COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY BRIEFING WITH
BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT,
DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR COALITION OPERATIONS;
AND DAN SENOR, SENIOR ADVISER, CPA
LOCATION: BAGHDAD, IRAQ
TIME: 9:19 A.M. EST
DATE: THURSDAY, MARCH 18, 2004
MR. SENOR: I have a statement to read that is being issued by Ambassador
Bremer, after which General Kimmitt has a statement, both in response to the
recent attacks, and then we'll be happy to take your questions.
Immediately following our briefing, General Dempsey, as you know, will be
holding a press briefing as well that will address in greater detail the
incidents of last evening.
I'll read now Ambassador Bremer's statement.
"On behalf of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the United States of
America, I extend condolences to the injured and to the families of those
murdered in the Karrada district last night and Basra earlier today. Civilized
people everywhere share your sorrow.
"This latest outrage is piled atop other terrorist attacks against unarmed
innocent civilians all over Iraq, as well as the terrorist bombings in Madrid
last week. From Nairobi, to New York, to Bali, to Moscow, to Karbala and Irbil,
earlier bombings have circled the globe. Those who deny that terrorists are
operating around the globe and are willing to attack any target are denying
"Here in Iraq, there is little doubt that terrorists are doing everything within
their power to stop Iraq's progress toward democracy. Their increasing tendency
to attack any available target that offers the chance of mass casualties tells
us that literally nothing is sacred to them. They are willing to kill religious
pilgrims, innocent Iraqis living next to a lightly protected hotel, or anyone
"Terrorists in Iraq seek to break the will of the Iraqi people. They believe
that if they spill enough Iraqi blood, they can halt Iraq's progress to
democracy. They are wrong. I meet Iraqis every day. I have no doubt that the
people of Iraq will not be cowed by these terrorists. The Iraqi people have
waited too long for democracy. After suffering oppression, unnecessary wars and
hundreds of thousands murdered by Saddam's regime, they are not going to permit
a small band of terrorist evildoers to stand between them and democracy.
"We of the coalition will stand with the people of Iraq against terrorism."
GEN. KIMMITT: Thank you.
Let me also add the condolences of the coalition military forces to those of
Ambassador Bremer. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the
families affected by this senseless violence.
As to the facts as we know them, yesterday at 8:09 p.m.a car bomb detonated in
the Karrada district of Baghdad in the vicinity of the Mount Lebanon Hotel.
Iraqi police, fire and medical units responded to the incident along with
support provided by coalition forces. An unknown suicide bomber triggered the
device inside the vehicle and died in the explosion.
The bomb was estimated to consist of approximately 1,000 pounds of explosives
and artillery shells and caused structural damage to the Mount Lebanon Hotel and
a number of buildings nearby. As of 16:00 the Iraqi police service and the Iraqi
Ministry of Health reports seven civilians killed and 35 civilians wounded. No
coalition personnel were injured, no group has claimed responsibility and no
persons have been detained at this point in connection with this incident.
Importantly, the coalition remains resolute in our mission to hunt down
extremists who attack innocent civilians and stand in the way of a free,
democratic and sovereign Iraq. The terrorists will fail.
MR. SENOR: We're happy to take your questions. Yes, go ahead.
Q Hi, what can you tell us about what happened in Basra today? And also, any
details on what the fighting in Fallujah is?
GEN. KIMMITT: Two incidents. The first incident we've got some sketchy reports
on what came in from Basra. It is our understanding that there was either an IED
or a VBIED, a car bomb or another bomb which exploded outside of the hotel in
Basra. The casualty reports right now are quite sketchy; we believe we only have
one or two persons that were injured or killed in that. There is a large
demonstration going on at that site. The reports we have is that the
demonstration is not focused against any particular group such as the coalition,
but just expressing their anger. We do have coalition forces in overwatch. The
area has been cordoned off. There are personnel standing by to try to bring
security to the area and control to the area. But right now everything seems to
be under control and even though we don't have the exact casualty count, right
now we expect those numbers to be quite low.
We also had an incident today in Fallujah where we had a military force that
was, as I understand, working in one of the provincial buildings, had moved some
people for a meeting with some of the local authorities. As we typically we do,
there was a number of troops that were on rooftops nearby providing overwatch
and security -- (audio break).
Q (In progress following audio break) -- used by American company?
GEN. KIMMITT: We have no indication that this was being used by an American
Q How do you know it's a suicide bomber? How do you go from 27 to 17 to seven
dead? And is there anything on whether the Jabal Lebanon Hotel was actually the
GEN. KIMMITT: How do we go from 27 to smaller numbers? Initial reports, we have
found, have a tendency to be incorrect. The longer you wait after an incident,
the more precise you can get on your numbers.
How do we know it was a suicide bomber? Very simply, remnants of the suicide
bomber's person were found connected to pieces of the vehicle all around the
Was the hotel the target? We're not certain if the hotel was the target. Quite
simply, the hole was in the middle of the street. At this point it is not
definitive whether the hotel was the target, because it is unclear why the
bomber would not have driven the car closer to the hotel and exploded the bomb
right next to the hotel for more damage. But given that it's in the middle of
the street, there is a chance and there's a likelihood that this might not have
been the target, that the vehicle may have prematurely detonated or may have
been hit by another vehicle, rear-ended, causing the detonation.
We have an investigation ongoing. We're simply unsure of either the motivation
or the target of this attack, and that's why we're not being more definitive at
Q Just a quick follow-up. Judging from the hole in the street, you couldn't have
gotten much closer to that hotel. The hotel was on the street.
GEN. KIMMITT: No, you could have gotten much closer to the hotel. You could have
driven the car right into the side of the hotel.
MR. SENOR: Next question.
Q James Haider (ph) from The Times. I understand a British man was killed in the
explosion, and the Foreign Office has released his name, but nobody seems to
know what he was doing here. Do you have any information on what he was doing
GEN. KIMMITT: No. We have been asked to refer all questions regarding foreign
casualties to the appropriate embassies.
MR. SENOR: Yes, go ahead.
Q Hi. there are a number of people, local Iraqis, who believe that this was a
missile. And I'm wondering what you are doing about preserving and presenting
evidence to show people that this was actually a car bomb.
GEN. KIMMITT: There are pieces of the car bomb still in the street. We have
recovered portions of the engine block. We have recovered portions of the
transmission. And I know that there are some people that would like to believe
it was a rocket or it was missile. If you go to that location and see how narrow
the street is, it would be very unlikely that you'd have that kind of precision
to be able to hit that accurately into the middle of the street.
MR. SENOR: And I would just add, obviously it's part of our broader efforts to
communicate with the Iraqis on these sorts of issues and clarify any
misunderstandings, which it sounds like that is.
Earlier today Ambassador Bremer taped his weekly information news program with a
group of Iraqi journalists that airs this evening, I think at 9:00 p.m. And in
the program he was getting questions on some of the things that we are doing to
address the issue of terrorism and he talked about the specifics of the
incident, and I think is going to clarify or at least try to clarify some of
Yes, go ahead.
Q Earlier today some members of the Governing Council seemed to indicate or said
that they were looking at Zarqawi or that you all were looking at Zarqawi or
that you all were looking at Zarqawi as the chief suspect. Can you address that?
GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah. It's likely that this was of the same ilk, of the same
methods, of the same groups that we've seen up to this point in other places
such as in Iskandariyah, Khalidiyah, Karbala, Najaf. If you take a look at the
fact that a suicide bomber was used, clearly the intent was not for a military
purpose but for a spectacular purpose, attempt to kill as many civilians as
possible. And if you look at the symbology of trying to attack inside the center
of a city rather than against a military target, those are some of the
fingerprints, those are some of the techniques that we have come to associate
with terrorist bombings, whether it was Zarqawi's group, Ansar al-Islam, al
Qaeda. We don't have definitive proof of that yet except for the style and the
techniques used, but I'm sure as days and weeks go forward and the investigation
moves forward we'll have more clarity on which group was specifically involved.
MR. SENOR: I would just add that also, if you look at the timing of the attack,
it certainly fits with the sort of strategy that Zarqawi talks about. It's just
a matter of days following the signing of the interim constitution by the Iraqi
Governing Council, which is an enormous step forward in the path to a sovereign,
democratic Iraq which Zarqawi, in his blueprint for terror, talks about being
the greatest obstacle to the terrorists here.
Just yesterday, actually, the Governing Council reached agreement, according to
their own statements, on how they intend to communicate with the United Nations
in inviting them back here and talking about their role. Again, the Governing
Council reached this through compromise, and the United Nations' role obviously
will be in the area of establishing direct elections, working on the formation
of an interim government.
So as you move closer and closer to June 30th and you have all these steps going
forward to establish the exact sort of self- governing Iraqi democracy about
which Zarqawi and his ilk -- as General Kimmitt said, if it's not Zarqawi, it's
people with the same strategy of Zarqawi, which are people who are terrified of
the success of an effective, self-governing Iraqi democracy here, and so the
timing is certainly of note.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Two questions. One -- just a quick, minor one -- can you just tell us what you
know about the incident with the journalists, Iraqi journalists today in Baqubah?
And number two, obviously we're coming up -- there's been a step up in activity
leading into the anniversary tomorrow of the launch of the U.S. invasion. What
if any sort of additional precautions are you taking? And what sort of does your
intelligence tell you about the threats going into this anniversary period?
GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah, on the first question, about the IMN employees, we've got
very, sketchy reports, since there are no coalition forces present. We have some
information from the governate of Diyala that would indicate that four civilian
employees may have been ambushed today in a minibus as they were driving to
Diyala TV station. But that's very, very preliminary information, and I think
we're going to need a little more time before we find out specifically what
happened on the ground.
On your second question, about -- as we get closer to different holidays,
festivals, significant days, all the commanders typically review their force
protection measures and their force protection levels, and they do take whatever
measures they deem necessary.
For example, General Dempsey, I'm sure, will talk about that. And I'd also ask
you to ask General Dempsey about that in the follow- on presentation, where he
could talk about that in some level of detail.
GEN. KIMMITT: Okay.
MR. SENOR: Go ahead.
Q (Through interpreter.) Mr. Dan Senor, can you explain the agreement that has
been between the Governing Council and the American government? And what do you
mean by a compromise?
MR. SENOR: I'm sorry. Can you -- what's the first part of the question? I got
tuned in late here.
STAFF: (Off mike.)
Q (Through interpreter.) You said that the Governing Council has reached an
agreement about its relations with the United States, and you said that this --
MR. SENOR: Yeah, I'm just responding to what Dr. Chalabi said yesterday. He held
a press conference yesterday afternoon, in which he talked about -- there had
been discussion, I guess, within the Governing Council about inviting the United
Nations back here to help with the formation of an interim government for the
post-June 30th interim phase and then also for recommendation on preparations
for direct elections.
Then there was discussion -- it is my understanding there was discussion within
the Governing Council about the degree to which U.N. involvement should be
considered, and they reached agreement on what that degree would be, how much
involvement they would want the U.N. to be. And they were actually, he said
yesterday, drafting a letter to the United Nations which would include
transmittal -- formal transmittal of the transitional administrative law, the
interim constitution, as well as a formal invitation to the United Nations to
help play an advisory role going forward.
Q (Through interpreter.) Maram (sp) from -- (inaudible). What do you expect that
Zarqawi will gain from all these attacks against civilians? How will he hinder
their government through these acts? Can't you put an end to this, bloody acts
against the Iraqi people?
MR. SENOR: What I think his strategy is is essentially to link the occupation
with the havoc that he is intending to wreak here in Iraq. So in the minds of
Iraqis, if he can provoke ethnic bloodshed, if he can provoke civil war, if he
can pit the Shi'a against the Sunni and the Sunnis against the Kurds, and create
a result in which a lot of Iraqis will die, and all this happens during the
occupational period, somehow Iraqis will revolt against the path that they are
currently working with the coalition on pursuing, which is a path towards a
sovereign, democratic Iraq.
He says in the letter that once the coalition hands over political sovereignty
and the Iraqis are on a path towards developing a sovereign, democratic
government, the terrorists will lose their pretext; that's his word not mine.
They will lose their excuse for operating here in Iraq. So my view is whether or
not he was involved in this attack, the attacks that he has been involved in and
whoever was behind this attack, their goal was to create this sense of
instability, foster and provoke a sense of frustration among Iraqis so that they
revolt against the path on which they're making so much progress right now.
GEN. KIMMITT: And you asked a very interesting question about what is his
vision, what is his purpose. And that's the hardest thing to understand and the
hardest thing to explain, because all that the terrorists offer -- the type of
terrorists such as Zarqawi and al Qaeda -- is 10 centuries old. They offer a
return to a country that would look much like Afghanistan did after the Taliban
took over there; one where individual rights are not respected, one where
democracy is not respected, one that is kept in very, very tight control by
those that are not elected by the people. And that is probably the most
foreboding aspect of what the terrorists bring. It is not just the death and
destruction that they bring, but it's their vision of the future that they're
trying to impose on your country. And that's why we're absolutely convinced that
this mission is so critically important and why we are also so convinced that
the terrorists will fail.
MR. SENOR: Yes, Steve?
Q As you guys probably well know, after almost every bombing, including last
night, there are people in the crowd who will say: "It was a missile. I saw
American helicopters. It was an American missile." I mean, spreading stories
like that. I'd like to know, first off, how you deal with that as a
communications problem, because there seem to be an awful lot of people who end
up believing these theories, they get widely spread around. And secondly, in
this particular instance, I wonder if you could explain just a little more of
the basic science. How do you know that the pieces of the car that you
discovered were the ones that contained the explosives?
GEN. KIMMITT: On the first issue about trying to quell rumors, we all know how
difficult that is and our only solution to that is -- first of all, as we so
often see at times like this, there is a tremendous amount of grief and anger
that outpours, and that grief and anger often is pouring out against the
coalition. But we understand that that is temporary, that's transitory, and the
most important thing to happen is to get the soldiers at the right time back out
on the streets, side by side with their coalition partners; for the people to
understand when the dust settles that the coalition is here for their security,
it is here for their safety and it is here to advance the sovereignty of this
As for the science, I would have to defer to a forensics expert, but it would be
hard to imagine that, as we saw today, that a vehicle somewhere near an
explosion of this magnitude would have a cracked engine block, an engine that
was completely exploded, parts of transmissions all around and the number of
pieces that this vehicle had exploded into. All the forensics experts would
suggest that the vehicle parts that were found were probably at the loci of the
explosion. But I'd leave that judgment to the forensics experts and we can be
proven wrong, but in this case the evidence suggests otherwise.
Q And those parts were flung in every direction from the center of the
explosion? It wasn't like the car was blown to one side?
GEN. KIMMITT: That's my understanding.
MR. SENOR: Yes, sir?
Q (Through interpreter.) Saddam Rahim (ph) from Al-Zama (ph). My question is to
Mr. Dan. You said yesterday that Ambassador Bremer met with members of the
Governing Council and he talked with them about the role of the United Nations.
Are there any reservations in the Governing Council about the personality of
Lakhdar Brahimi, who is going to come? Some say that the coalition, they don't
want the presence of the United Nations. What's the attitude of the coalition
towards this issue? Do you want the participation of the United Nations, or do
you want just their advice?
MR. SENOR: On your first question, I would defer to the Governing Council and
the individual members for those who did have concerns about I think Mr. Brahimi
is who you are referencing. But the Governing Council I think was quite clear in
the statements that were coming out of there yesterday that they are prepared to
send a letter and they are comfortable with Mr. Brahimi's return, and we think
that's an enormously positive step forward. He is someone who has been a
world-class diplomat for decades, has been involved in many of the resolutions
of major conflicts around the world over the past several decades and can make
an enormous contribution here.
As for the U.N., broadly speaking, following the end of major combat operations
President Bush was quite clear that the U.N. had a vital role to play in the
reconstruction of Iraq. And they did play -- make important contributions in
that initial phase that they were here; that culminated, sadly, in the tragic
suicide attack or terrorist attack against their compound here in Baghdad,
shortly after which they withdrew. And Ambassador Bremer had said from that time
forward that he regretted the U.N.'s departure. He communicated that to the
U.N., specifically to the secretary- general, Kofi Annan, on several occasions;
that he regretted the U.N.'s withdrawal and he hoped that they would return.
And we have said all along that they have an important role here in advising the
Iraqis and working with us in forming an interim government here and in getting
the infrastructure in place that is necessary for credible and legitimate direct
elections. And we feel quite strongly about this, and we've communicated this to
the U.N., to the Iraqi Governing Council. We've heard it from many Iraqis that
there is an important role here for the U.N.
Q Thanks, Dan. Mr. Zarqawi's name is mentioned almost every day here. Aside from
the letter, which may or may not be genuine, what actual evidence do you have
that he is responsible for any of these attacks?
GEN. KIMMITT: There's a body of intelligence evidence that connects him and his
group to a number of these attacks.
MR. SENOR: Go ahead.
Q Military commanders in the region say they've had a lot of success from Iraqis
walking in and telling them of IEDs that have been laid overnight. How would you
characterize the success or otherwise of walk-in intelligence, voluntary
intelligence like that, in regards to the big attacks that -- in Baghdad and
GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah. We judge that by the number of IEDs, for example, as you
mentioned -- the number of IEDs that are found and reported to us ahead of time.
These are civilians either talking to the Iraqi security forces or coming
directly in to coalition forces, who are actually saying, "As I was driving down
the road today, I saw a bag, I saw something that looked out of place." And
frankly, any time that an Iraqi citizen comes in, provides us with information
about an IED -- for example, today five were found in the last 24 hours, before
they exploded -- any time that an Iraqi comes in, provides that information,
potentially saves the life of a fellow Iraqi or a coalition soldier, we consider
that a success.
I would also ask that question of General Dempsey, who deals with this issue
every day and who will be far more eloquent than I in answering that question.
MR. SENOR: I'll just add, before we go, one thing also that we have seen for
certain is, since the capture of Saddam Hussein, we have seen an increase in the
quality of intelligence we have gotten from the street, because it has opened a
whole new group of Iraqis who are cooperating with us and providing
intelligence. Before Saddam was captured, we think that there was a group of
Iraqis who were either hopeful that Saddam Hussein would return or fearful that
he would return and were therefore restrained in their cooperation with us. And
now that he is captured and Iraqis know that he is never coming back, what we
call the hopefuls and the fearfuls are now in play, and they're providing
In addition, we are working now to better develop the counterterrorism
capabilities of the Iraqi security forces and the intelligence-gathering
capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. And one of the things Ambassador
Bremer is working on, along with the CJTF-7 is the formation of a committee that
will help coordinate the intelligence gathering within Iraq, coordination
between the coalition and within the respective ministries within the Iraqi
government, and will involve bringing in international experts --
counterterrorism experts from around the world to play a role, a substantial
role here in this coordination initiative. Because the quality of intelligence
is improving, we've got to continue to capitalize on it increasingly, certainly
in the months ahead.
Thank you, everybody.