that we can certainly use to our benefit.

MYERS: Can I just add one thing to that on this issue of out to control? You got to bear in mind that, at least in the case of Sadr, that he's wanted by the Iraqi government and that what contributed to this was our offensive action -- shut down his newspaper, that went after one of his lieutenants, Yacoubi, and it was not unanticipated or unexpected that we would see some resistance to that.

But the fact remains that he and Zarqawi and former regime elements that have this hope that they can stop progress for 25 million Iraqis, is just not going to happen. And we're not going to let it happen.

QUESTION: Just a couple questions here geared toward how we got here from there. Going back to the war, as you look back on the war plan, this lightning-fast strike for Baghdad, it involved largely skirting the cities. There was some combat in Nasariyah and Najaf. But for the most part, the idea was to skip by these cities and head straight for Baghdad.

And the idea was laudable and an interesting one, thereby to avoid a lot of civilian casualties or U.S. casualties. But now, looking back, does that seem like a mistake because maybe it left people who you could have perhaps taken care of at that point, are now coming back to haunt you?

And I think part of that question is also this idea of encouraging those Iraqi soldiers to put down their arms and go away. And a lot of them did that, but some of them seem to be coming back. Was that also a mistake? And I have other questions about Sadr.

MYERS: My first feeling is, it was not a mistake. There was a lot of thought given to exactly how the campaign would unfold. I think General Franks, in the end, showed the flexibility to take advantage of the situation. And I think if you talk about the humane nature of this conflict -- and I think we can legitimately talk about the humane nature of this conflict, it is very humane by any standards, by any measurement -- that concluding it quickly, at least major combat operations, was exactly the right thing to do. If we'd have gone through some of these cities -- and we did go through most of the cities, by the way -- there was not a lot of fight. Folks deserted the army, both the regular army and Republican guards and they went away. And a few now have come back and want to fight -- and not totally unexpected -- and have to be dealt with, and we've been doing that.

And I would also mention that the main operation was up the rivers there to Baghdad where we're having a lot of our issue, of course, is in Ar Ramadi and Fallujah, which we expected and which we knew we were going to have to take action on, and we have over time, and the Marines are back in there with Vigilant Resolve.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how the operation in Fallujah is going? And talk a little bit again about exactly what you're trying to do there -- arrest certain, people or pacify the city.

RUMSFELD: They have cordoned off the city. They are in the process of systematically moving through the city looking for targets that are identified, that they have photographs of. And they know who they want and what they want and why they want that person. They will have engaged in a number of such raids and have been successful in at least nine that I know of. They intend to proceed in an orderly way for the period ahead until they've accomplished their goals...

MYERS: Exactly right. It's going to last as long as it needs to last.

QUESTION: Did you mean to say nine people involved in the killings of the contractors, or when you say you were successful what do you mean?

RUMSFELD: The nine people they were looking for and certainly among the people they were looking for, include people they believe to have been involved in the killing of the contractors.

QUESTION: Sistani last week expressed concern and regret for what was going on with al-Sadr's militia. To what extent is the U.S. trying to capitalize on those views in getting Sistani more involved in quelling the violence?

RUMSFELD: Well, the Iraqi people have to decide where they stand, where they are. This is their country. And needless to say, Ambassador Bremer has been working with all of the elements in the country, the Iraqi Governing Council, but also the ministers and also those people that are represented, significant people that are represented by those two entities, the governing council and the ministries.

RUMSFELD: They do have to stand up and say what they believe, and the overwhelming majority of them are committed to a free Iraq, to an Iraq that's governing itself, and standing on the sidelines during a period like this is certainly not something that is going to be to their credit.

When the day ends and when we are successful, those who have been helpful have been helpful, and those who have not been helpful have not been helpful. And people have memories. Iraqis have memories.

QUESTION: Well, have al-Sistani's remarks to date been helpful?

RUMSFELD: They have been helpful. And I would add another thing that's been helpful, there's a judge who issue the warrants for Sadr and for his lieutenants that were involved in the murder of Khoei. That judge is courageous. Ambassador Bremer told us today on a secure video that he has been out publicly describing why the indictments were issued, what the problems were, and needless to say, courageously putting himself at risk. And that's admirable.

And so I cite that as an example.

QUESTION: You've said over the months -- perhaps not recently -- that Iran was not being helpful, I think was your word.

RUMSFELD: That's true.

QUESTION: Given that the Shia militias at least recently have become much more of an active threat to U.S. forces, can you say whether there's any evidence the Iranian government or Iranian forces are in any way meddling in the situation and making things worse?

RUMSFELD: Well, we know the Iranians have been meddling, and it's unhelpful to have neighboring countries meddling in the affairs of Iraq. And I think the Iraqi people are not going to want to be dominated by a neighboring country, any neighboring country. No country wants to be dominated by its neighbors.

But the situation here is what it is. And this particular individual that is causing troubles recently is someone that is behaving in a lawless way and is a fugitive from Iraqi justice.

It's not the United States that's issued the warrant. It's the Iraqi judicial system that has.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on the floor of the Senate today, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd said that Iraq had taken a desperate turn for the worse. I know that you probably wouldn't agree, but would you concede that Senator Byrd is not alone in his opinion and you're in a sense in a battle also over the perception of how well things are going in Iraq? And it seems to be an uphill battle at this point.

RUMSFELD: Well, we have 100 senators and 435 members of the House, and a great many knowledgeable and thoughtful citizens and each person has to say what they wish to say. In a free system, we learn to live with that. We can live with that. And that discussion and that debate is not an unhealthy thing. We can manage that.

QUESTION: Given what's transpired in the last days and weeks in Iraq, aren't you having a more difficult time making the case that things are going well in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: We're trying to explain how things are going. And they're going as they are going, and we're here pointing out what's taking place in the country. Some things are going well and some things, obviously, are not going well. And you're going to have good and bad days, as we've said from the outset. And this is a moment in Iraq's path toward a democratic and a free system. And it is one moment. And there will be other moments, and there'll be good moments and there'll be less good moments.

QUESTION: You yourself said there was a test of wills today. Is this a turning point?

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't use that phrase. I thought the way I phrased it is about right. It's a moment on the path toward a free Iraq. And very few countries have gone from a repressive system to a free system on a smooth, perfectly proper, everything wonderful path.

It just doesn't happen. You can't find a country that's done that. We didn't do it.

And anyone who knows anything about history and looks back at the difficulties and the potholes in the road as you go through that series of difficult stages you have to go through understands what's taking place and what has to take place and what has taken place in other countries.

MYERS: I think it's exactly as the secretary said. I think it's also important to remember what this is not. And it's certainly not a popular uprising or a movement supported by the majority of Iraqis. It is not that at all. We tried to describe that in our opening statements.

It's not a Shia uprising. Sadr has a very small following and, as the secretary said, he is what he is. It's certainly not -- it's not the kind of military action that is well-coordinated at the national Iraqi level or necessarily by well-trained forces, although there do appear to be some forces that are better trained than others in this.

So I think we've just got to make sure we understand what it is not, and I would offer that.

QUESTION: General, following on that, you say a very small following. Numbers for Sadr's followers have been all over the map. Can you give us some numbers on the estimate of his militia, his followers, and some numbers also of the anti-coalition forces overall that you think you're facing?

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, there's 25 million people in the country, and the estimates I've heard for this fellow are, depending on who you talk to, somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000 out of 25 million.

And what have you heard?

MYERS: I think that's accurate, sir. That's what I've heard. But I think one thing you need to keep in mind here is...

(CROSSTALK) MYERS: ... that fear and intimidation are still alive and well in Iraq. The secretary referred to thugs going to a school, and with their weapons, telling the teachers to go home or they'd start shooting, I think were the words.

Fear and intimidation work well. So people that are afraid will do anything. So it's always hard to gauge, you know, who's doing this because they really believe in a particular cause or who's doing it because they don't want their family intimidated.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if I could follow on the Iranian question, do you believe that Iranian fighters are inside Iraq or there's direct help from Iran to these militias run by Sadr?

RUMSFELD: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we've heard a whole bunch of ideas about how the Iraqi security forces, themselves, have behaved in the last couple of days, and all over the map, some saying they did well in Baghdad but melted away in other places. Is there any sort of concrete facts about how they've been doing?

MYERS: I think it's not that far from what you described. They are part of Operation Vigilant Resolve that 1st MEF is conducting, and the information I have is that they're performing relatively well there. They're part of the outer cordon and perhaps some operations inside.

There are other Iraqi forces that are actually conducting operations in Fallujah with our forces. I'm told that's going very well. There are other instances where Iraqi forces have not been as aggressive.

And I think we've stood up here and talked about the need to properly equip and train these forces. And that's a priority right now, and we will continue to do that to make them more confident and more effective.

RUMSFELD: I would add that we do have to get freed of some of the constraints on our ability to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. There's just too many rules and regulations and laws and procedures that are based on peacetime constraints that impede and slow the progress toward getting Iraqi forces trained and equipped and deployed in ways that are effective.

I guess the other thing I'd say is that I believe that since September 1st, according to the reporting we have, more Iraqi security forces have been killed than coalition forces, which suggests that the Iraqi security forces are engaged and doing things, and not sitting back in their barracks, which, I think, partially answers your question.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, from what you understand, are there any areas of the country that are not under control of coalition forces?

RUMSFELD: Yes. QUESTION: Could you tell us which areas those are?

RUMSFELD: And Najaf, I mean, clearly, you've got, what, how many -- I don't know how many million. I've heard all kinds of numbers of pilgrims that are in that general area, and we know that Sadr and his militia is in that general area. And we've made a conscious decision, at the request of Iraqis, to stand back during this pilgrimage period.

And I, in my opening statement, pointed out that we think it's a dangerous place and a place that people who are considering engaging in the pilgrimage ought to very carefully calculate, because it's very clear we're not in a position to provide protection for them. And it's also very clear that Zarqawi has indicated he thought it was a good idea to go out and kill a Shia.

QUESTION: Both of you made the point, but you especially General Myers, that this violence, this unrest was not unexpected, not unanticipated during this timeframe. So my question is, if that is the case, why were U.S. troops not better positioned to deal with it if you knew it was coming?

And I also don't understand if your estimate is that Sadr has about 1,000 fighters, roughly, how is it that a thousand fighters could force a change in -- essentially force you to break the promise to the troops, absolutely, that they would be home within a year? Since you now say the more experienced troops may have to stay, it seems a bit of a mismatch.

MYERS: On the first item, on unexpected, you cannot predict where the tactical fight's going to take place with certainty. And so when we say it's not unexpected, that's at sort of the operational level. We know there will probably be violence because of a certain action that we take. We know that.

To say exactly where it's going to take place and the characteristics of that, that's probably -- in many cases we can do that, but in many cases we cannot do that. So I think that's what you're seeing.

RUMSFELD: I was going to say -- you said 1,000. I think I said 1,000 to 6,000, and we don't know the number. So it's not the one.

QUESTION: Let me rephrase my question...

RUMSFELD: I wouldn't want people to walk out thinking we'd said what you said we'd said.

QUESTION: OK. Let me rephrase my question very quickly: How is it that this situation has led the Bush administration to step back one step from its promise to the troops that they would be home within a year?

MYERS: I think one thing we've always said, from day one, before major combat began is that what the combat commander on the ground needs in terms of resources -- men, women, materiel -- he'll get. And that's still the promise today. And the numbers in Iraq and the numbers in Afghanistan have varied over time to deal with the situation on the ground and the capability the commander needs.

And you look at the map, you look where there are people engaged. It doesn't take many thugs to go to a school and put the gun in the principal's head and say all the teachers out of here or I'm going to start shooting.

And so it's measures that we're considering as we go forward here.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) today must wonder now; they're hearing you speak. They're hearing this change of plan. How many troops stay and how long? They must want to know this from you.

RUMSFELD: And they certainly would like to know that. And at that point where we are able to be specific, we will certainly let them know.

Make this the last question.

QUESTION: What can you and General Myers tell us about the battle for Ramadi? What have you learned about why there was such a large American loss of life in that battle? Who exactly was the enemy there?

MYERS: Generally characterized, as the map said, former regime elements, but as I said, former regime elements can be former Baathists, they can be Iraqi extremists, they can be outside jihadists, they can be Zarqawi network folks as well.

Specifically, we're going to have to wait for the reports to come in, because we don't have that kind of detail at this point.

QUESTION: Did General Abizaid ask for more troops? That's the question we're trying to get to.

RUMSFELD: The answer to the question is, the general already gave it. We've said, every week, every month from the very beginning, that the commanders on the ground make a continuing assessment as to the number of troops they believe they need and the kinds of troops they need.

They make recommendations. And I sign deployment orders. You can be certain that if they want more troops, we will sign deployment orders so that they'll have the troops they need.

And he made a statement and I made a statement that we are looking at the overlap to take advantage of it. When we have something more detailed to announce, we'll probably first announce it to the troops and then to you.

END

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