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Jay Garner Press Conference

Aired April 23, 2003 - 05:03   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The retired U.S. general overseeing Iraq's rebuilding is receiving a warm welcome on his second day in the Kurdish dominated north.
CNN's Jane Arraf is live in Erbil, where Jay Garner has been meeting with Kurdish groups -- Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, if you're a retired American general arriving in Iraq, you really couldn't hope for a better welcome. Now, General Jay Garner landed at the airport just close to here in a helicopter, met and embraced by Kurdish officials. And after that he toured a school, a school for gifted children, which he told us he hoped would be something that would point to the north of Iraq of being a model for the rest of the country.

Let's listen to what he had to say.


LT. GEN. JAY GARNER (RET.), U.S./IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION ADMINISTRATION: What you have here, you have 12 years of experience of raising children in a democratic environment. You don't have that in the south. What you have, beginning soon, you'll have this same experience spreading throughout Iraq. And what we're raising here is the next generation of democratic leaders and the next generation for democracy in this region. It's very important what's going on here in the north.

ARRAF: But this is a really tiny part of Iraq. This is the best you're ever going to see here in this country. How are you going to make that from the ground up?

GARNER: The whole country is going to look like this.


GARNER: The whole country.


ARRAF: ... and we'll be coming to you with that just a little later to let you know what he's going to say -- back to you, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, we look forward to that.

Jane Arraf reporting live from Erbil, Iraq this morning.

We want to get more on Garner now and an update on the efforts to get things back to normal in Iraq.

CNN's Rula Amin is live in Baghdad with that perspective -- good morning, Rula.


You know, Carol, this is the third day for Garner in Iraq. He's here to assess what are the needs, what's the best way to go around them and how to fulfill them. In Baghdad, he received a muted reception. It was in contrast to what he had received in the -- how he was received in the north.

Here, people were a bit more suspicious in the U.S. goals in Iraq. They were also frustrated for the lack of basic services -- the power, the electricity, the water, the medical services. And so they blamed it on him and they demanded from him to act faster.

He told them that it needs a lot of hard work and it will need time, but he promised he would help -- Carol.

COSTELLO: It'll be interesting to see how he deals with the Shiite population, a population that seems now that -- oh, I'm sorry. Let me interrupt you, Rula.

We're going to go to the press conference now.

Retired General Jay Garner speaking.

GARNER: ... demonstrations are one of the properties of freedom. So they're free to demonstrate and we don't discourage that.

The second thing I have to tell you is I've had many, many Iraqis in Baghdad and in the south tell us they're glad we're here. So I think what you see right now are some staged demonstrations. But I think below that, the majority of the people are glad we're here and the majority of people realize that we're only going to stay here long enough to start a democratic government for them and we're only going to stay here long enough to begin their economy going and we're only going to stay here long enough that we can get their oil running and the oil flowing back to the people and the revenues to the people.

So I think what you'll see here in the future is a reversal of that.

Tim, you want to say something?

MAJ. GEN. TIM CROSS: No, I'd just add that both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have both said that we will be here for the Iraqi people as long as we can help and then we will leave Iraq to the Iraqi people under a new democratic regime. And that's obviously our intent.

QUESTION: General Garner, I'd like to ask two questions. One is what position -- I mean a lot of Iraqis don't know exactly what your role is, what role you're going to be playing here. Would you define your role here, what kind of role you're going to be playing? And also, the second question I'd like to ask is what sort of a timetable do you have for your presence here in Iraq?

GARNER: OK, the role that we have, that General Cross and I have, is a role to do two things, and both of them are types of reconstruction. The first is the physical reconstruction. That's turn on the lights, turn on the water, turn on the electricity, get the bridges repaired, get the roads repaired, put the children back in school, make sure the health system is good.

The second one, type of reconstruction is a political reconstruction. And in that framework, our goal and our purpose here is to create an environment in Iraq where we can have a democratic process, where Iraqis can choose their own leaders and Iraqis can choose their own type of government and we put together a democratic process so at the end of that Iraq has a government that represents the freely elected will of the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Jane Arraf, CNN.

General, I'm wondering essentially about the security situation. In a lot of places we're seeing the fact that garbage can't be picked up, benzene -- that petrol isn't coming, nothing's happening until that security is secured.

How is that going to work hand in hand with the reconstruction and how quickly do you think that could be done?

GARNER: Well, everything you do has to be done in a relatively secure environment. And I think what you see now, I think the security is getting better every day. And I think this is the natural aftermath of a conflict.

I think things are going incredibly fast and I think they're going a lot better than has been portrayed. So I have a good feeling about this. I'm sort of a glass half full guy, not a glass half empty guy. So I think the security is getting better. I think public services are getting better and I think in very short order you'll see a change in the attitudes and the will of the people in the south.

QUESTION: Jim York (ph) from BBC.

If I could ask two related questions.

First of all, do you have any plans -- you talk about democracy, it's very difficult to have democracy when you've got a lot of armed people around, lots of different armed factions. Is there a plan to disarm the whole of the -- of Iraq? And linked to that, that has been one of the demands of the Turks. Are you able to reassure your Kurdish hosts that the Turkish menace, as they saw it, is at bay and is that, in any sense, linked to the disarmament of the Kurds?

GARNER: Do you want to take that?

CROSS: I want to take the first part of that.

There is a plan to reconstruct the Iraqi armed forces and that process will include bringing together many of the people who have been involved in this conflict. I think, you know, for all of us, we must remember the time lines associated with what's been going on here. It's very pleasant sitting here in this rose garden in a secure environment under a system that is democratic. And these people have been able to build so much in the last 12 years. But that does not apply right across Iraq yet and there's no point in pretending otherwise.

So there is work to be done. We have to make sure the environment is secure. We have to work with the international community. And that is the other point I'd add. As Jay's deputy here, I'm trying to make sure that we get other nations working with us, and we are being pretty successful in that.

So there's a lot of work to be done. But, yes, we will, we will disarm slowly and rebuild the Iraqi armed forces, enable them to rebuild the Iraqi armed forces so that they can look after themselves in the years to come.

GARNER: I think on the Turkish question, right now the coalition is dealing very actively with the Turkish government. That seems to be going very well. And I think in the very near future you'll see the new Iraqi government will be dealing with the Turkish government. So I don't see any problems there in the future. I think that'll all work out. It's a work in progress.

QUESTION: So my question is related to this. The Turkish Army...


QUESTION: OK. ATA, Mikimi Ajoli (ph) from AT Television Turkish.

And first is about the Turkish Army. Yesterday, the Turkish Army's officers, one of the Turkish Army officers said that we are ready to bring out sons, our armies, some of the part of armies to Iraq for the safety and for the humanitarian aid. What do you think about this?

And the second question, what yesterday's explanation of Mr. Talabani? Mr. Talabani said that our dreams is to establish a democratic federalist state in Iraq. What do you think about these federalist aims of Mr. Talabani? Do you agree with him at the point of federalism?

Thank you.

GARNER: On the question you had about, the Turkish question, I don't have any, I didn't know that. I don't have any information on that. And those questions are, they're not in my portfolio. Those are questions to be worked out among the governments.

On your second question, I spent the day with Mr. Talabani today and we talked about a democratic government for Iraq that represented all the people. It was mosaic of Iraq, of the cultures, the ethnicity, the religions. And he was in full agreement the future of Iraq would be a democratic Iraq representing all people.


The question around Kirkuk question. Will it under Kurdish control?

Thank you.

GARNER: I didn't hear the question.


CROSS: Will Kirkuk be under Kurdish control?

GARNER: What I think you'll see happen here in the very, very near future, you'll see an Iraqi authority raised that'll begin the governmental process and the Kirkuk question and other questions will be answered within that. And the Kurdish, the leadership of Kurdistan will be full fledged members of this governmental process. So that question will be answered, but it'll be answered in the future. And it will be answered by an Iraqi government that you'll see begin very soon, I think.

QUESTION: I am Sandro Geyeda (ph) from Italian television.

Do you will go to Mosul? Our last information is that the situation there is difficult.

GARNER: Do you want to get into it?

CROSS: Difficult, but it's getting better. The situation there...

GARNER: Why don't you just answer it?

MAJ. GEN. BRUCE MOORE (RET.), U.S./IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION ADMINISTRATION: I could answer that. Mosul is in one of the provinces that we deal with. The situation in Mosul is getting better every day. It's much better than it was last week and it's going to be better tomorrow. There's more forces coming into the Mosul area and shortly we, I think we'll see the weapons off the street and we'll see the policemen back and we'll see people starting to work again.

It's just a slow process, but it will be secure.

GARNER: Right after this press conference, we're going to Mosul to look at the bridge and see what we can do to restore the bridge. So I think things are going to get better rapidly in Mosul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ladies and gentlemen, we'll take one more question then regrettably we have to leave and keep on our schedule. And we're not going to do the press that's traveling with us. So someone who's not traveling with us, we'd like to give an opportunity. One last question.

QUESTION: The Swedish News Agency, Stephan Yotem (ph). A really short question. If you build the democracy, the foundations must be right. In Kirkuk, in Mosul, are the right people in power now? Are you going to change something? Are the right people, is the foundation made right in those cities?

Thank you.

GARNER: Well, I think as you build a democracy -- you're right, you have to have the right foundation and the right leaders have to emerge. And if the right people aren't in place in Kirkuk and Mosul, the people there will tell us and the right leaders emerge. And that's part of the democratic process. And I think we'll see that begin very rapidly and I think we'll see that blossom throughout Iraq.

And I think one area where it's worked very well is right where you're standing. It's in this area here in Kurdistan. It's worked very well and I think what you'll see is the spirit of what's happened here will spread through the rest of Iraq.

OK, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

COSTELLO: As you can see, the press conference is now ending. That's Retired General Jay Garner. He's in Iraq to rebuild some kind of political system there. And you heard him say that he wants it to be a democracy.

Seated with him, by the way, Major General Bruce Moore. He was the man in the blue. And Major General Tim Cross, actually, Major General Tim Cross was in the blue. Major General Bruce Moore was in the gray vest. And they are part of this U.S./Iraq Reconstruction Administration.

As you heard, the first priority for them will be the physical reconstruction of Iraq, you know, get the electricity on, rebuild bridges, restore order to the country. And then they’ll move on to the political reconstruction, where they'll create a democratic process where Iraqis can choose their own government.

As you heard, it's on to Mosul next and some of the reporters will be traveling with General Garner. They're going to Mosul to look at a bridge there to get it fixed in an effort to try to calm things down there.

As you know, there's been some security issues in Mosul. A Marine was shot and wounded a few days ago and there are not a lot of American troops up north and it's harder to keep order than it is in places to the south.

Jay Garner was also asked how long it would take to get a political system up and running in Iraq. He says things have actually gone faster than expected, but soon you will see a change of attitude from people in the south. Of course, people in the north gave Jay Garner a warm reception because after the first Gulf War he came in and sort of created a government for them. So the Kurds have ruled in northern Iraq, you know, the parts of Iraq not controlled by Saddam Hussein. We're awaiting Jane Arraf. Is she ready to go yet? Not yet.

We're going to take a quick break, though.

When we come back we're going to go back -- oh, we've got Jane Arraf -- Jane, are you there?

Can you hear me?

AMIN: Mike check, one, two, three, four, five.

Yes, I can. I can hear you fine.

COSTELLO: All right. Great.

Tell us your thoughts on this and what you heard.

ARRAF: I'm sorry. The press conference here has just finished and General -- the General basically said that everything was fine. Now, that sounds really simplistic to say, but that essentially was his answer, that things are going on track, that although there are demonstrations that we've seen in the south, his main point on that, interestingly, was at least now people can demonstrate.

Now, there are security problems all over here, not so much in the north, but certainly in the south and in cities like Mosul and Kirkuk. He said those are being worked out. They will have a civil administration in place.

The main concern here in the north, though, is money. Now, people haven't been paid in three months, government workers, teachers, people who collect garbage, everything. No salaries for three months and they're negotiating how much exactly they'll get and exactly when they will get it.

According to Kurdish officials, the main thing is to pump money into the economy. But certainly the General came here to an amazing welcome, children throwing flowers out on the streets, ranged with people, a much warmer welcome, obviously, than in the south -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, you have to wonder, the reception is warm in the north for obvious reasons. But when he tries to deal with, let's say, the huge Shiite population, I mean let's say he was in Karbala. What would the reception be like there?

ARRAF: That would be tricky and that may be why we're not seeing him go to Karbala just yet. In fact, he's not going to a lot of places. Yesterday, he was in Sulaymaniyah, the other administrative capital in the north of Iraq, and that was essentially to show that the two major Kurdish factions he met with are united.

Here, he's doing, perhaps, a little bit more of the nitty-gritty. But, again, it's rebuilding bridges. He was in charge of Operation Provide Comfort after '91, after that failed uprising by the Kurds. And now there's just a world of difference. This region has governed itself for the last 12 years and they want a lot more in a new government than they would have wanted after 1991.

So they're expecting a lot. They're welcoming an old friend here. He said he feels like he's at home and a lot of that isn't just talk. There really is an affinity. But at the same time a lot of expectations -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Understand.

Jane Arraf reporting live from Erbil in northern Iraq this morning.

Today marks the climax of a Shiite Muslim pilgrimage, the first sign of large scale religious freedom in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

CNN's Nic Robertson is in the holy city of Karbala, where more than a million faithful are gathered.

He joins us with a live update -- good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, the waves, the way people have been showing that freedom, the freedom of speech, the religious freedom, the freedom to follow their own rituals, beating themselves, flagellation, hitting themselves with swords, drawing blood in some cases, people moving between the shrines here in the holy town of Karbala, going to say prayers to their religious icons, if you will.

But we're also hearing a political message on this very religious day. People are saying to us they're very grateful that the United States has freed Iraq, given them, liberated them from Saddam Hussein's rule so that they can follow their religious cudas (ph), their religious observances, but they want the United States to go now. There are still deep suspicions here about the United States' intended political purposes in Iraq.

The Shia community is very large. Many of their religious leaders assuming a political voice now. They are saying that they want to lead their communities to a religious future in Iraq, even a religious state.

People we are talking to say they need their religious leaders to fill the power vacuum that exists right now, that if their religious leaders point them in a particular political direction, then they will follow it.

We say to them why, if the United States has helped Iraq, helped you get rid of Saddam Hussein, why do you want the United States to leave right now? Some people have put it this way to us. They've said that the coalition forces, the United States forces fought their way into Iraq from the south to the north. They came through the Shia areas. Some of the heaviest fighting was, for example, in Nasiriya. Many, they say many of their own citizens, civilians, Shia civilians, were killed. And they say in the north of Iraq, where the Sunni Muslims are, this didn't happen. And they draw a distinction, rightly or wrongly, but they see themselves as being more badly treated, if you will -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And I asked Jane Arraf this question, Nic, how will Jay Garner be received by Shiites?

ROBERTSON: That's a very, very interesting question. U.S. forces have kept a remarkably low profile around Karbala during this religious festival. The only armed troops here on the outskirts of the city, the Free Iraqi Forces, those Iraqi forces trained by U.S. forces. United States forces keeping a very low profile.

Probably most religious leaders here would tell Jay Garner at this time this fevered religious atmosphere here in the city right now, it's not the right time to come to Karbala. Better, perhaps, to open some back door channels of communication, explain your purposes, make contacts that way rather than coming out and doing it on the streets.

The passions are very, very high at this time.

However, having said that, people are very tolerant towards the Western media here, they're very tolerant towards U.S. television networks such as CNN. But they do see the United States here and they do make comparisons with the situation of Palestinians living in Israel. They say the United States backs Israel there. They believe that somehow the Shias in Iraq will become downtrodden like the Palestinian -- like how they view the Palestinian situation is. And they say that they don't want that.

There's a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of apprehensions here. There needs to be explanation. That's what some of the religious leaders tell us. But at the moment they're intent on filling that power vacuum and moving towards a political leadership for the Shia community. We're expecting later today a group of exiled Shia Muslims from Iraq who have been living for several decades in Iran to return. Their message, and they will come back under the banner of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and their message will be for Shia unity so they have political strength, to intertwine religious movement with political movement and to rebuild Iraq along religious lines.

This is the dominant message that people here at this religious gathering are hearing -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Tough to do in a democracy.

Jay Garner has his work cut out for him.

Nic Robertson, thanks very much, reporting live from Karbala.

And as you heard, the General, he's on his way to Mosul, which is in the north, to see about a bridge that needs repairing there.


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