U.S. Department of Defense News Briefing
Larry Di Rita, Acting ASD(PA)
Monday, July 7, 2003 - 2:00 p.m. EDT
(Participating were Larry Di Rita, acting assistant secretary of
defense for public affairs, and Emad Dhia, director, Iraqi
Reconstruction and Development Council.)
Di Rita: Good afternoon. I hope you all had a fine holiday weekend and
had a chance to think about all those great Americans out there
defending our freedoms every day.
Our condolences, first of all, go out to the families of those troops
killed and injured in Iraq and, really, throughout the U.S. military
over the past days. We remember them and their families today.
Before taking questions, there's a couple of things I wanted to
highlight that might help put some context into what we are doing in
Iraq, in particular. Today Ambassador Bremer met for the first time
with the newly selected Baghdad interim city advisory council.
Ambassador Bremer describes this as the most important day in Baghdad
since April 9th, which was the day that coalition forces entered the
city and that the regime came to an end.
This council will provide a forum for Baghdad's citizens to discuss
important local issues. The 37-person council will also offer advice
and suggestion to the coalition and to the city's municipal and
ministry administrators as they manage basic services for the
residents of the city.
Without question, there's a lot of work for Ambassador Bremer and his
team in Iraq, for the United States government and the coalition
generally. And there's going to be more violence and other setbacks.
There's no question about that. But make no mistake: Saddam Hussein's
regime is gone and it is not coming back. All of Iraq's main cities
and a large number of smaller towns now have councils, administrative
councils, and slowly but certainly, Iraqis continue to take
responsibility for their own circumstances in Iraq.
I have one other point, and then I would like to ask our guest to say
a few words, and I will introduce him to you.
Today, as we speak, I think, General Tommy Franks is being relieved of
his command in Tampa. I think that's happening right now. General
Franks has served the nation with great distinction, and I don't need
to repeat the many accolades he has earned, on behalf of the Central
Command and on behalf of the United States. We wish him and his family
the best as he moves on.
The president has chosen an officer of unique capability, in John
Abizaid, to continue with the mission of leading the Central Command.
And we wish General Abizaid and his family the best and Godspeed.
Earlier today, I think, some of you may have heard from General Carl
Strock from Baghdad, as well as Andrew Bearpark, his British
colleague, counterpart. And he talked a great deal about what the
circumstances are in Baghdad, gave you a little bit of a sense of the
sort of technical conditions in the city, in the infrastructure, et
I wanted to also offer the opportunity for you to speak to another
gentleman today, a very special guest we have with us, Mr. Ahmad Dhia.
He has recently returned from Baghdad. He spent the past several weeks
there with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He is returning to
Baghdad, was actually supposed to have departed Sunday. We prevailed
upon him to remain for an extra day or two to brief some people here
in the building, as well as to spend a little bit of time with you.
Mr. Dhia founded the Iraqi Forum for Democracy several years ago in --
here in the United States. He is a mechanical engineer and former
project manager on a variety of engineering projects in Iraq. In 1982
he left Baghdad and has lived in the United States since then.
Earlier this year he put his life on hold to organize a global network
of Iraqi volunteers, who made themselves available to go to Iraq after
the conflict and to assist in the reconstruction and the
post-hostility period. This group, known as the Iraqi Reconstruction
and Development Council, consists of some 120, 130 Iraqis, and they
are now sort of assigned across the ministries in Baghdad and across
the regions in Iraq, offering technical expertise in fields as wide-
ranging as agriculture to the various technical -- health ministries,
et cetera, culture -- the Culture Ministry, things such -- of that
nature. They bring energy, knowledge, skill and, most importantly, the
firsthand knowledge, in most cases, of life under Saddam Hussein.
We've asked Ahmad to offer some of his reflections in these early
weeks and months since the end of the major combat phase of this
operation. Mr. Dhia.
Dhia: Good afternoon. I would talk first about the Iraqi people that I
talked to and lived with for the last eight weeks in Baghdad. I would
talk about the freedom. The people of Iraq, for the first time in 34
years, they feel free. There's no question about that. This is the
truth. You can see it. You can feel it. And you can notice, when you
talk to the Iraqis, they are speaking their minds. If they don't like
something, they go in the street and demonstrate. That never happened
under Saddam regime.
Also, in the street of Baghdad, you see over 50 newspapers, all these
newspapers representing different parties and political (Inaudible.).
They write with no fear of prosecution or imprisonment. And that's the
first time happening in Iraq.
Then I talk about the Iraqi living conditions: how they make their
whole lives, and what's -- if there is any improvement happen in the
Iraqi lives. The average government employee income multiplies between
the time before the war and after the war, after liberation. Before
liberation, an average employee monthly income was about 10,000
dinars, which runs about $5. The first advance that they received to
cover their living expenses was $40 for the government employees and
for the retirees. Some of the retirees, actually the military
retirees, they received $60. And that runs about 60,000 dinars to
80,000 dinars. That's compared to the 10,000 Iraqi dinars they used to
receive as a monthly salary on average. And that's not counted as a
salary. They also start receiving (Inaudible.) salary. An (Inaudible.)
salary itself is substantially more than the original salary or the
average salary the government employee used to receive before
liberation. That, coupled with stabilities -- stability in prices of
the good and groceries, some of the prices stay put; some of them,
they went down.
On the services. The Iraqis now have better access to electric power
with all the challenges we have on the distribution side.
Unfortunately, the remnants of Saddam's regime, they are shooting our
high-tension lines, which they run in Iraq for hundreds of miles. They
also go and throw a grenade on a switching station or a transformer to
sabotage the process of providing electricity to all Iraqis. And this
is happening at the middle of the summer, and the environment of 130
degree outside, and at a time when the average Iraqi student in
Baghdad trying to sit down and read and get ready for his final exams.
So Iraqi families are really frustrated by what they are doing. And
that exactly tells you which side those remnants of Saddam regime are
standing on. Definitely it's not the people's side.
And I will talk about the general security issue. The security in Iraq
continue -- the situation will continue as long as those Saddam's
remnants exist, and, as the president said, that these Ba'ath Party
officials and the security officers of Saddam regime, they will not
stop at -- they will stop at nothing to regain their power and their
Their privileges during Saddam regime was extensive, up to we've seen
salaries of his people, between the grants he gave them and between
their truthful salaries, up to 100 times their peers; you know, the
guy sitting next door to his office. He receives 100 times more money
than what his peer receives. That's how Saddam was employing those
people. Those people they lost those privileges, they lost their
power, and they are fighting back. We understand that. And we're going
to fight them back and we're going to defeat them.
Di Rita: Thank you, Ahmad. And do you have more, or do you want to
just take some Q&A?
Dhia: Just one point I'd like to mention here. The objectives of those
people, the remnants of Saddam, are different from the objectives of
the Iraqi people. The objective of the Iraqi people is to enjoy
liberty and start the democratic process. They are looking forward to
have a free and just Iraq, and they try to enjoy the new future that
the United States are helping to build in Iraq. And unfortunately,
those remnants will be there until we take them out. I think Iraqi
people, once they realize Saddam and his sons are either dead or
captured, we will have much more cooperation from Iraqi people in this
Di Rita: Thank you.
Again, I will take a handful of questions. I know there's a lot of
current issues of the day. I'd like to try and take advantage of the
fact that Ahmad remained back for a day or so, if you want to get some
of his reflections.
Go ahead, Charlie.
Q: Very, very briefly, aside from this issue, there are a lot of
questions about Liberia. Could you tell us how long you expect the
assessment team to take to complete its assessment? And while we
understand the president's made no decision yet, what kind of -- what
size force and kind of force is being looked at in terms of
Di Rita: I will emphasize that the president's made no decisions, and
therefore it would certainly be premature for me to discuss any
speculation on your part.
With respect to the humanitarian assistance team that's out there,
it's not operating against any particular time line. It's going to
conduct the assessment that it needs to see -- get an on- ground sort
of situational awareness and be able to report that back through the
chain of command, for the decision-makers to continue their own
assessment. So it's -- I certainly am in no position to speculate
about what the next steps would be, other than at some point this team
Q: What specifically, briefly, are they looking at?
Di Rita: Well, they're looking at the circumstances on the ground in
Monrovia and what exactly the conditions are, so that -- as -- again,
as the president continues to deliberate, he can have the benefit of
very firsthand focused insights from people who have recently been
Q: Larry, the new tape of Saddam Hussein appeared. The CIA says they
believe that in fact it is highly likely that it is him. Mr. Dhia just
made the point that until Saddam Hussein is either dead or captured
and his sons are, the situation is not going to resolve itself. How
much havoc is his apparent still being alive causing in problems for
the U.S. in Iraq?
Di Rita: Well, I won't say any more than what the secretary has
already said, which is it's not helpful, to the extent that people
believe that there is -- that there are individuals who are -- hold
out hope that Saddam Hussein may be alive -- and again, I wouldn't
speculate as to whether he's alive or not. I simply don't know. But
it's -- as long as -- as Ahmad said, as long as there are sort of
holdouts from the Ba'athist regime that have hope that they may be
able to restore their privileges or have their privileges restored,
they'll be very unhelpful to the Iraqi people. And that appears to be
Q: Is there some sense, either directly or indirectly, that he is
guiding what is going on over there now, the violence directed at U.S.
forces, particularly incidents like the soldier being shot while he
was buying a soda at the university, or another GI being shot while he
was buying some sort of CD?
Di Rita: Well, again, remember -- and General Abizaid has spoken to
this at some length; I think General Myers spoke to it over the
weekend -- there's -- there are a number of strains of activity that
we think we see. We see these Ba'athist holdouts who sort of -- as the
secretary has described them, dead-enders, who hope that there will
one day be another Saddam Hussein regime. There will not be.
We see hard-line Islamists who want to cause mischief, some of them
from inside the country, some of them very likely from outside the
country. We see criminal elements.
And so you see a number of strains, and it -- nobody has been able --
nobody has indicated or has a sense whether there's any sort of
regional or national organization level behind these. There's a lot of
different strains of activity, and we're going to take them as they
Q: Could I ask one of Mr. Dhia, along the same lines?
Di Rita: Okay. Go ahead.
Q: Because you were talking about how the Iraqi people are feeling
more relaxed now that Saddam is not there. But is the specter of him
affecting the civilian population also, in -- do they want to be seen
as collaborators? Are they afraid of that in their dealings with the
U.S. and is that having an effect?
Dhia: Well, they are mad on him, actually, because his impact on their
lives, as I said -- like they're a student trying to ready for the
final exams in the high school, which is happening, I think, the 14th
of July or 13th of July, and they can't find a light in the night to
sit down and read, for example.
Q: And they blame Saddam, not the U.S.?
Dhia: They are blaming Saddam, of course.
Di Rita: Let me provide just a little context, and then we'll go to
another question. But this soldier -- and again, we mourn his death
today -- he was killed at a university. Baghdad University, I think,
has something on the order of -- and I'll be off by a little bit --
but 50,000 students. They're preparing for exams. They have an
entirely new leadership selected by the faculty. Most of the Ba'athies
(sic) are gone. So while we have a obviously regrettable and
unfortunate circumstance where a soldier has been killed on the campus
of Baghdad University, the broader context is, Baghdad University's
operating very much in a post-Saddam Hussein environment.
Di Rita: Yup?
Q: Can you quantify at all how many holdouts there are, either one of
you -- numbers, percentage of the population that are still fighting
against the coalition or sabotaging the Iraqi people? And if not, how
do you get a handle on this? How do you know when you've made a dent
in it, other than things like
Di Rita: Well, I don't think we're prepared to -- we know, for
example, that our estimate is somewhere in the orders of tens of
thousands of prisoners were released. That's a number. It's a big
number. It's a problem.
Dhia: Twenty-nine thousand, to be exact.
Di Rita: Yeah. So I mean -- so we have that to deal with. We know that
there are some number of disgruntled former Ba'ath officials who may
or may not be involved in this activity. How one would quantify that
-- it's very difficult to make that kind of assessment.
Q: You've put out a press release or Central Command put out a press
release saying how many weapons were confiscated and a list of some of
the former Ba'athists that were arrested. Is this significant? I mean,
there are thousands, millions of weapons in Iraq --
Di Rita: It's significant. Sure I mean, there s a handful -- I think
they collected some couple hundred of rocket- propelled grenades.
Those are 200 rocket-propelled grenades that won't be used against
coalition forces. So it only takes one to kill soldiers. So yeah,
The question is, what's the context? That's a difficult question to
answer. There's no question that as you gather -- roll up more people
-- and I think they did arrest several hundred -- you gather
additional intelligence, it isn't a one-for-one type of measurement.
You look at the kinds of people you have, and you start to work
against other information you already have and develop additional
intelligence and move on from there. It's a difficult challenge, no
question about it.
Q: All right. All right. A question for Mr. Dhia. (Inaudible.)
Di Rita: (Inaudible.)
Q: You were in Baghdad, and we get press reports that there is strong
anti-American feeling in the Sunni area of Baghdad up to Tikrit, west
of Al Fallujah. How much of that did you come across? How much of it
did you gather where there is expression that we are an army of
occupation, U.S. forces, and that the population would prefer we left
and just turned the country back to whomever?
Dhia: Most of these points of -- where the terrorists gather
themselves and act against our forces, they are the concentration of
the (Inaudible.) systems, which is -- they are the most loyal part of
the military to Saddam Hussein regime at the time. He selected them
from those areas where you see the attacks on the American soldiers
Q: But among the populace, the civilians you talk to of all ranks, did
you find that there is a strong or growing anti-American feeling
because our forces are there?
Dhia: To the contrary. I saw the people of Baghdad, and I saw people
of other provinces. They are mad on those people. Those people, they
were the thieves. They are the people who abuse their power. To give
you an example, I passed by the -- (Inaudible.) -- and there were like
10 or 12 houses, very lavish houses. And I said, "Who those houses
belong to?" And they said, "Those are the (Inaudible.). Those are the
people who are fighting us." Understandably, they have all these
privileges. And they say they don't pay a penny for those houses.
Q: Larry, you said that there are 50,000, more or less, students at
Baghdad University. Many of the teachers there were selected by the
Ba'ath Party, they are loyalists. Are any efforts being made to change
the school leadership or teachers there at all?
Di Rita: Well, I'll let Ahmad speak to that. I mean, we've done that.
Dhia: Actually, a lot of work being done at the Ministry of Higher
Education and the Ministry of Education itself as well. I'm proud to
say that some of the IRDC members, they were very instrumental in the
process of weeding out those high-ranking Ba'athists in the
universities and helping the election process that followed that --
eliminating of the Ba'athists or the high-ranking Ba'athists from the
universities followed by election process. For the first time, they
elected the president of the University of Baghdad for the first time
in Iraq history. Usually it's assigned by the government.
And this is a new era. This is the real freedom that the Iraqi people
now enjoying and living it with its all reality. They feel it, I hope,
as we go. It takes time to have all these elements of democracy and
freedom set in place and people start practicing it. It's going to
take time. We've been there three months only. I mean, three months is
not a long time in a history of a nation of the age of our nation.
It's a very short time, actually. And look how much we have done
Q: Can you give us any update on the review the secretary of Defense
apparently ordered on troop levels, force structure in Iraq now?
Di Rita: I think what you're referring to is sort of, if I'm not
mistaken, when General Abizaid was up here a couple of weeks ago he
said that we're conducting sort of as part of our ongoing review of
force rotations, force availability, disposition within the country.
We expect to be continuing that and maybe have something to advise the
secretary on within the next few weeks. I think he used the date of
June 30th, but the secretary from this podium, I believe, said with
the chairman that they think that they'll have something to look at
within the next week or two.
I mean, again, this is part of an ongoing sort of keep the evaluation,
keep the assessment of do we have forces properly -- the disposition
is proper within the country, do we have any need, particularly as we
get additional forces from coalition, maybe to reposition forces or
even redeploy forces? Those are the kinds of questions that they'll be
looking at. And as I said, I would expect the secretary and the
chairman to be getting some information from the Central Command
within the next week or two, would be my guess. I wouldn't want to put
a deadline out, but this is an ongoing thing. This wasn't something
Q: It wasn't a review that the secretary ordered up specifically in
response to concern that there were not enough forces?
Di Rita: Highly unlikely. I mean, as I understand this, and as I think
the secretary has spoken to it, this is just what he's -- I mean, what
he's expecting from Central Command based on the Central Command's
sort of ongoing evaluation of where we stand inside the country.
Q: Mr. Dhia, I want to go back to the Saddam tape. If it turns out
that the tape is authentic, how much of a setback will that be to U.S.
and Iraqi efforts to convince the public he is gone and not coming
Dhia: In all honesty, I don't think there were an effort to convince
Iraqi public he was dead. We said from the beginning we don't know if
he was dead or not. The perception of Iraqis, he is not dead and his
sons are not dead. For Iraqis, his departure was the best thing
probably happened in their life for the last 34 years.
The tape itself, I watched Al Jazeera yesterday and they had a program
about the tape. And there were eight Iraqis called, if I remember
correctly. Seven of them, they said, "We really hate this tape; why
you played it? It's really hurt our feeling to listen to it. We don't
want to hear this guy again. We despise him. We hate him."
Q: But how much does this, though, help those hard-core Ba'athists or
Republican Guard hard-core members who think he may be coming back?
Will this complicate our efforts to weed those types of people out?
Dhia: In one point, that it will inflict more fear in some of Iraqi
people hearts and minds.
Di Rita: But the fact is -- and Jerry Bremer acknowledged this when he
announced the other day that the United States is offering a $25
million reward for either his capture or evidence that he is dead --
this is -- we recognize this. It would be much better to be able to
prove that Saddam Hussein is captured or dead. There is no question.
And this tape doesn't change that. There's no news in terms of how
this affects our view of it would be much better that he were -- that
we could demonstrate he were captured or killed.
Q: Could you tell me how your -- the IRDC people are being received?
Are they being viewed as carpetbaggers that left Iraq when the going
was bad and now are coming in and trying to, you know, live off the
largess of the U.S.? Are you viewed as helpful? And from the U.S.
side, are you getting the support that you need? Because we heard lots
of reports that many of your people were sidelined in Kuwait for a
long time and couldn't get in. And could you also tell me if there's
any kind of retribution that you --
Di Rita: That sounds like two questions, Pam. Let him answer --
Q: Yeah, but retribution that you fear for the folks that helped get
rid of the Ba'athists. Are they in any danger?
Dhia: First of all, not all the IRDC members left Iraq when Iraq was
tough to live in. Actually, a lot of them left Iraq when Iraq was
living its golden days. They left to finish their PhDs or masters',
and they stayed in the Western world to practice their profession or
finish their higher education.
A lot of Iraqis, they received them very well, actually. A lot of
them, they have friends and family members in government, in
ministries, or in the universities. And they are colleagues to a lot
of university professors. And actually, they did work with those
people in the last two to three months in achieving what we said as
far as the process of de-Ba'athification, executing the order of the
Ambassador Bremer, number one, or in the process of electing the
people who -- University of Baghdad staff, chosen to be their
president, or other universities around the country.
Di Rita: Eric?
Q: Larry, the secretary has left the impression, I think, over the
last couple of months from time to time that basic services in Baghdad
and the rest of Iraq have been basically -- certainly improved, and at
a steady level, and sometimes he is dating back in pre-war levels. And
yet this morning we've heard from General Strock and the British
administrator in -- certainly in Baghdad, at least, electricity and
water supply is not yet up to the pre-war levels. And I'm wondering is
-- were these impressions that he was mistaken when he gave them
initially, or did -- and, indeed, they reached those levels, but
they've fallen back because of the saboteurs and looting or -- what --
Di Rita: Well, I -- I don't --
Q: Help me out here.
Di Rita: I think his -- the way he's discussed it has been nationwide
there are some areas that are doing better, other areas that aren't
doing as well, without focusing on that, because I don't think he had
any of the specific knowledge of whether Baghdad is at 6,000 megawatts
-- and I'm not going to get into that, because I don't know. But I
know that Strock and Bearpark do. But the fact is that across the
country -- and I'll let Ahmad speak to it, because he's been there
more recently than I have. Across the country, if you look at the
country sort of as a whole, some places are doing better, some places
aren't doing as well. And the goal is to get up to some pre- war base
line that we can all think is moving forward, and then start deciding
on what kind of investments need to be made to improve what was
essentially throughout the country a very poor infrastructure. The
infrastructure in Baghdad itself, which was probably the best in the
country, was -- electrical, for example, I think when we went to that
plant, most of the gauges were missing. It was amazing not so much
that it was providing power, but that it was doing anything, that the
turbines were operating. And it was circa 1960s technology. So even in
the best parts of the country it was pretty poor. And I think the
secretary's point has been that across the board what he has gotten
from Bremer and from the reconstruction folks is that across the board
there are some places doing better than others, and we're going to
just keep pushing forward.
And I don't know if, Ahmad, you have some texture to provide to that.
Dhia: Yeah. After the war, after liberation we -- we used to have,
like, generating problems, power generation problem? And later we have
distribution problem as well. And our people, especially General Carl
Strock, they are working very long hours to help resolve these
As I said, the sabotage and shooting the lines did not help us.
Actually, it's complicated the problem for us a lot. People at the CPA
-- and I say this with -- being part of that effort for the last two
months -- you go eight o clock in the morning, they are sitting
working, and you walk 12 o clock midnight, and they are sitting
working, and those people working 16, some of them 18 hours a day to
accomplish our mission and to achieve our objectives. I have a lot of
respect for those people.
Di Rita: And I would just emphasize, in the case of utilities in
particular, it's a sort of thin management layer, working with some
very skilled Iraqis with some significant technical expertise, as I
said, which kept this system operating during a period when it was --
when, you know, Baghdad was probably the crown jewel of the system,
and it was still very decrepit.
Q: Is the secretary still using that color-coded metric system he
described to us in May, of kind of red, green, blue, over 27 or 28
cities around the country and --
Di Rita: I have not -- I was not here at the time, so I'm not very
familiar with specifically what report you may be referring to. If
there's a copy of it, I'll be happy to tell you whether that's still
Q: (Off mike.)
Q: Well, no, this is -- he briefed us at the end of May, I believe. He
talked about a metric system that the department was using to keep
track of the conditions in very -- in basic services around the
country, and he identified cities, identified something like two dozen
cities around the country. And it went from red, which is worse than
before, to green, which I think meant essentially meeting prewar
standards, to blue, which was beyond those standards --
Di Rita: I don't know. I would say --
Q: (Off mike.) --
Di Rita: Yeah -- (Inaudible.).
Q: Are y'all still using that as a metric --
Dhia: We use it to track the zones and the cities, how they are doing
and the improvement, where it's happening and which area that needs
One thing I want to talk about -- the infrastructure that Larry was
talking about and the power generation facilities that we have in
Baghdad or in other sites of the country. Because of the oil-for-food
programs, some of the -- these generators -- like you buying a chair.
The leg's coming from China, the back coming from France, the seat
coming from Yugoslavia. And those Iraqi technicians in these
generation facilities -- they have to do a lot of work to make all
this happening and function as a unit and talk to each other. Those
elements has to talk to each other to make that power generation
possible. So it's a huge challenge, and the electric power staff in
Iraq -- they doing a lot of work, and they doing an excellent job in
bringing that power alive, with all these challenges.
Also, there's major contractors working there to help in the process,
Di Rita: I think we have time for one more, and we'll take it right
Q: On Iraq, are you doing anything differently, anything -- changing
any procedures, telling soldiers to do anything differently, so they
become less of a target to people that are Saddam sympathizers?
Di Rita: Well, I wouldn't want to get into specific rules of
engagement. We don't discuss that from here. Obviously, force
protection is something that's constantly evaluated. We look at -- for
ways to kind of vary patrols and such things as that. But I think, for
the most part, if I'm telling you, I'm telling others, and it would be
best not to get into that.
Q: On Liberia -- one last, quick question, on Liberia: What's the
first priority, the very first thing the team wants to accomplish
there? What's their first priority?
Di Rita: Their first priority is to begin the assessment that they've
been asked to go begin.
Staff: Thank you very kindly.
Q: Thank you.