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Coalition News Briefing

Aired April 11, 2004 - 08:49   ET


HOLLY FIRFER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Holly Firfer at the CNN Center in Atlanta. We want to take you now live to Baghdad for a coalition briefing with Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and coalition spokesman Dan Senor. Let's take a listen.
DAN SENOR, CPA SPOKESMAN: Good afternoon. I just have one very quick announcement, and then General Kimmitt will have an opening briefing, and then we will be happy to take your questions.

We -- Ambassador Bremer, over the last several days has issued a statement and is encouraging everyone here to be vigilant in this time during the Arbaeen period, about possible terrorist attacks that could occur in this country. And while there are many other issues that we are all dealing with and attending to, be they in Fallujah or in the southern part of the country, we should not -- we should not be distracted from the very real possibility that a terror attack can occur in this country.

The sorts of attacks we've seen over recent months which we believe to have been orchestrated by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, specifically targeted at Shia holy places. Of course, there was this document which we obtained in which Mr. Zarqawi lays out his battle plan for Iraq, which we obtained several months ago, in which he says and I quote, "They, the Shia, are the insurmountable obstacle, the lurking snake, the crafty, malicious scorpion, the spying enemy and the penetrating venom. The unhurried observer and inquiring onlooker will realize that Shiaism is the looming danger and the true challenge. They are the enemy, beware of them, fight them, by God they lie."

Then he goes on to take responsibility for a number of operations, terrorist attacks, that have occurred in Iraq dating back to last summer. Certainly the one we have in mind, foremost in our mind was the attack in Najaf. And obviously, the ones recently around the time of Ashura (ph). So again, we will repeatedly remind all Iraqis the importance of being vigilant, being very aware of this very real threat that faces Iraqis and specifically many of the religious Shia during this time.

General Kimmitt.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Good afternoon. What I would like to do is I did in fact two days ago is give a quick orientation to the entire area of operations, to give -- and try to give a perspective of what is going on in the overall theater. I want to talk about a couple of the towns, and I'll take you through a quick orientation of the areas that you're hearing about and try to put in your mind an idea between the map and those places you're reading about.

Here is the town of Fallujah. Right here is the small suburb of Abu-Gareb (ph). There has been some fighting in vicinity of Abu-Gareb (ph) today, and parts of the lines of communication were cut, right along this route, coming out of Baghdad to Fallujah. And we currently have active ongoing operations by the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Cavalry Division in that area to open up that route.

Right now, they say the route is amber and they expect that route to be green quite soon.

In Fallujah, the unilateral suspension of military operations announced about 48 hours ago by coalition forces is continuing to be maintained on the parts of the Marines. There has been sporadic fighting by the enemy forces. The enemy forces in some cases are attacking, in some cases just taking pot shots. We don't know if they have not got a centralized command structure which is causing them not to understand that there is an offer on the table for a cease-fire, or if they are continuing to fight by their own volition.

Nonetheless, it is the intent of the coalition to continue to allow the Interim Governing Council to come into the town of Fallujah so that we can talk and the Governing Council can talk about prospects of restoring governmental control to the city of Fallujah.

Of course you know the town of Baghdad. Baghdad has been quiet for the last 48 hours. There have been individual activities, small, localized engagements. There were some pictures shown I think about 24 hours ago, suggesting that the Americans had withdrawn, the coalition forces had withdrawn from Sadr City. The fact remains is that in the estimation of the ground commander, Sadr City is back in Iraqi control. We have Iraqi personnel in the police stations. The Sadr building was destroyed. We don't see -- even though there has been some slight rebuilding of it, we don't see a significant Sadr militia presence in Sadr City. Around the city, of course, today we've had a couple of explosion. But -- and, however, 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division estimate that Baghdad is still fully under Iraqi control.

As we head to the south, there are the towns that you have read and heard about, Al-Kut, Diwaniya, Karbala, Najaf, and Nasiriya. Of course further in the south are the larger towns, in Dekar (ph) province, Basra, so on and so forth.

But let me focus on these towns. In Al-Kut, we continue to maintain coalition presence. There was some method and some manner of Sadr control over the city for a small period of time. We brought in 2-6 (ph) Infantry as I described yesterday, came across the bridges, attacked into the town, and the vast majority of the town of Al-Kut is back in coalition hands. It is clear that the people of Al-Kut appreciate the coalition presence. Although many of the people, most of the people are staying inside their houses, it is clear that at this point that the ground combat units are now moving from the notion of re-establishing Iraqi control to the city of Al-Kut, to now going to the next phase, which is bringing in the information, bringing in the dollars, bringing in the assets so that all the destruction, what minor destruction there was done, we can start rebuilding that and convince the people of Al-Kut that the purpose of coalition control and Iraqi control is to bring them one step closer to sovereignty and democracy.

The same thing in the town of Nasiriya. Nasiriya currently has significant Italian patrols, the Italian REFT (ph) brigade in control of the entire city. We would suspect that in both Kut and in Nasiriya that there are small bands of Sadr militia that may be hiding out, holding out. However, the contact has been negligible in both these towns. There may be some operations upcoming in both these towns. And as we conduct intel-based raids to go out and clean up the remaining pockets.

Same idea in An-Nasiriya. Now that the fighting is over, we want to get back to the process of rebuilding, building structures, building confidence, and getting those towns back on the path to democracy and sovereignty.

We have talked about Diwaniya. Diwaniya, again, is quiet, and right now the remaining presence of significant Sadr militia seems to be in the towns of Karbala and Najaf. They are mixed in with the pilgrims that are observing Arbaeen. At this point, we don't want to go into those cities. We do have forces on the outskirts of both those cities. As and when necessary, as and when it makes sense, we will re-establish coalition control over those towns, re-establish Iraqi control over those towns.

So as you look at the overall area of operations, things are improving. In the south, particularly as we are now starting to, well, finishing the destruction of the Sadr militia. The Sadr militia has gone to ground in many of these towns. They are no longer an active offensive threat.

They will be a threat for some time to come. The coalition forces certainly have the capability to maneuver forces anywhere in the country necessary to finish the destruction of the Sadr militia as long as it remains a threat to the people of Iraq and the progress of Iraq.

In Fallujah, the discussions continue with the enemy inside Fallujah. We are now looking for the political track to be the method by which we re-establish Iraqi control over the city of Fallujah, get legitimate Iraqi authority over that city, not extremist control of that city.

So that, as we are doing it in the south, we can take Fallujah and start moving it forward.

There are small pockets of resistance and activities, such as we're seeing along route Campa (ph) and some of the other areas, but the coalition remains confident that as these threats crop up, they have the maneuver capability, the force capability and the intelligence capability to minimize those threats.

So given what we see right now on the ground, subject to new intelligence coming in, the assessment of the coalition and the Iraqi authorities is that they are making progress and trying to get back to the most important aspect, which is to move the political process forward, move the process of handing governance over.

There have been tremendous small unit engagements, and I want to take about three minutes to give you a flavor of the kind of operations that your soldiers have been engaging. This one is in a small town of Baquba, which is our assessment that the former regime elements that were operating in Baquba saw this recent activity in the case of Fallujah and in the south as an opportunity to raise some trouble. And this is what they found.

At 2:00 p.m. on Friday, the Baquba police station, the governor's building and the civil military operation center were simultaneously attacked by armed insurgents. At least 15 rocket grenades were reported being fired at the police station.

FIRFER: Good morning. You're watching CNN SUNDAY MORNING. We're live in Baghdad at a coalition forces briefing. Brigadier General Mark Commit is at the microphone.

KIMMITT: ... mortars were observed impacting near the civil military operation center. Two Iraqi police were killed during the attack on the police station. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded. And between 3:30 and 4:00, there was a brief lull in enemy contact. At 4:00, contact increased again.

At 4:45, while moving from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to clear, an armed enemy -- a coalition force was ambushed by enemy elements of unknown size. Reports indicate at least 20 rocket grenades were observed during the course of the engagement. Forty to 50 armed individuals were observed, some wearing black pajamas, uniforms, others wearing civilian clothes.

Coalition forces returned fire, killing at least 20. And during the course of the engagement, a rocket grenade impacted with the turret of one of the infantry fighting vehicles, injuring the gunner. And en route to his forward operating base, that gunner died.

At 6:10, coalition forces were again engaged by at least six rocket-propelled grenades and an unknown number of Iraqis firing from allies. Continuous enemy contact was reported from a traffic circle. And by 8:30, up to 100 personnel armed with rocket grenades and small arms were reported in the vicinity of the traffic circle.

Coalition forces established positions through the north of the circle and to the east of the circle, and conducted an assault to clear remnants of enemy contact and establish blocking positions on the bridges. During movement to the bridges, forces were engaged by at least six rocket-propelled grenade teams and small arms fire. But by 10:30, coalition elements were again established at the twin bridges. By 10:40 that evening, forces completed repositioning of forces to the governor's building; enemy contact was light throughout the remainder of the night.

So although these engagements have been sporadic, and in a countrywide analysis they have been limited, the fact is, we have coalition soldiers out there every day fighting a determined enemy, fighting an enemy that wants to reverse the course of where this country's going to go. And some are paying the ultimate price for the freedom of this country. And for that, the coalition remains grateful.

SENOR: With that, we'll be happy to take your questions.

Yes? Go ahead.

DANIEL COONEY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Daniel Cooney from The Associated Press. We had a report that U.S. forces have ordered pilgrims out of Karbala. Can you comment on that?

KIMMITT: There's no truth to that rumor. And there's no truth to that report.


NICK RICCARDI, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Nick Riccardi, Los Angeles Times. I have two questions. The first one is mainly clerical.

General Commit, when you say -- when you've said Iraqi control in describing the situation, is that a synonym that you're using for coalition control?

KIMMITT: It is a synonym for legitimate control in this country, which is represented by both the Iraqi authorities and the Coalition Provisional Authority.

RICCARDI: As opposed to Sadder loyalists or other...

KIMMITT: As opposed to Sadder militia, as opposed to former regime elements, as opposed to anybody who doesn't respect the 25 million people of Iraq.

RICCARDI: And my second question is, the situation in Fallujah, you're now seeking a political track. Has the -- what changed in the course of the military operation to make the coalition decide that the political solution is the one that should be pursued right now?

SENOR: I would just say we have been approached by a number of Iraqi political leaders, members of the Governing Council, who indicated to us that after the initial hostilities in the initial operations in Fallujah, there was an opportunity for them, if given a clear passage into Fallujah, to try to minimize the bloodshed. And we believed it prudent to give them the opportunity to do so. We are now waiting to see where that goes. It's really at its initial stages.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION (through translator): Al-Arabiya television reported that Peshmerga or Kurdish forces have worked with the coalition forces in the Fallujah. How much truth into this?

KIMMITT: There's no truth that Peshmerga militia worked in the area of Fallujah. Anyone who is operating in the vicinity of Fallujah is either a member of the coalition force or an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps unit. That Iraqi Civil Defense Corps unit serving the nation of Iraq, serves the people of Iraq, and swears its loyalty to the people of Iraq.

SENOR: Yes? Go ahead.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with The Washington Post.

General Kimmitt, could you comment on two reports we've been hearing today? One about at least one helicopter being downed in west of Baghdad. And, secondly, could you give us an update on the two American service members who are missing in action? Could you tell us what unit they're from, what efforts are being made to locate them or ascertain their whereabouts?

Thank you.

KIMMITT: As we reported earlier, there was an A-64 helicopter brought down by enemy fire today at about 11:05, approximately five kilometers west of Baghdad International Airport. I'm sad to report that the pilots have been declared killed in action.

We have a quick reaction force on site conducting the recovery of the equipment and personnel. And our hearts go out to the families that tonight will be getting that message. And we'll pray for them.

As to your second question on...

QUESTION: MIA service members, sir.

KIMMITT: We have no soldiers currently listed as missing in action. We have two soldiers whose duty status is unknown. And as we find out further information on that, we will keep you updated on that.

QUESTION: And as a quick follow-up, sir, there was another report that apparently just went over the wires about another helicopter being downed. Have you heard about that?

KIMMITT: I have no reports on that additional helicopter.

SENOR: Rachel (ph), go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have one question for each of you.

First, do you have any reports about two Marines that were shot by a sniper in Fallujah or the surrounding area? And the second question is, speaking with a senior member of the IGC yesterday, he said to us that the -- what's happening in Fallujah has caused a considerable amount of damage in the trust and confidence of the Iraqi people themselves in the coalition because there was excessive force, in this person's opinion. My question is, how then do you now move forward and try to repair that relationship? Is it possible? What are the methods you'll take?

KIMMITT: Yes. On the first question, we understood there may be some reports coming up that indicate some Marine casualties today. I don't yet have those reports. As soon as we have them, we will pass them out.

And one part of your question about excessive force, that again -- I think what we need to repair is a press that will continue to try to manipulate the facts when the vast majority of the facts on ground disprove those opinions. The forces out in Fallujah have been tremendously precise, tremendously circumspect, well within the rules of engagement, and have not engaged in any violations of the laws of war nor the rules of engagement.

SENOR: Rachel (ph), I would just add on your second question, the decision-making process we go through when we consider operations like in Fallujah, like against Saddler's militia, are based on what kind of setback would occur if we don't confront those elements. What we have to think about is there are individuals or organizations in Fallujah that mutilate individuals and just engage in sort of mob violence. And certainly the mob violence that we have to -- that we've observed in the southern part of the country with Saddler's militia and the violent intimidation tactics used to try to achieve through the barrel of a gun what these -- what Sadder and his militia knows they could never achieve at a ballot box.

Now, we have to consider, if you do not confront those forces head on, what does that say, what does that mean, what kind of roadblocks does it create for Iraq's path to democracy, for Iraq's path to sovereignty? And we make the calculation that it is better to combat and confront that cancer, that poison in Iraq's body politic now rather than down the road.

We have no reason to believe that it is a problem that would be minimized by waiting, by turning our heads. When the sort of violence -- the mob violence that has run rampant in certain parts of the country is left unchecked, it is not going to go away if we choose to ignore it. And that certainly, we believe, would pose much larger problems down the road for Iraq's path to democracy than just ignoring it now.

QUESTION: Can I just -- one follow-up. Was the IGC consulted before you had drawn up plans to go into Fallujah?

SENOR: I don't want to comment on our planning process, certainly on the operational side. I can let General Kimmitt speak to that. But I can say the Governing Council has been in very constructive discussions with Ambassador Bremer over the past few days on seeking some sort of resolution. Certainly the talks about organizing a cessation of hostility has had the deep involvement of members of the Iraqi Governing Council.

Rajiv (ph)? QUESTION: Two quick Fallujah questions.

First, for General Kimmitt, I've heard you speak from the podium for several days now about the precise limited nature of the Marine actions there. Also seen wire reports from inside the city with very large reports of civilian casualties. Do the Marines have an estimate as to the number of civilians and Iraqi combatants who have been killed as a result of the actions there? It would be helpful to get some sort of estimate from your side.

And the second question, Dan, assuming that the cease-fire is agreed to, or some sort of temporary cessation of hostility hostilities, what are the coalition's conditions for a permanent cessation of hostilities? What do you want from the leadership of Fallujah so that this issue can be revolved?


KIMMITT: Go ahead.

SENOR: I think it's premature, Rajiv (ph), to get to that stage, conditions, permanent cease-fire. We are at a very, very preliminary phase.

We are allowing -- we are trying to suspend hostility is so that Iraqi Governing Council delegation can get in and out of Fallujah easily, to have discussion with Fallujah leaders. Once we get comfortable with that phase, we can talk about the nature of those discussions that could lead to perhaps something more permanent and the conditions that you're referencing. But we're just not there yet.

We're trying to get access for the delegation. We're trying to get the fighting to stop. We're trying to minimize the bloodshed. And then we will go from there.

KIMMITT: And as to the figures that you're seeking, I would recommend you go talk to the Marines. I think they can give you a much better estimate of the numbers there.

But I think when you do talk to them, make sure that you talk to them about what was the reason any of those casualties occurred. Was it because of Marine tactics, or was it because, more probably, of an enemy who's trying to wrap himself in the civilian population, among the civilian population, as human shields, as barriers, as an attempt to draw them into the fight, when by international law they are technically considered noncombatants.

And I think before we suggest where the blame lies, would recommend you go out there and take a look and see for yourself the type of enemy that will fire from a mosque, that will shoot its mortars from a mosque, will try to kill coalition soldiers from a mosque. And then when a portion of the outer wall of the mosque complex is then destroyed in order to stop the shooting that was killing coalition soldiers, will then proclaim from that same mosque about the war crimes of the coalition forces. The answer ought to be obvious. SENOR: Go ahead.

QUESTION (through translator): General Kimmitt, the delegation that went to Fallujah have returned. I have communicated with the head of the delegation, and he informed me that there was an agreement with the resistance to crease operations. But they were demanding that American forces should retreat from Fallujah when the city will be given to Iraqi police and Iraqi army. Do you agree with that condition?

My second question, if you have accepted the idea of doing dialoguing with Fallujah, are you going to be dialoguing with Najaf? Or are you providing the same condition for Najaf to do this or to become an Iraqi situation to be dealt with by Iraqis?

Thank you.

KIMMITT: I don't think that I want to stand up here and comment on the positions of both sides. The coalition side on Fallujah is simple.

We have been on a unilateral suspension of offensive operations for about 52 hours now. Yesterday, we called for a unilateral -- a bilateral cease-fire. We did not ascribe any conditions to that; we did not place any conditions on that. Now the persons have come back and started putting conditions on that.

I think the most important thing to understand at this point is that the coalition forces have suspended offensive operations. They are permitting the political track and the discussion track to go forward. They will always retain the inherent right of self-defense, and they will be prepared if the discussions break down to continue offensive operations. In terms of the tick-tock as it goes back and forth in the discussions, I think I'll leave that to the Governing Council to discuss that with other coalition officials.


QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You've been talking about the suspension of offensive operation, but you have not been talking about the cease-fire that went into effect this morning. What happened this morning?

KIMMITT: Well, again, the cease-fire would indicate that both sides have agreed to it. Certainly, we would ask the enemy to suspend their offensive operations. We would ask the enemy to stop their operations as well.

QUESTION: Could you discuss some of the terms of this agreement that -- you know...

KIMMITT: There are no terms. We have unilaterally suspended offensive operations. If the enemy were to unilaterally suspend offensive operations or any of their operations, then we would have a cease-fire on the ground. QUESTION: The second question is about you haven't talked much about the humanitarian situation in Fallujah. Could you describe it for us and tell us what the Marines are doing to...

KIMMITT: The Marines remain ready, willing and able at any time to provide any level of humanitarian assistance. Outside the city of Fallujah, I understand they've already set up facilities for any displaced persons that come out of the city that need assistance. That is something that the Marine Corps is expert in, the whole notion of assistance, rendering assistance to any town in the world at anytime.

We've got to get to the conditions of stability so that they can provide that. The Iraqi government has already provided some supplies to them as well. We are not aware of any appeal on the part of anyone inside of the Fallujah -- the city of Fallujah for any additional supplies. I am certain that the Marines, if asked by a legitimate authority to provide and render humanitarian aid or any aid to people, particularly noncombatants that need it, I think they would probably find a very open dialogue to provide that.


QUESTION (through translator): Two questions. One for Dan Senor.

You have stated that you have allowed the political track that you see to go to Fallujah. And then, at the same time, you say that from unilateral position that you have stopped the work. Are you going to play a role? You have allowed it, but then you have stopped the cease-fire.

Then, the second question to General Kimmitt. From here, from this podium, you talk about a clean war in Fallujah. But the Iraqis have an image through television from what is happening in Fallujah from killing children. Is there a way that you could convince Iraqis by your point of view that you have utilized force against terrorists?

Thank you.

KIMMITT: With regards to the solution on the images of Americans and coalition soldiers killing innocent civilians, my solution is quite simple: change the channel. Change the channel to a legitimate, authoritative, honest news station.

The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies. So you want a solution? Change the channel.

SENOR: I mean, you, yourself, cited Al-Jazeera. And we've noticed a real trend with Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and some of the other channels that are -- what we believe are misreporting facts on the ground and contributing to a sense of anger and frustration that possibly should be directed at individuals and organizations inside of Fallujah that mutilate Americans and slaughter other Iraqis rather than at the coalition.

To your other question, our goal is quite simple. It is to minimize bloodshed. We were approached by members of the Iraqi Governing Council who wanted to organize a delegation to head into Fallujah to try to work towards some sort of discussion here. And in so doing, would require a suspension of hostilities.

And we are acting on that. We are suspending hostilities to allow the delegation to get peacefully inside Fallujah and begin those talks with Fallujah leaders. That is our goal.


QUESTION (through translator): My question to General Kimmitt. How many helicopters have you lost since the beginning of hostilities in Fallujah until now?

Second, some channels showed two people that have been murdered. They stated that they are CIA officials. How much truth to that?

Now, you are putting your -- your forces in front of Fallujah and you are ceasing fire. Is this a tactical approach so that you could continue your operation later?

KIMMITT: On the first question, in terms of the number of helicopters that we have lost during this operation, I talked about one Apache today. I know that we've had a couple of others do precautionary and emergency landings over the space of the last few days. But in terms of total losses, I don't think we have had one today and possibly one two days ago. I would have to check and see if it was a total loss or just a partial loss.

With regards to the persons who were shown on the TV today who were apparently murdered, I can't answer who they were. I can't answer what organization because I simply don't know.

And in terms of the positioning of the forces in Fallujah, quite simply, these were positions that coalition forces fought for, some died for. But they've accomplished those positions, and they're not giving up those positions until a decision is made with regards to a final determination on how we're going to get legitimate Iraqi control back into the city of Fallujah so that we have Iraqi police governing that city, Iraqi governmental officials making decisions for that city, Iraqi civil defense marching up and down that city.

But with regards to why the Marines are there, because they fought for those, they bled for those, and, in some cases, they died for those positions. And they don't give up ground that easy. Second, if the talks break down, and the enemy continues to attack, those will be very good positions from which the Marines can continue the attack to finish taking the town of Fallujah.

SENOR: Jim, go ahead.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I want to follow up a little bit if I can on a question my colleague over here asked. And that is about the future. And we know a conflict could be coming in Najaf. And I'm sure, General Kimmitt, you know that urban warfare, as careful as anybody is, civilians are going to get killed.

There's a city where you're trying to win hearts and minds. Certainly the Shia, south. Everything you said about al-Sadr and the Mehdi Army would say it's an isolated problem. But, Dan Senor, is there a need here for the Iraqi leadership working with the CPA to start talking to the people in that city right now to solve that problem? Is that under way?

SENOR: Let me say this, Jim. We -- what we're seeing in Najaf and other parts of the south central region is Sadr's militia taking over police stations, intimidating Iraqi police officers, taking over government buildings, shutting down schools, murdering their fellow Iraqi citizens.

The majority of Iraqis even in the south central region of the country, the silent majority, if you will, are communicating to us and through our channels that they don't want a part of Sadr's militia. They don't want a part of this sort of thuggery and mob violence. And we believe we have a responsibility here to address it.

Now, by addressing it, do you run the risk of there being civilian casualties and pain and suffering imposed upon the local citizens, regional organizations, regional institutions? That's a risk in any military conflict. It's a risk in any operation you engage in.

But what's the alternative? And that's the question we have to ask ourselves. And this isn't to suggest that we are -- and I'll let General Kimmitt speak to planning our preparations for additional operations or holding back on operations. But I will just say that -- and this comes back to Rachel's (ph) question -- in all these situations, we have to ask ourselves, what is the risk of not acting? What is the risk of turning our head and just ignoring this problem?

And the risk is not only one of a security nature for the coalition, but is also an enormous risk for the Iraqi people and their ability to build a democracy and their ability move on their path to sovereignty. If we do not address these elements and these individuals and these organizations now, we will the day because these organizations, these militia, will rise up another day. And it's bet tore deal with them now than after June 30.

KIMMITT: And, quite simply, what I would say is that there are many ways for the town of Najaf to come back under legitimate control of the Iraqi government, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and that don't involve any fighting at all. The people of Najaf can certainly turn over the Sadr militia. The people in Najaf can help us in this process. The people in Najaf can restore the Iraqi police to the rightful positions inside their city.

We don't see it as a necessary requirement that any military action has to occur in Najaf. In fact, I think anyone who has ever had to send soldiers into combat would always prefer to have another solution. We look forward to that solution. That solution simply being restoration of Iraqi control, not militia control, but Iraqi control into the city of Najaf and Karbala.

CLANCY: So very briefly, is that a yes, that you are pursuing some other things? There are talks going on in order to head off a conflict if possible?

SENOR: We would prefer there to be no conflict. I'm not going to comment on the sort of operational details. I would say that our goal is to minimize bloodshed and to head off any sort of conflict. But, of course, as I said earlier, we have to consider the alternative to inaction in all these situations if, in fact, there is no -- no track for negotiations.


QUESTION: Yes, hi. Jonathan Steel (ph) from "The Guardian." Two questions to Mr. Senor, first of all.

There have been reports that the family of the assassinated ayatollah wants the arrest warrant for Muqtada al-Sadr lifted or removed. Do you know if that's true? And, if so, are you willing to have that removed?

And, secondly, to General Kimmitt, you talk about changing channels, but what is your reply to people like Adnan Pachachi, who have accused the coalition forces of using collective punishment on the city of Fallujah? Have you got a reply a little bit more nuanced and subtle than just to tell Mr. Pachachi to change channels?

SENOR: On your first question, I've seen the same report and it's erroneous. That has been confirmed to me. And I would say, just at a broader level here, the arrest warrant against Muqtada al-Sadr was issued by an Iraqi investigative judge based on evidence connecting Mr. al-Sadr to the murder of Mr. al-Khoei and two other individuals.

And the Iraqi investigative judge has multiple eyewitnesses that he believes serve as the basis for a very strong case. And he's moving forward with that case.

KIMMITT: And we have great respect for all the members of the Governing Council. Every one of them have different views. We respect all views in this country.

In this case, we can disagree without being disagreeable, but it is not the practice of the coalition forces, any of the coalition nations, to exercise collective punishment or collective action on a city. That is just not done. It is not practiced. And it violates international law. And we don't believe at this point that coalition can be shown any proof to suggest that it is in violation of international law or the laws of land warfare.

SENOR: And I would just add to that, while -- As General Kimmitt said, we don't share Dr. Pachachi's characterization of the situation as collective punishment, I would also add, we have tremendous respect for Dr. Pachachi and the other individuals of the Governing Council in the situations they're in.

They are in touch with their local communities. They are hearing frustrations from their communities. And they feel as Iraqi political leaders an obligation to share those frustrations with us. That's -- we respect that role. It's an important role for them to perform.

What we also respect is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqi Governing Council members are working with us to bring resolution to these issues in a very constructive way. Ambassador Bremer has been meeting regularly with members of the Governing Council, and they've been having very constructive discussions. And so while what's often reported is the one or two sentences of criticism about the way things are being handled, what's not often reported is the extent to which we are having very constructive discussions with these Iraqi political leaders.


QUESTION: Yes. Two quick questions. One for General Kimmitt. Sorry, for General Kimmitt, do you know exactly who you're dealing with in terms of the leadership in Fallujah?

KIMMITT: No. I don't think we really believe that there's a centralized organization that is calling the shots for all of the disparate extremists that are fighting coalition forces in Fallujah.

QUESTION: And the second quick question is, do you know the whereabouts of Muqtada al-Sadr? There's been some reports that he's fled to Iran.

SENOR: I have not heard those reports. Your first question, I will just add, we are deferring to the delegation that is traveling to and from Fallujah to -- to make determinations about who some of the appropriate leaders to deal with, and we are having discussions with them about it. We just have a couple more minutes here. Yes.

QUESTION (through translator): I have two questions. One for Dan Senor, Senator Dan Senor. You said that there is a statement from Ambassador Bremer to be vigilant, to all Iraqis to be vigilant. Have you received any information that assures that the coming days will witness terrorist attack?

The second question to General Kimmitt, you spoke about the city of Najaf and Karbala, which is outside control of the coalition forces, and then what is to be done if there was no real agreement reached, which would happen, and then the militias would return to the authority? Don't you think that a military operation in Najaf and Karbala will intensify the crisis upon the coalition forces?

SENOR: Sorry? Senator.

On your first question, here's what we know. We know that Abu Musab Zarqawi drafted a document that laid out a very clear plan for provoking civil war in this country, central to which was engaging in terrorist attacks against Shia at their religious holy sites and other parts of the country. This was a document we have very good reason was headed to senior al Qaeda leadership outside of Iraq.

We have since all seen or heard the tape in which al Zarqawi lays out further plans, takes responsibility for recent activities inside Iraq, terrorist activities, that are consistent with his messages in the first document we obtained.

We have been aware of other indicators, and I'll leave it at that, other indicators that Mr. Zarqawi may, in fact, be involved with planning further or future terrorist attacks inside this country, and recognizing this period, the Arbaeen period, where you have a large number of Iraqis and citizens of other countries out and about in the streets, engaging in religious pilgrimage and other events, it makes them especially vulnerable to the sorts of the terrorist attacks that Mr. Zarqawi has orchestrated in the past. And so recognizing all this, we are doing our part to be as vigilant as possible, and we are encouraging all Iraqis to be equally vigilant.

KIMMITT: And Basan (ph), to your question about Najaf, we don't see military action as preferable. We don't see military action as inevitable. We seek any resolution and any number of resolutions that would allow, very simply, restoration of legitimate authority into the town of Najaf and Karbala.

SENOR: Last question right here.

QUESTION (through translator): Al-Hurria (ph) Television to Dan Senor and General Kimmitt. For the last statement from President Bush, he said that we are going to provide sovereignty to Iraqis by June 30, and then there is a statement that sovereignty will not be complete. My other question to General Kimmitt, that you are preoccupied on the Iraqi borders. You're stating that there are foreigners who are coming in to cause terrorism, but you are now preoccupied with the interior and other conditions on the borders. Now, doesn't that mean that you are allowing the opportunity for foreigners to penetrate Iraq?

SENOR: On your first question, we are on track to hand sovereignty over to the Iraqi people on June 30. It will be complete sovereignty. Iraqis will have complete political sovereignty in their own country. We will still have a substantial presence here to assist the Iraqis as they work through transition phases in other areas, be it in the reconstruction of their infrastructure, or to deal with their security situation.

We recognize that there will be a significant terror threat in Iraq after June 30. We also recognize that as courageous and as brave as the majority of the Iraqi security forces are, it still will not be -- the security forces will still not be able to defend against the terrorist threat completely on their own. And so there's still going to be a role for security forces here.

You are going to have the largest U.S. embassy here in the world, we're going to be deploying almost $20 billion in reconstruction funds, which has already begun. So we will have a role here, but Iraqi political leaders will be in control of their country. Iraqi political leaders will be in control of their political destiny.

We believe that's very important for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is we often talk up here about confronting the terrorist threat and the threat posed by extremists like Muqtada al- Sadr and his militia, or these former Baathist types that have orchestrated attacks in Fallujah and the surrounding areas. And the military strategy is important, but equally important is a political strategy and an economic strategy, and they all must work in tandem.

That's to say that the more we politically empower the Iraqi people, the more we economically empower the Iraqi people, the more difficult it will be for the terrorist and the extremists and the former Baathists to capitalize on any sense of frustration or a sense of hopelessness. And that is why June 30 is so central to our overall strategy, and we are focused on it.

KIMMITT: I don't think I have anything further to say about the border issue nor the terrorist threat within the country. Clearly, the Iraqi government, the Iraqi security forces, the coalition forces continue to work very hard towards trying to find the terrorist threats and then attack, to kill or capture those terrorists that would attempt to kill Iraqi citizens and coalition forces.

That is an effort we continue even as we have the ongoing pace of operations to destroy the Sadr militia, to bring down the lack of control in Fallujah. We are still continuing those other efforts as well.

That's a job that won't stop as long as the coalition is here, and it's a job that won't stop even after the coalition has left.

SENOR: Thank you, everybody.

FIRFER: You've been listening to a live briefing in Baghdad from coalition forces. We have Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt spoke, and coalition spokesman Dan Senor, running through situations in Iraq and also the Apache helicopter that went down. The AH-64, five kilometers west of Baghdad Airport, both pilots were killed. There's a quick reaction force on site to recover that helicopter now. He says the Fallujah cease-fire is holding and went to a rundown saying where the coalition forces stand.


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