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DoD Briefing

'We Are Seeing History Unfold ...'

'... events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people, and potentially the future of the region.' US DoD News Briefing by Defence Secretary and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Wednesday, April 9, 2003 - 1:30 p.m. EST

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'We Are Seeing History Unfold ...'
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Donald Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.

This is a good day for the Iraqi people. There is no question but that there are difficult and very dangerous days ahead and that the fighting will continue for some period. But certainly anyone seeing the faces of the liberated Iraqis -- the free Iraqis -- has to say that this is a very good day.

Tomorrow will mark three weeks since Operation Iraqi Freedom began and the progress of the men and women in uniform who make up the coalition forces has been nothing short of spectacular. They drove through the south up, braving dust storms and death squads to reach Baghdad in record time. They secured Iraq's southern oil fields for the Iraqi people, took out terrorist camps in the north and the south, secured large sections of western Iraq, preventing the regime from attacking its neighbors with Scud missiles. They've liberated cities and towns and are now in the Iraqi capital removing the regime from its seat of power and center of gravity.

As Iraqis see the coalition progress, they are losing their fear of this vicious regime, and I think it's safe to say that the mood in the country is, in fact, tipping, at least in Baghdad.

The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. We are seeing history unfold events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people, and potentially the future of the region. Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom.

The general who led our war of liberation, George Washington, once said, "My anxious recollection, my sympathetic feeling, and my best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever in any country I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom," unquote. As we watch Iraqis unfurl the banners of freedom today, all Americans share in their joy and celebrate with them, particularly those from Michigan that we've seen on television, who are seeing their country, their friends and often their relatives liberated.

Let me say a word to the families of those who have given their lives in this war. As you watch these historic things unfold, take enormous pride in the service of your loved ones. They made this possible. Their sacrifice is permitting the liberation of a people and the end of a regime that, thanks to them, will never again threaten the world with its weapons.

And to those Iraqi people who are not yet free, let me assure you that you will be free. I've seen President Bush almost every day since this conflict began. And I can assure you that he is, like the American people, committed to your freedom, and to your future, and to seeing this effort through. We will not stop until Saddam Hussein's regime has been removed from every corner of that country.

The Iraqi people are understandably elated at the prospect of life without Saddam Hussein. We said from the beginning that he was finished. Now they are daring to believe it, but there is still a great deal of work to do and many unfinished missions to complete before victory can be declared. Baghdad is in the process of being liberated, although battles continue in and around the city and the regime has been run out of a number of Iraqi cities and towns, but other Iraqi cities are still being contested and there will still be tough fighting and difficult tasks ahead.

We still must capture, account for, or otherwise deal with Saddam Hussein and his sons and the senior Iraqi leadership.

We still must find and ensure the safe return of prisoners of war -- those captured in this war as well as any still held from the last Gulf War: Americans and other nationals.

We still must secure the northern oil fields, which have probably been wired for destruction, as was the case with the southern fields.

We still need to find and secure Iraq's weapons of mass destruction facilities and secure Iraq's borders so we can prevent the flow of weapons of mass destruction materials and senior regime officials out of the country. We still must find out everything we can about how the Iraqi regime acquired its capabilities and the proliferation that took place by countries in the industrialized world. We need to locate Iraqi scientists with knowledge of these programs. And we're asking people to come forward and help in this effort. Rewards are available to those who help us prevent the disappearance of personnel, documentation and materials. Good lives and a better future are possible for those who turn themselves in and choose to cooperate with coalition forces.

We must also capture or kill the terrorists still operating in Iraq and prevent them from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.

We must locate Ba'ath Party members, records and weapon caches. We must locate the records of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the Special Security Organization, the Fedayeen Saddam death squads and the Special Republican Guards. We must locate the wealth of the Iraqi regime inside of Iraq and outside of the country so it can be returned to the rightful owners, the Iraqi people.

And we must begin the process of working with free Iraqis, those liberated from portions of the country and those returning home from exile, to establish an Iraqi interim authority and help to pave the way for a new Iraqi government, a government to be chosen not by the coalition, not by the United States, but by the Iraqi people, based on democratic principles of political freedom, individual liberty and the rule of law.

Much work remains, but this we can say with certainty: The tide is turning, the regime has been dealt a serious blow, but coalition forces will not stop until they have finished the job, the regime is removed and the -- all of the Iraqi people are liberated.

And finally, to the Iraqi people, let me say this. There are a lot of reporters embedded with coalition forces in your country. The reporters should be interested and willing to listen. This is your opportunity to tell them your stories so that history properly records the viciousness -- the brutality of that regime and so that history is not repeated.

To the free reporters and journalists in Iraq, this is your opportunity to listen and report. It is an historic opportunity for journalists. This is also true for Iraqis here in America, who can now speak freely to the press without concern about their families and friends still in Iraq.

General Myers?

General Richard Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

The chart shows that, in fact, we have made great strides in the last three weeks, and it also shows that while Iraqis are beginning to celebrate in parts of Baghdad and several other areas, there are portions of Iraq still in the grip of fear. Out west, small numbers of regime death squads still exist and are harassing travelers and citizens. The coalition may also have to remove regime forces from cities and areas in northern Iraq and to eliminate small pockets of resistance in other areas. And we're currently doing just that. U.S. Special Forces have seized a small town north of Mosul and key positions south of Irbil, destroying tanks and trucks, and taking several hundred enemy prisoners of war. More must be done in Baghdad, as well. Fighting inside the capital presents a substantial risk to coalition forces and we cannot and must not become overconfident.

Now we'd like to send specific messages to two very different groups.

First, in Iraq. To those who may be holding any coalition prisoners of war: permit the International Red Cross to visit them. The Geneva Convention requires you to ensure their health and well being. When the hostilities end, we fully expect to find these young men and women in good health and well cared for.

Now to another group in Afghanistan. To the families of the Afghan citizens accidentally killed in a bombing in Afghanistan yesterday, we send our sincere condolences. The incident occurred after U.S. troops pursued enemy forces in the vicinity of Shkin. Close air support was called in and guided munitions accidentally landed on a house, killing 11 Afghan civilians. We sincerely regret the incident.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the momentous pictures and what's going on in Baghdad and parts of Iraq now. You also mentioned the need to set up an interim authority. It seems as the shooting wanes in coming days, that the humanitarian need will grow drastically. When do you plan to send General Garner and his civil affairs team in from Kuwait to begin doing this?

Donald Rumsfeld: I can't see why the humanitarian situation would grow drastically. Quite the contrary. The humanitarian --

(Off mike.)

Donald Rumsfeld: The humanitarian problem occurred under the Saddam Hussein regime for a decade. The circumstance of those people has been terrible. They had been denied all kinds of things because he was unwilling to cooperate with the United Nations.

Now, what's happening now is that humanitarian assistance is coming in. That doesn't mean the situation is worse, it means that it's better. And it is better.

And let me just give you an example. I'll tell you what's going to happen is, the more people who go into that country and see how serious the situation is, the needs of those people, and they're real needs, they're going to report there's a humanitarian crisis, the implication that it just occurred. It didn't just occur. When they say some city's been -- one-third of the city doesn't have sufficient water, compare that with six months ago when maybe half of the city didn't have sufficient water.

Here's just one, in Umm Qasr. It's generally a permissive environment, flourishing somewhat due to the increase of aid and border activity. The population has increased from 15,000 to 40,000, due to the availability of supplies and employment. Water supply is above prewar levels -- combination of U.K. pipeline and trucking. Electricity has been restored by U.K. engineers. Sufficient food is readily available. Medical facilities are sufficient and operating. UNICEF is providing supplies. The port's cleared of mines and open to limited operations. The channel needs dredging. Railway station is cleared by explosive ordnance detachment. Rail line is intact from there to Nasiriyah and they intend to open a line within seven days, which will allow movement of bulk water up the Euphrates Valley.

So, I mean, there's just one city. I could say the same thing on Basra or Nasiriyah. So the assumption in your question is false.

I didn't mean to assume that. Nonetheless, you have said yourself that government service is going to need to be set up, now that there's a vacuum. What I meant to ask is when General -- when are General Garner and his team going to begin to go in to begin setting up these government services?

Donald Rumsfeld: General Garner and his team were working here for weeks. They then went to the -- I guess Kuwait, and have been there for some weeks. I can remember seeing them off right here in the parking lot on a Sunday morning, early. They've -- they have put together teams of people to help deal with this problem.

The choice is, do you move them once and then have to move them again to the Baghdad Airport area, or do you just wait a day or two and see if in fact the Baghdad area is sufficiently secure that they can move in there? And the answer is, they're going to move to the Baghdad area at that point where the Baghdad Airport is in fact sufficiently secure to take a number of civilians who are not in a combat situation, and so that they can continue -- not begin but continue -- the process of attempting to move towards a more normal circumstance, as the war and the kinetics decline.

There's a lot more fighting that's going to be done. There are -- more people are going to be killed; let there be no doubt. This is not over, despite all the celebrations on the street. They're going to go in at exactly the right moment and do a very good job.

Mr. Secretary, regarding further fighting --

General Richard Myers: Charlie, I would just -- just to kind of emphasize what the secretary just said, it really doesn't matter where General Garner or his group is, because they are in fact acting now. The restoration of water supplies in several southern towns, the restoration of electrical power grids -- he's the one that is overseeing that, that work, and it doesn't matter if he's in Baghdad or if he's in Kuwait or wherever he is. He's the one charged with those responsibilities. And so, just to emphasize what the secretary said, that's being done. So, his location shouldn't be of great interest.

The main reason I asked was General Blount said today that he expected --

Donald Rumsfeld: Who's he?

The head of the 3rd. Third Infantry Division.

Donald Rumsfeld: That General Blount! (Laughter.)

He said in Baghdad today that he expected the humanitarian aid flights would begin flying into Baghdad, as he put it, within days.

Donald Rumsfeld: Planes are already landing in the Baghdad airport.

But that's why I'm --

Donald Rumsfeld: C-130s? They're already going in.

General Richard Myers: C-17s.

Donald Rumsfeld: No, it's -- the planes are already going into Baghdad airport. That isn't the question. The question is, do you want to take a large cell of people and put them in there and then provide force protection in addition to all the other things that are taking place in that particular --

General Richard Myers: Under combat conditions --

Donald Rumsfeld: Yeah.

General Richard Myers: -- when you could have them working effectively from where they are. So they'll --

Donald Rumsfeld: So he's exactly correct.

Mr. Secretary? Mr. Secretary, when peace finally comes to Iran (sic), or at least there is some stability --

Donald Rumsfeld: Iraq, maybe?

Iraq. (Laughter.) I'm thinking ahead of myself. My tongue is faster than my brain. Let me start again. When peace finally comes to Iraq, at least stability, what's next in the Middle East? You have thrown down the gauntlet to Syria. Are they in the sights for military action? What about Iran, which to many is the 800-pound gorilla in the Middle East? What's next for us in the Middle East?

Donald Rumsfeld: No one's thrown down the gauntlet. I've accurately observed that they would be well advised to not provide military capabilities to Iraq. They seem to have made a conscious to decision to ignore that. Senior regime people are moving out of Iraq into Syria, and Syria is continuing to send things into Iraq. We find it notably unhelpful.

The question you ask, however, is not a question I can answer. It depends on people's behavior. And certainly I have nothing to announce. We're still dealing with Iraq.

You said in the list still left to do that the U.S. military must still capture or otherwise deal with Saddam Hussein and his sons. Do you believe that Saddam Hussein is still alive?

Donald Rumsfeld: Don't know.

Do you believe that he was in that building before it was taken out?

Donald Rumsfeld: Don't know.

Mr. Secretary?

General Myers?

Donald Rumsfeld: Yes.

Could you characterize --

Donald Rumsfeld: No, no. That's two.

No, hold on.

Donald Rumsfeld: Nope, that's all. No hold on. (Laughter.)

There was -- (inaudible.)

Donald Rumsfeld: No! Yes, there was. (Laughter.) You just don't like one-word answers. (Laughter.)

Yes.

I wondered -- I wondered if I could ask General Myers if you would describe what sort of Iraqi forces are left to contend with in the north. Are they Republican Guards? Are they regular army? Do you have an idea of how many?

And Mr. Secretary, in light of the criticisms of the supply line and the pause that was reported a week or two ago, are you feeling vindicated today?

General Richard Myers: As far as the forces left to deal with, in Baghdad city itself, still the special security organization, Special Republican Guard, the death squads who are probably there and of course in other major cities and probably even some of the smaller cities, Ba'athist Party members who use force and fear and intimidation to coerce the population.

In terms of regular army, there are about 10-plus regular army divisions left in the north and perhaps as much as one brigade of a Republican Guards division up there, an infantry division, that we think is still left in the north. Now, they have been subjected to bombing by air power and will continue to be dealt with in that way for some time.

Donald Rumsfeld: You're right, there have been a lot of people who've suggested that the force was undersized and that they went too fast and they should have had a long air war first. I happen to think that -- it's not a matter for me to be vindicated. I happen to think that General Franks and his team have done an absolutely superb job. And the young folks in uniform who have marched to Baghdad and done such superb work in the air and at sea, and the leadership they have had with General McKiernan, and Admiral Keating and General Moseley, working with General Franks, has been excellent. I think the outcome is in the process of speaking for itself and it's not for me to draw conclusions about it.

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