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TIME: 9:04 A.M. EST



MR. SENOR: Good afternoon.  I have a few quick comments and then General Kimmitt will have an opening statement. And then we will be happy to take your questions.

Ambassador Bremer returned to Baghdad early this morning after meetings late last week in Washington, D.C. with the administration, with the National Security Council -- with the principals of the National Security Council.

He spent Monday in New York with meetings with the delegation from the Governing Council, led by Dr. Adnan Pachachi, the current president of the Governing Council. They had bilateral meetings between Ambassador Bremer and Sir Jeremy Greenstock with the GC delegation, followed by a meeting with the U.N. General-Secretary Kofi Annan. And then later that day Ambassador Bremer and the coalition delegation met with both the general-secretary and the Governing Council delegation to address a number of issues regarding the current phase in the Iraq reconstruction and the transition to Iraqi sovereignty, to discuss with the U.N. their possible role in Iraq going forward.

As I said, Ambassador Bremer returned this morning and is continuing to work with the Governing Council and other parties in Iraq on the implementation of the November 15th political agreement.

Ambassador Bremer -- just as a scheduling note -- please communicate this to your news organizations, because I know we've gotten a number of inquiries. Ambassador Bremer will not be attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos this weekend. He was leaning toward attending, but the reason he has elected not to is because it would require him to be out of the country, out of Iraq, for 10 days straight, beginning last week when he returned to the U.S. right through to the end of this weekend. And he does not like to be out of Iraq for that length of time. He is sending a CPA official, Thomas Foley, who is the head of private sector development for the coalition, and there will be Iraqi officials attending as well.

There was a lot of news when Ambassador Bremer left for Washington late last week. I just want to alert you all -- on average, Ambassador Bremer has been returning to Washington almost every month. He will continue to return to Washington almost every month, if not every month, between now and the transition. We do not typically announce his travel schedule prior to departure for obvious security reasons. But just so there's not this -- just so you're not caught by this element of surprise, it should be no surprise when he does travel. It is a monthly routine.

Finally, when we announced a couple of weeks ago the new reconciliation initiative -- this is the release of the first hundred prisoners as part of this reconciliation package that will be matched up with guarantors; and then, subsequent to that total, another 500 prisoners would be released, Iraqi detainees.

You were all asking for specifics about what the track was in terms of how many numbers, how many prisoners had been released at a given time. We do not disclose those numbers on a day-to-day basis. I told you I would provide you updates from time to time. As I said earlier, the process is under way. Prisoners are being released. We will let you know when the entire program is complete. We do not obviously want reporters and cameras hanging outside of Abu Ghraib prison, waiting for the guarantors to show up or the prisoners to be released, for the security and privacy reasons. We would like to court both those parties.

That said, here are the most current numbers as of today. Overall number of guarantors identified is 89. A number of those guarantors are serving as guarantors for more than one prisoner, and the total number of detainees matched with a guarantor is 150. So 89 overall -- is the overall number of guarantors identified, and 150 are the number of detainees that have been matched with a guarantor.

And I say this: I won't do this on a daily basis, but from time to time I will give you an update on where we are at.

General Kimmitt?

GEN. KIMMITT: Thanks, Dan.

Good afternoon. Over the past week, there has been an average of 18 daily engagements against coalition military forces, just over two attacks daily against Iraqi security forces, and just over one attack daily against Iraqi civilians. The coalition remains offensively oriented to kill or capture anti-coalition elements, terrorists and conspirators against the Iraqi people, and to establish a safe and secure environment. In the past 24 hours, the coalition has conducted 1,492 patrols, 29 offensive operations, 15 raids, and captured 105 anti-coalition suspects.

In the northern zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 196 patrols and conducted a neighborhood engagement in Mosul where 105 homes were searched, resulting in the confiscation of a number of illegal weapons. Coalition forces hosted a ribbon- cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of phase two of the Mosul Regional Confinement Center. The current class of corrections officers and prison guards graduated in conjunction with the opening ceremony. Forces conducted a cordon and search of a house in western Mosul and detained their primary target, Sima Fakhri Hamid al-Talir (ph), the facilitator for suspected suicide bombers in the Mosul region. One-hundred and ninety-two Civil Defense Corps personnel graduated in Diyala, bringing the total number of ICDC soldiers in the northern region to 3,700.

In the north-central zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 184 patrols, eight raids, and captured 31 individuals. In a raid near Abu Saida, coalition forces targeted four personnel responsible for a series of rocket-propelled grenade attacks on coalition forces. The raid resulted in the capture of two targets: Ahmed Jamil Mohammed (ph), a member of the Jaburi tribe, and Ayuh Khalil Abrahim (ph), a member of the Ghalali (ph) tribe.

Coalition forces found 10 personnel digging up a weapons cache on the side of the road two kilometers east of Bahia (sp). The personnel attacked the convoy, and coalition forces returned fire, capturing two of the individuals. The Iraqi Civil Defense Corps has the site secured and are recovering the weapons.

Working independently in the village of Jazra at Maklaq (sp), Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers raided a building, looking for individuals suspected of being involved in RPG attacks against coalition forces. Two of the targeted individuals were captured, and soldiers located and confiscated five rocket-propelled grenades and two AK-47 rifles.

Coalition forces raided seven locations in Baiji, looking for members of a Fedayeen cell. Forces captured nine individuals, including three people specifically targeted for suspected involvement in anti-coalition activities.

In Baghdad, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted eight offensive operations, 470 patrols and captured six enemy personnel.

Tomorrow 669 candidates will graduate from two Iraqi Civil Defense Corps academies in the Baghdad region. This will bring the total number of ICDC soldiers in Baghdad to over 3,300.

In the western zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted eight offensive operations, 220 patrols, cleared three caches, captured 13 personnel and detained (sic) entry to 37 personnel at Trebil and one at Husaybah, all because they lacked passports.

Coalition forces conducted a cordon-and-search in Usafiyah (sp) to capture or kill anti-coalition forces in the area. The enemy personnel Sadiq Sukani (sp) and his brother are suspected of killing Iraqis who have cooperated with coalition forces. The operation was conducted without incident and resulted in the capture of both targets.

The Iraqi border police and custom personnel continue to operate the Arar border crossing site. In the last 24 hours, 2,400 hajj pilgrims and 54 buses crossed the border at Arar, en route to Mecca. A total of 5,255 pilgrims and 155 buses have entered Saudi Arabia so far from the western zone of operations to celebrate the hajj.

Civil Affairs teams met with coalition and municipal leaders to discuss methods to improve the water quality in Al-Tash (sp). Due to infrastructure deterioration, some of the populace have been forced to take water from local irrigation canals. Teams are developing quick- impact and long-term projects to provide potable water to the Al-Tash (sp) community, at a cost of $64,000.

In the central south zone of operations, coalition and Iraqi security forces conducted 91 patrols, captured 13 personnel and escorted 31 convoys. A coalition patrol detained 38 illegal persons and three minibuses at the border crossing point 20 kilometers north of Badrah City. The illegal persons were deported to Iran, and the vehicles and drivers were handed over to the border police.

In the southeast zone of operation, 2,500 pilgrims crossed the border yesterday. Five thousand remain at the camp at Safwan, and the hajj committee has requested doubling of the daily flights up to 5,000 personnel, in order to get the backlog cleared.

MR. SENOR: We are happy to take your questions. Yes? Yeah?

Q Do you guys have any information about reports of Iraqi police getting killed west of Baghdad today? Fighting or something is going on?

GEN. KIMMITT: No, I had heard some rumblings about that, but we don't have any official reports on that.

MR. SENOR: Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) Why did Paul Bremer cut his trip to -- (inaudible) -- came back to Baghdad?

INTERPRETER: Second question to be repeated, please.

MR. SENOR: Ambassador Bremer, given the trip to Washington, D.C., and New York, followed by the tentatively plan trip to Davos, would have required him to be out of the country for almost 10 days. And he prefers to not be out of the country for lengthy periods of time. He's typically out for three, four, five days, at the most, when he does his consultation trips back to the United States. But to be out of the country for that long, that many consecutive days, is something he prefers not to do.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. SENOR: Sorry? What was the second question?

Q (Through interpreter.) The Spanish troops, please. Do you have any information about the Spanish troops?

GEN. KIMMITT: What is the question? Please.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. KIMMITT: If you were referring to the incident today where we had a Spanish major injured in an operation -- is that correct? Well, yes, we are aware that there was a Spanish major injured in an operation this morning. The major has been transported to the 28th Combat Support Hospital here in Baghdad. He is currently in critical condition. And we hope and pray that he will recover, and we send our condolences to his family.

MR. SENOR: Pamela?

Q From The Washington Post, Pamela Constable. I have one question for each of you. For Dan, can you give us any indication of a formal or informal response from the U.N. about sending a possible delegation here? And for General Kimmitt, can you tell us anything about the details of the attack on the minibus carrying women to work in the base near Habbaniya? And are there indications that this is another attempt to target Iraqi civilians working with the coalition?

MR. SENOR: We look forward to the possible deployment of a United Nations team to provide technical assessments regarding the viability of direct elections in the very short time period between now and the end of May. The U.N., according to our information, has not made a formal decision. In our meetings last week, the secretary-general certainly understood, or communicated that he understood, the urgency of a decision, given that the decision would have to be made before the February 28th deadline for the drafting of the interim administrative law. So he indicated he would move quickly. He has not made a decision, and certainly I wouldn't want to speculate or prejudge the outcome of their decision-making process.

GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah, I can confirm the reports that we've been seeing all day. The report that we had was that this morning three civilian vans were ambushed on the route approximately 1 kilometer west of Fallujah. The vans are contracted to provide laundry service for coalition soldiers at Forward Operating Base Ridgeway. One vehicle was disabled and three Iraqi females were killed. The other two vans and personnel received no damage and made it to Forward Operating Base Ridgeway without incident. The Iraqi police and coalition forces are investigating.

To the second point of your question, I think it really shows a certain amount of desperation, if not just cold-heartedness that -- these were women that were working on an American base, simply providing laundry service -- that anti-coalition elements would have the audacity and the temerity to go attack women as they were going to work to provide for their families.


Q Matthew Rosenberg from the Associated Press. Do you have any information on a mortar rocket attack on a base west of -- or east of Baqubah? I believe two soldiers were killed. Is there any more information on that attack?

GEN. KIMMITT: I think it's been reported pretty well so far, Matthew. We report that -- the reports that we have were that a 4th Infantry Division base was attacked by suspected rocket and mortar fire last night at about 1833 (hours). We did acquire with our radar systems in that area the point of origin, and we did send a Quick Reaction Force out in time to at least spot some personnel fleeing from the scene; tried to catch up to them, were unsuccessful in catching up to them.

The numbers that we have right now is two American soldiers were killed in that incident. One soldier from the 4th Infantry Division was wounded. There were three or four additional soldiers and civilian contractors that received slight wounds at FOB Warhorse and were treated and released.

MR. SENOR: Yes? Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) from Zaman newspaper. My first question is in regard to the latest negotiations at the United Nations. Were there any agreements in regard to the mechanism of the elections? And when will the detainees be released, the detainees you mentioned? Thank you.

MR. SENOR: On your first question: In our meetings with the U.N. Security -- with the U.N. general secretary, we asked him for -- we made several requests. One was to send a -- deploy a technical team to Iraq to make a determination -- conduct a study, make a determination, make a recommendation on the viability of direct elections in this country in a very short period of time -- direct elections in a country that has not had a census in over 20 years, that does not have constituent boundaries, does not have voter rolls, does not have political party laws -- to make a recommendation on this issue; and if the recommendation is that elections can move forward, direct elections can move forward, for a path forward, recommended path forward on how to proceed, and if they can't move forward, if the recommendation is that they cannot move forward, then a recommendation for the best alternative. Those were the primary issues discussed regarding the political process with the general secretary.

Finally, we also asked the general secretary to address the role of the U.N. in Iraq going forward, not just over the next several months, but begin to think about the U.N.'s role following transition and hand-over of sovereignty.

The general secretary, as I said earlier, made it clear that he understood the urgency of making a decision and responding to our request, and he said he would consider it. And we have not heard anything since. We are awaiting a response from him.

Q Second part, the second question is in regard to the (new ?) detainees who will be released, the 500 detainees. When will they be released? Thank you.

MR. SENOR: Well, some of them have already begun to be released. And we will move forward in the days and weeks ahead releasing them as we identify guarantors that step forward and as we can match those guarantors up with the detainees and then release the prisoners. It will take time. The process is under way. And we are pleased that so far we have been able to release a number of detainees.

Yes? Brian.

Q Brian Harper with ABC News. Can you tell me, do you have any evidence that any of Iraq's neighbors have been either financing any of the attacks that you've seen against coalition forces in Iraq, giving aid and comfort to anyone who is promoting instability or Iraq, or just generally doing anything to cause trouble here?


MR. SENOR: I would refer that question to the State Department in terms of the U.S. government's concerns with respective governments. But Ambassador Bremer has said before that he has had concerns about potential Iranian government support of foreign forces, foreign fighters crossing borders and posing problems for the coalition, and posing problems most importantly for the Iraqi people and the burgeoning Iraqi leadership as it begins to work on the next phase of the reconstruction.


Q Could you -- this is Eddie Sanders from the L.A. Times. Could you comment on reports that the coalition could conceivably, if a compromise is not reached out, transfer authority over to the -- sovereignty over to the Governing Council? And also I was curious if you had any position on the idea of a referendum, where you would have a list of approved candidates that would then be put forward to the population as a yes-or-no vote as a compromise?

MR. SENOR: We are -- as I said earlier, we are looking forward to the possible deployment of a technical team being sent here by the United Nations to look at this issue of the viability of direct elections. We are not seriously considering any other options at this point.


Q Joe Cochrane, Newsweek magazine. Can you please give us a little bit more information on this facilitator for suspected suicide bombers who was caught, I believe, in Mosul? Do we have any information that he was recruiting suicide bombers? And if so, were these foreigners or were these Iraqis? And any other information you have on the levels of foreign fighters crossing from the Syrian border.

MR. SENOR: Sure.

GEN. KIMMITT: Let me take that question and we can work it with you afterwards. On the specific issue of this facilitator, we will have to do some research. This is an initial report of his pickup, but we can -- whatever we can provide, we will.

Q All right.

GEN. KIMMITT: Yes, sir?

Q From BBC, Mike Aldridge. Are you interpreting not only the attack on the women laundry workers -- on the minibus -- but also Sunday's bombing on the edge of the compound here as attacks on those working with the coalition? If so, do you think that a new pattern is therefore emerging? And indeed if so, are there any steps being taken to give greater protection to those who are working with the coalition?

GEN. KIMMITT: We have said for the last couple of months that we're seeing a shift on the part of some of the anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi elements, where they're moving away from attacking as their primary target coalition forces and moving on towards attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, Iraqi governmental officials. We believe that the purpose behind that is to send a message of terror to those people: that if you work for the coalition, that if you worked alongside and tried to support the coalition, we can reach out and touch you.

We believe that what we saw at Assassin's Gate and, for example, what we saw today is just an ongoing pattern of the terrorists and the anti-coalition elements to extend their target list beyond that of the coalition.

MR. SENOR: I would just add that as far back as August and September, we were seeing attacks, for instance, of -- against Iraqi political leaders who were working with the coalition. A member of the Iraqi Governing Council was assassinated. The deputy mayor of Baghdad was assassinated. Police chiefs have been assassinated. Judges have been killed.

I mean, the message is clear. There are elements within this country that want to turn the clock back on Iraq. They want to turn it back to the era of mass graves and chemical attacks and torture chambers and rape rooms. And they will target Iraqis and Iraqi leaders who want to change that course and move Iraq forward.

And we believe, now that we are in the stage where we're handing over more and more authority to the Iraqi people every single day -- between now and June 30 -- June 30th, we will be moving very quickly to allow Iraqis to assume more and more authority for the day-to-day operational responsibility of their government. And it is possible that the enemies of the new Iraq, the enemies of freedom, will target those Iraqis who are assuming this authority, and we have to work to protect them.

And it is also important to know that the Iraqi security forces are building up in very rapid numbers. There are over 150,000 Iraqis today securing their own country. There are more Iraqis today in positions of security forces than there are Americans in this country securing Iraq. And so they, in and of themselves, are working very hard to protect the path that Iraq is clearly on right now and is not turning back.


Q Steve Franklin, Chicago Tribune. Two questions. Dan, you said that -- a few minutes ago that you're not considering any changes. Nonetheless, Iraqi politicians have talked about compromises in the proposals, one.

And General Kimmitt, also, I wonder if you consider the -- the essence of terror is to strike fear, and we've had these attacks taking lives. Haven't they been successful?

MR. SENOR: On the first question, we have said from the beginning -- and we said it, you know, within 24 hours after signing the November 15th agreement -- that we would consider proposed clarifications to the political process and proposed elaborations to the path that we agreed upon with the Governing Council. But we are not considering any options. We have been very clear about our concerns vis-a-vis direct elections in the very short time frame we have between now and the end of May. We have concerns that direct elections be fair and legitimate, and it is difficult, based on the analysis we have received, that direct elections can be fair and legitimate in such a short period of time in a country with no history of the electoral infrastructure necessary to protect the fairness and legitimacy of that electoral process. That is expert advice that has been provided to us by a number of consultants and NGOs that we have reached out to and have reached out to us. We're looking forward to the analysis that the United Nations could possibly provide.

So that continues to be our position, as I said, against the backdrop of we will continue to consider clarifications and proposed elaborations, which is really separate.

The other point I would add is that the June 30th deadline for handover of sovereignty, the president of the United States was very clear in his State of the Union address when he specifically referenced the end of June for the handover of sovereignty. In the president's meeting with the Governing Council delegation and Ambassador Bremer on Monday in the Oval Office, the president also referenced the June 30th deadline.

So both the June 30th deadline is still the primary focus for handover of sovereignty, and the political process we've laid out is also the primary model we are working with, while we will consider clarifications -- but they are only that, clarifications.

GEN. KIMMITT: And whether or not the terror attacks are achieving their aim, it is clear the old adage of "kill one, terrorize a thousand" is not working here. It is not working because it would only be working if it was impeding progress. It is horrible to go down to a site, as we saw at Assassin's Gate a few days ago, and see what people are capable of doing. But the fact still remains that once that attack was over, once we gave medical care to those who we could care -- provide care to, progress continued. People showed up for work the next day. The Iraqi Security Forces showed up. The police showed up in their police stations. The ICDC soldiers went out and patrolled the next day. The Governing Council met. We continued to work the projects. American soldiers, coalition soldiers got back out there and continued the progress. It's only successful -- the success is measured by the progress we made and we continue to make.

And as Hamid al-Kafa'i said from here that day, the terrorists will not succeed. They will not succeed because the coalition is prepared to support this country. The terrorists will not succeed because the people of Iraq are not going to look back, but they're going to look forward to progress, individual rights, individual dignity. And they recognize that if the terrorists succeed, it takes them back 10 years to where they were and they don't want that anymore. So no, they haven't been successful and they won't be successful.

MR. SENOR: And again, that's the experience we have seen dating back as far as August when we saw major terrorist attacks, whether it was the attack against the United Nations, the attack against -- in Najaf in the south, both total number over 150, 140 individuals killed, most of which were Iraqis, when you combine the two attacks. And yet, while it seemed that the Iraqis took a couple of days to reflect and to mourn, they did pick up the pieces and moved on, and the reconstruction train continued to move on.

Iraqis recognize, it seems, that the path they are heading on, as General Kimmitt has said, is one of democracy and freedom. And as we move closer and closer to the June 30th handover of sovereignty, the Iraqis are going to see firsthand that they are taking firm control of a free and democratic Iraq.

Yes, Susan? You've been waiting patiently.

Q Yeah, again on the suicide bombers. American investigators have looked at every suicide bombing or massive bombing, from the U.N. bombing to the Najaf bombing, to the ICRC bombing, to the police station bombings, to the Assassin's Gate bombings, and I don't know how many others. Can you tell me how many people have been arrested in connection with those bombings, whether you've found any source for the explosives used in any of those bombings, if you've traced any financial support that was necessary for those bombings, if you've found any foreigners that you believe were responsible for those bombings and have put out arrest warrants for them?

GEN. KIMMITT: Yeah. I mean, the answer to all those questions is yes. Do I have those numbers with me right now? No.

We can sit down and go over a number of the reports that we have given from this podium for the last couple of months, that as we have experienced those attacks, subsequent to that, intelligence starts coming forward, we conduct raids on those persons to either kill or capture; we put those people in detention after we've captured them. Those that we have sufficient evidence on, we will pass over to the Civil Criminal Court, the CCCI here in Iraq. And I think we're making tremendous progress, whether it's in suicide attacks, whether it's in helicopter shootdowns, whether it's just generalized attack on coalition forces.

MR. SENOR: Yes? In the back here. You've been waiting patiently too. That's you.

Q Yes, sir, thank you.

MR. SENOR: No, no, no. Right here in the back. We'll come to you.

Go ahead. You. You.

Q (Through interpreter) I'd like to ask two questions. First regarding the detainees and the prisoners of the coalition forces. The second question is regarding the circumstances here in Iraq, and there are federal laws guaranteeing people that want elections, people do not want elections. So what is the American point of view here, do you advocate for that, for elections, or no?

MR. SENOR: Could you just ask the second question one more time? Do we support elections, is that your question? Or is your question more about federalism?

Q (Through interpreter.) Do you advocate for elections or you do not?

MR. SENOR: We, as Americans, strongly support direct elections. We've been holding them for some 200 years. In fact, in the political agreement we reached with the Governing Council on November 15th, we built three direct elections into the political agreement for next year: direct elections for the drafters of the constitution, direct elections for the ratification of the constitution after the constitutional convention finishes its work, and then direct elections to the next permanent Iraqi government at the end of 2005. So we feel very strongly about direct elections.

The issue we are addressing today is whether or not direct elections can be held in the very near future, in the next three or four months, a very short time frame in a country with no history of direct elections, no electoral infrastructure in the country to support fair -- what we believe would be fair and legitimate elections, that we believe are necessary. And that's the issue we took to the United Nations. But we feel very strongly that the path forward for Iraq -- the path forward for Iraq is with direct elections.


Q Dan Duneyates (ph) from Reuters. I don't want to belabor this point, but are you categorically ruling out that direct elections will be held -- quickly held in the middle of the year even if this U.N. team was to come in and even if they were to say that direct elections were possible?

MR. SENOR: I don't want to prejudge the outcome of the U.N.'s actions. It's very important for -- we are very hopeful that the U.N. will come in, deploy a team and conduct a study, and they in fact have said they would begin technical consultations even before they make a decision on sending a team. So I don't want to prejudge the outcome of that process. We've asked the U.N. to deploy a team and make a recommendation if elections -- direct elections are possible in the near future; if they are possible, how they think we should proceed; if they're not possible, what's the best alternative; and then finall , to address the U.N.'s role going forward in Iraq. And I really would prefer to allow that process to move forward without speculating or prejudging its outcome.

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) -- Asawi (ph) from the BBC Arabic. First question for Kimmitt. You seem that you agree that all the attacks have become less; but you arrest more people and you raid more houses. Some attacks appear there in the west, and when you go to the west, they appear in the east. So there is a kind of tactics that are different from your tactics. So the type of these attacks, have they become more, or are they just moving around the country?

Second question, for Senor: You were discussing about some people that are relatives of Ayatollah Sistani. We know that the team that will be coming from the U.N. to Iraq to assess the elections here -- we know that they will be doing that under the pressure of the United States. So this team comes here and says no, elections are not to be undertaken here, and Ayatollah insists on the elections. So what will your position be, or reaction?

GEN. KIMMITT: On the first question, you are correct. The number of attacks have gone down and the number of arrests have gone up. I think what that really reflects is the amount of intelligence that we're getting from our operations and also from the Iraqi people, because every one of those arrests, every one of those apprehensions, every one of those persons that we detained that is now not out killing Iraqis and killing military forces -- if we can do that ahead of time, that's going to reduce the amount of attacks against the coalition forces and the Iraqi people.

MR. SENOR: To your first question -- I'm sorry -- to your second question, we attended the meeting at the United Nations on Monday at the request of General Secretary (sic) Kofi Annan, who, by the way, to my understanding, has not made a decision yet on whether or not he's deploying a team. So that actually is not -- there's been no announcement made.

But we attended the meeting on Monday at the general secretary's behest. The origin of it is that the last president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, sent a letter to the general secretary asking the U.N. to look at this issue, about the viability of direct elections in such a short period of time here in Iraq. And in response to the letter that the Iraqi Governing Council president sent to the United Nations, General Secretary Annan requested this meeting, requested the Governing Council to send a delegation to participate, requesting Ambassador Bremer and the coalition to participate. This was at the U.N.'s request, not ours.

That said, we believe a third-party analysis would be quite constructive for the process. We've received several analyses and recommendations from independent organizations that have expertise in this area.

Certainly we believe that the United Nations has, to use the general secretary's words, comparable advantage in the area of elections. And it is something that they could bring their expertise to bear on at a very crucial moment. They have experience in elections, in constitutions, in drawing up a census. All these matters that relate to the question of whether or not a direct election is viable here in the short term is what the U.N. could be helpful with. And so we're waiting for them to make a decision in response to our request that they send an independent team to make an analysis.


Q (Through interpreter) Abahl Salhim (ph) from Mahdal (ph) newspaper. I have two questions. One is for Mr. Dan and the other for General Kimmitt.

Mr. Dan, through your meetings with Kofi Annan and also with the CPA and discussing the issue of federal law here and implementing the federalism here -- my question is regarding all the operations and some foreign fighters. Three people were killed -- (inaudible). Some were of Yemeni, and one was of Syrian nationality. Does that mean that the terrorists are coming here into Iraq because of the lack of protection on the borders? And why don't we enhance the protection on borders in order to maintain the security here in Iraq?

GEN. KIMMITT: Well, as you and I have talked before, we have a very thorough and rigid border monitoring process. We use a significant amount of the border police as well as coalition forces to monitor the border. But realistically, if you take a look at the total distance around the borders of Iraq, it's virtually impossible to seal the borders of this country, nor any other country of equivalent size, without extraordinary amounts of effort and an extraordinary amount of troops to be deployed. It hasn't -- it wasn't done prior to our arrival, and it probably will -- can't be done while we're here.

With regards to the fact that we have small numbers of foreign fighters that are coming into the country, there are two things I would say. Number one, as you and I have discussed before, the vast majority of detainees that we have are people of Iraqi extraction. Are we seeing foreign fighters? Absolutely. They will come in and they will fight to the last Iraqi to get their force -- to get their missions taken care of. So it's incumbent upon not only a good border monitoring process, but also we would call on the people of Iraq to help us out with that; that when they see people in their neighborhoods that don't belong there, that they believe to be not looking for the bright future for Iraq, that they help the coalition out, they help the Iraqi police service out. Report those persons so we can capture them or kill them before they do the same to coalition forces or the Iraqi people.

MR. SENOR: To your first question on federalism and the U.N. meeting, our meeting with the general-secretary and the Governing Council delegation touched on a number of issues we talked about. Obviously, we talked about the U.N.'s role, we talked about the political process, we talked at great length about security, we talked about the economy -- everything from the economy to de- Ba'athification. The general-secretary had a number of questions.

Federalism, per se, in terms of where it stands in the current discussion and the path forward, was not one that was addressed in great detail. But I can tell you that the coalition's position continues to be that we believe strongly that federalism is the proper governmental organizational system for the appropriate system going forward for Iraq. It is certainly the appropriate solution, we believe, for a country as diverse and complex as Iraq.

But there are two important conditions: one, that Iraq remain unified, so that anything in the interim administrative law should not serve as a path to secession for any region of Iraq; and two, that federalism in Iraq be based on geography, not ethnicity. Those are two important elements.

But that said, we certainly have in common with the Governing Council the importance of federalism as a governing system going forward. We believe it strikes the right balance between protecting against the country falling apart, and also protecting against a strong centralized power dictating to the entire country -- the latter of which, when taken to extremes, Iraq has had terrible experience with, obviously, over the past three decades.

We just want to take questions from people who haven't asked yet. If you can just hold off, if haven't asked a question. Yes?

Q Sonia Pace from Voice of America. I'd like to get your thoughts on the decision by the Governing Council, late December I believe, to scrap the existing civil family law and to introduce a new one based on Islamic law. What does this say about a trend, if you will, and about how does this bode -- does this bode well for democracy in this country?

MR. SENOR: I would refer you to Dr. -- the current president of the Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi's comments on this, because they have indicated that there was no law passed in a Governing Council meeting on this particular issue. So it's more of a procedural matter that I would ask you to take up with the Governing Council.

But these broader issues, like the one you were referencing, are ones that we have envisaged from the beginning would be addressed in a constitutional convention, a convention -- a constitution that would be drafted by individuals directly elected by the people of Iraq. And the Governing Council continues to share that view. And that was one of the key components in the November 15th agreement we reached with the Governing Council -- that there would be a constitutional convention that would address a number of these issues and that there would be drafters to the constitutional convention that would be directly elected by the Iraqi people.


Q (Through interpreter.) How can we make an amendment to the 15th November agreement in order to change or ensure making the elections here in Iraq? Thank you.

MR. SENOR: Do you mean amendment specifically to the political process?

Q (?) (Off mike.)

MR. SENOR: Yeah. Well, the November 15th agreement was really a framework, a set of principles, the details of which was to be worked between the Governing Council and the coalition, which has been ongoing now for the past little while. And we've said from the beginning, certainly as far as the political process is concerned and the caucus system is concerned, that we would be open to clarifications and to elaborations on the process. So that is something that is to be proposed, either through the Governing Council or through our parties working with the Governing Council on the implementation of the November 15th agreement.

Again, only if you haven't asked a question. Yes, ma'am?

Q (Shirley Hamm ?) from CNN. I just wanted to follow up on the question asked over here about the new family civil law procedure, as you referred to it as. Can you address whether Ambassador Bremer has a position on it in terms of what it says about taking away rights and protections that women already have in this society that they may no longer have?

MR. SENOR: Ambassador Bremer only sees laws passed independently at the initiative of the Governing Council. There are some laws that are passed collaboratively. There are some that the coalition proposes the Governing Council take up. There are some the Governing Council takes up, however, on its own, on its own initiative, and Ambassador Bremer only sees it after it's been passed.

And as Dr. Pachachi said, because there was a procedural matter, a technical matter there, whereby the law actually wasn't formally passed -- I'm not sure if there wasn't a sufficient quorum at the Governing Council meeting or whatnot -- it hasn't reached Ambassador Bremer's level yet.

Lisa, and then this gentleman here, and then we're going to go.

Q Did you have a Plan B, contingency planning, if the U.N. says it's too unsafe to send a team in and just simply refuses to come in and assess the situation? How will you break the impasse?

MR. SENOR: I would really prefer to stay away from hypotheticals and that sort of speculation. We look forward to the U.N. deploying -- making a decision to deploy a team, and we look forward, if that is the case, to the team coming to Iraq and providing some analysis and recommendations. And we'll let that process go forward.

Yes, sir? And then we will --

Q Yeah. Dan Murphy from the Christian Science Monitor. Why is the coalition so wedded to this deadline of the end of June? For instance, if something comes back at you and says it's possible to have a credible election a few months later, and that could satisfy Ayatollah Sistani and head off some of these apparent conflicts that we're going towards, why not have that sort of flexibility and push things back a little bit? Thank you.

MR. SENOR: We decided to accelerate the path to sovereignty in cooperation with the Governing Council in early November after the Governing Council approached us and told us that they had reached an impasse in their effort to reach consensus in this country on the original political plan. And based on the impasse they had reached, they proposed an accelerated path, which we proceeded to negotiate with them. And the June 30th deadline was agreed upon as the quickest date possible to hand over sovereignty in order to meet all our other critical goals that we wanted to meet before we hand over sovereignty.

It is important to have a date to serve as a deadline, and it's also a date we agreed upon with the Governing Council. And if the agreement is to be respected and if the agreement is to stand strong and independently, it is important that we keep to it. And so we and the Governing Council have agreed to work and focus on handing over sovereignty.

The Governing Council -- not only the Governing Council, members -- Iraqi political leaders across the spectrum, across the geographic and regional and ethnic divide, at the senior levels of the country, at the governate, provincial, municipal levels of the country have made it clear to us they are ready for more authority, more power, not less, that they are ready for us to accelerate every single day the pace at which we are handing over authority to the Iraqi people. And we think it is very important not only to meet the request to continually hand over authority to the Iraqi people, but also to stick to a deadline that we agreed upon with the Iraqi leadership.

Thanks, everybody.





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