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Coalition Provisional Authority Daily Briefing

Aired May 25, 2004 - 10:34   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we see the briefing beginning in Baghdad. Coalition Provisional Authority Spokesman Dan Senor. Let's listen in.

I just have a couple of quick announcements, General Kimmitt has an opening briefing, and then we will be happy to take your questions.

Today, Ambassador Bremer attended a ceremony with the Iraqi minister of transportation for the official handover of the ministry of transportation to the minister and the ministry staff.

This marks the 13th ministry that has been turned over to the Iraqi people. This is a process that began several months ago that will culminate on June 30th, by which point all Iraqi ministries will be in control of the Iraqi people.

In addition, today, Dr. Haidar Al Abadi, Iraq's minister of communication, and Ibrahim Hussein Ali, Iraq's postmaster general, announced the opening of the international service center and the introduction of Iraq's new postal code system in a ceremony at the Baghdad International Airport air cargo terminal.

Tomorrow there will be a ceremony -- tomorrow morning at 10:30 a.m. there will be a ceremony marking the transition to full sovereignty of the ministry of the environment. This transition has extra significance since the ministry was created by a resolution passed by the Iraqi Governing Council. And again, this is tomorrow morning at 10:30 a.m. at the ministry building. Further details will come out on that.

Finally, as we move forward to -- closer to June 30th and the handover and the formation of the Iraqi interim government, Ambassador Bremer continues to engage in wide consultations with Iraqi people, with Iraqi political leaders, as has Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. secretary general's special representative here.

Just today Ambassador Bremer met with Dr. Adnan Pachachi from the Iraqi Governing Council, Sheik Ghazi, the current president of the Iraqi Governing Council, and other members of the governing council.

General Kimmitt?


The coalition continues offensive operations to establish a stable Iraq in order to repair infrastructure, stimulate the economy, and transfer sovereignty to the people of Iraq. To that end, in the past 24 hours, the coalition conducted 2,368 patrols, 33 offensive operations. We had 43 Air Force and Navy sorties, and captured 60 anti-coalition suspects.

KIMMITT: The next release at Abu Ghraib will be on 28 May and between 580 and 600 personnel will be released. And on 4 June, another release will occur.

In the northern area of operations, coalition forces executed two cordon-and-searches in western Mosul against a former regime cell leader and weapons dealer. Two of the primary targets were detained.

And two days ago, coalition forces conducted a cordon-and-search in eastern Mosul targeting a former regime cell leader responsible for attacks against Iraqi security forces. That target too was detained.

In the north-central zone of operations yesterday, the leader of the Turkmen Union was killed in a domestic dispute in Kirkuk. Iraqi police are conducting an investigation into the incident at this time.

In Baghdad, in the Karadad (ph) District this morning, at 8:27 this morning, a suicide car bomb exploded outside the Al Karma Hotel in central Baghdad. Two civilians received minor injuries and there were no injuries to other personnel or to coalition forces.

In the western zone of operations, the level of engagements within Al Anbar province has remained low and steady over the past several days. Fallujah remains quiet and there have been no cease- fire violations since 3 May.

Yesterday $200,000 was awarded for the rebuilding of the Al Ramadi soccer stadium and $43,000 for the Al Ramadi work and training center.

Coalition forces continue to supervise the Huseivah (ph) facility hardening project, the Fallujah and Al Ramadi clean-up contracts, and the Al Ramadi ICDC training and small arms range. All of these contracts will provide some measure of infrastructure, improvements and job opportunities for the people in that area.

There was a meeting at a coalition base camp east of Fallujah yesterday between the coalition leadership, the Iraqi armed forces leadership and the commanders of the Fallujah Brigade.

KIMMITT: The current state of training, equipping and capability of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps working in that area was discussed, as well as a familiarization with the security situation in the Al Anbar province.

In the central-south zone of operations, conditions on the ground would indicate that Muqtada's militia members are decreasing or ending their activities in Karbala. They're avoiding contact with coalition forces, but are still conducting harassing attacks outside the city.

They continue to attack coalition forces, however, in the vicinity of Najaf and Kufa. Yesterday, 24 mortar rounds landed near coalition forces patrolling along the east side of the Euphrates River, near the Kufa Bridge. Coalition forces identified and killed the forward observer for that mortar unit.

Later coalition forces on the west side of the Euphrates River, near the Kufa Bridge, were attacked by small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. The attackers were firing from the technical college of Kufa, and a coalition patrol vicinity of the Saddam palace was attacked with small arms and RPG from the palace. There were no coalition injuries or damage to equipment.

In Najaf, at midnight, five mortar rounds impacted near a coalition base camp. Between 0545 and 0615, an additional 20 mortar rounds impacted in and around the same coalition base camp.

Later that morning, three to four individuals attacked a coalition patrol with small arms and RPG fire near the governor's building. And at 9:30, 20 mortar rounds impacted near the Najaf main Iraqi police station. Again, no injuries or damage to coalition personnel, civilians or buildings.

In the southeastern zone of operations, coalition forces received sporadic mortar and small arms fire in Al Amarah. Enemy forces continue to target the Al Amarah Civic (ph) House, patrols and the base camp near the town. There were no casualties as a result of these attacks.

SENOR: And with that, we are happy to take your questions.

QUESTION (through translator): I have two questions. The first is for Mr. Senor and the second for General Kimmitt.

Mr. Senor, what is your comment about the comments of President Bush that the U.S. forces are -- will stay in Iraq with no predetermined date for their departure?

Second question for General Kimmitt: There are rumors that the terrorist activities will increase during this period as we approach the sovereignty handover. So have you put down a specific plan to secure the security situation during this period?

SENOR: On your first question, what President Bush has been saying for sometime, as has Ambassador Bremer has said on numerous times on the ground here in Baghdad, is that coalition forces, American forces, will be on the ground here until we achieve our goal, which is to hand over to the Iraqi people a sovereign, democratic Iraq that is stable, that is at peace with itself, at peace with its own citizens, at peace with its neighbors, at peace with the United States of America, and at peace with the world.

We recognize that there is still a significant terror threat in Iraq and we also recognize that the Iraqi security forces are not in a position to defend against that terror threat on their own right now. So it may take some time to achieve the totality of the goal I just outlined. But the president has been clear: We will stay until the job is done but we will not stay a day longer.

KIMMITT: I think the president's comments were reflective of the fact that as we build the Iraqi security forces, we want to take the time to do it right.

KIMMITT: But I'm not sure you've got a time on a calendar when we can say it's ready.

So it will still take some time to train up the Iraqi security forces to where they are capable of operating independently and operating with the full capability to defend from the external threats and whatever internal threats remain in the country.

So, as Mr. Senor said, we are committed to staying here long enough to complete the task, to let the Iraqi security forces have the sufficiency to stand on their own two feet.

On your second question, you asked do we have a specific plan to address the potential for an increasing terrorist threat as we get closer and closer to sovereignty, and possibly beyond that. The answer is yes.

That was one of the reasons -- and those are some of the factors which led to us keeping the force levels at about 135,000 American soldiers. The units that are now operating vicinity Najaf, Kufa, Karbala, Iskandariyah, were forces that were already supposed to be back at their home bases in Germany seeing their families, seeing their friends.

Those forces were kept on the ground because of the events of April, as we saw the fights in Baghdad, we saw the fights in Najaf and Karbala.

But I think that the determination was also made, from the president all the way down to the commanders on the ground, that the situation is such that we probably need to have those additional troops stay for some time longer.

So instead of the 105,000 American troops that we expected to have on the ground right now, because of that chance for an enhanced threat, increased threat, between now and sovereignty, and possibly for some time after that, that's why we've kept our force levels about 20,000 higher than that, to about 135,000 American troops.

QUESTION: First, I have a colleague down in Najaf who tells me that the Imam Ali mosque was somehow damaged in fighting today.

QUESTION: And he was speaking to some of the U.S. forces that he is with down there -- he's embedded -- who told him that the damage came when two Iraqi factions were fighting each other. And I'm wondering if you might know who was fighting, how this mosque might have been damaged, whether it's true. KIMMITT: Well, the first point: The coalition forces had no involvement in the damage to the Imam Ali mosque. We had heard different reports of what caused it; whether it was fighting between two different factions inside the city or whether it was, as reported elsewhere, Muqtada's militia firing from the cemetery onto the area at the mosque to try and provoke outrage so they can blame it on the coalition forces.

I know that we've got troops on the ground that are trying to handle the situation right now, but we saw and heard some reports of the damage that was done and we would -- on behalf of the entire coalition, we just can't tell you how much we decry the attempts by Muqtada's militia, Muqtada, possibly, himself, to violate the sacred, holy shrines of the Shia religion for his own personal gain, for his own personal advancement.

We don't want to see that. We'll do what we can to prevent it. And we certainly will not allow that to go unanswered but nor will we be provoked into an incident near those shrines which might have the same outcome.

QUESTION: I've been looking into the formation of the 36th Battalion of the ICDC. And some people that I'm speaking to were telling me that they were provided by political groups and that they volunteered and that the formation of this battalion was somehow different from other battalions of the ICDC.

QUESTION: And I'm wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how it was formed and who's in it. Who makes up the 36th Battalion?

KIMMITT: Yes, we can certainly do that after the press conference.

That was an event that happened back in December, reported widely, talked about thoroughly in here. But you have the fundamentals of the story correct, and we'd be glad to, sort of, take you through it after the press conference.

KAGAN: We've been listening into the daily briefing from Baghdad, the Coalition Provisional Authority. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt and Dan Senor there to his left.

A couple of points made. More prisoners will be released from the Abu Ghraib Prison next week, and then June 4th. They are slowly, but surely releasing more and more prisoners. President Bush announced in his speech last night that that prison, Abu Ghraib, will eventually be shut down, and with the Iraqi people's permission, a new prison built in its place.

Also there was a question about troop withdrawal. Again, President Bush last night saying that troop strength for the U.S. will remain about 138,000 in Iraq, until, as you heard Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt say, until the U.S. job in Iraq is done.

Much more from Iraq, especially from Jane Arraf in Najaf ahead, and a lot of news from here in the U.S. We will get to that, after this.



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