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Gen. Dempsey Holds News Conference on Al Rasheed Hotel Attack

Aired October 26, 2003 - 10:59   ET


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN ANCHOR: We're now going to go live to Baghdad. And we're going to be hearing from General Martin Dempsey. He's the commander of the 1st Armored Division. You're looking at the live picture from Baghdad. We expect to get some information about the rocket attack that happened overnight at the Al Rasheed hotel, actually around 6:00 a.m. Baghdad time. In that attack, one U.S. serviceman was killed, a number of other servicemen were injured. Altogether, 15 people injured in that. Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... after he departs, I will remain here to answer your questions, on the Al Rasheed attack or other questions that you may have, until about 7:30. We will have to set up a formal press conference to enable some of your colleagues, journalists to break out equipment and leave early on an important departure time. But after that time, I and my staff will remain in the seat deck (ph) to try and address whatever questions you might have. I remind you that General Dempsey can answer questions about the operations aspects of the attack. However, policy questions or questions referring to what plans there might be with regards to inhabitants of the Al Rasheed will have to be deferred to the CPA. With that, it is my honor to introduce General Dempsey.

GEN. MARTIN E. DEMPSEY, U.S. ARMY: If you wouldn't mind I'd like to begin with just a very brief statement. General Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer asked me to come here tonight so I could answer your questions about this incident and anything else you may be interested in. But let me begin by expressing my deep condolences to the soldier who lost his life today as a result of the attack we're here to briefly discuss.

Here are the facts as we know them. This morning at approximately 6:08 a.m., eight to ten rockets impacted. They were 68- millimeter and 85-millimeter, impacted the al Rasheed Hotel in here Baghdad after being fired by terrorist forces. The rockets struck at several points along the west side of the building causing some damage to both the exterior and the interior of the building. Shortly after the attack, a quick reaction force from Task Force First Armored Division and its Second Brigade Combat Team secured the area and an investigation into the incident has begun.

The rockets were fired from approximately 400 meters away on a side street west of the hotel. They were fired from an improvised multiple rocket launch platform mounted in a gutted trailer made to look like a generator, a towed generator. The platform was hauled into position, unhooked, and pointed in the direction of the hotel, placed on a timer, and then fired by an automatic timing device. This enabled the terrorists to leave the scene before the rockets actually fired. When explosive ordnance personnel arrived on the scene they discovered that the platform had been booby-trapped as well. The explosive devices in the wheel wells, therefore, had to be disarmed before the vehicle could be fully examined. The trailer is now in our custody.

As a result of the attack, one U.S. soldier assigned to the coalition provisional authority was killed, and 15 others were wounded, including seven U.S. civilians, five U.S. military personnel and four non-U.S. coalition partner civilians. In this act we see on display once more the type of cowardice characteristic of those perpetrating these acts aimed primary at non-combatants and civilians for the purpose of undermining the reconstruction of Iraq and the progress of the Iraqi people. And with that, I'll take your questions. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: General, Charles Hanley (ph) of the AP. Could you tell us the number of those involved in the attack and how many rockets were actually fired versus impacts, and discuss the rocket, the weapon a little more, if you would. Were these regular Iraqi army inventory?

DEMPSEY: As to the number of personnel involved in the attack, we did have some of our -- what we describe as our FPS, facilities protective service personnel, within about 100 meters of the location. They actually saw the vehicle towing the trailer stop, and it had the appearance of a vehicle broken down. And they began moving toward it, and as the rockets launched, in fact, two of them were wounded.

You may have heard there was an exchange of gunfire this morning. That's not the case. It was actually two of the rockets that fell short and impacted the t-wall (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that wounded these FPS personnel that work with the coalition forces.

As for the number of rockets mounted in the trailer, why don't you put the picture of the trailer up there for me? As you can see, it's a locally fabricated, locally welded apparatus, I suppose I would call it, rather primitive in nature. I've heard the term sophisticated bandied about. I wouldn't sign up for that. I'd say clever, perhaps. But it has a 40-pod set of tubes. We don't know exactly how many of them were loaded. We know that when we came upon the trailer, 11 of these missiles remained and had not discharged either for electrical or mechanical failure. And we know that the -- we know how many impacted the site of the hotel. Beyond that we're a still trying to determine how many were in the pod to begin with.

We know that the missile types, there were two types, one was 68- millimeter, one was 85-millimeter. The 68-millimeter has a range of approximately 3 to 5 kilometers, the 85 has a range of approximately 5 to 7 kilometers. As I said, this particular device was stationed at about 400 meters. I don't recall -- I didn't catch the third part of your question, sir.

QUESTION: I'm wondering what you can tell us about whether these belong in the normal Iraqi army inventory or the origin of the weapons? DEMPSEY: Yes, I actually have inspected them myself and came to no conclusions about where they came from. We are, as I mentioned in my opening statement, the investigation is ongoing and we'll try to determine the source of the weapons.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Spain. Can you tell us the nationalities of the four known Americans that were injured?

DEMPSEY: I'm sorry. Can I tell you what?

QUESTION: The nationalities of the four non-Americans that were injured.

DEMPSEY: I cannot. Both because I don't know, and I'm not sure that their relatives and family members have been notified. So I leave that to the CPA to do.

Yes, sir.


DEMPSEY: So far you're good. As long as you keep speaking English, I'll be in good shape.

QUESTION: Well, that's my job. The only way I can do -- thank you. Well, sir, can you tell us whether any civilians were wounded and who are they, those civilian wounded?

DEMPSEY: Again, I really do not know the names -- I know the names of the military personnel, because that's the part of this mission that I'm responsible for. I do not know the names of any civilian personnel injured, nor their nationalities and, again, I'd ask you to pass that question to the Coalition Provision Authority.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: General, David Lamb with "Los Angeles Times." Is this an operation that required planning, intelligence, surveillance, or is it one that could have been put together in a couple of days?

DEMPSEY: Oh, I think there's no doubt that it required some reconnaissance and some rehearsal. It probably -- it probably took some period of time to weld this apparatus together. And probably it required a rehearsal to pull it into position in the time that they believe they had to position it. So there's no question that it required some degree of preparation. Probably lasting over a couple of months would be my estimation.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: General, could you please tell us where Undersecretary Wolfowitz was at the time, which floor, and whether you think this was a direct assassination threat? DEMPSEY: Yes. I can't tell you -- I can't tell you where he was, again, because I -- I was not responsible for his personal security. You and I both know he was in the hotel. I don't know where.

Do I think this was targeted at him? No, I do not and, in fact, I mentioned that to him today. I go back to the earlier question. I think this device probably took a couple of months to prepare. His travel itinerary certainly wasn't known at that point in time.

I foresee or believe that this particular event was timed precisely to try to discredit the opening of the 14 July (ph) bridge and the lifting of the curfew. And I think if we look back at some of the -- what we might describe as more sensational attacks, I think you'll see that it's usually the case that they follow some positive event in the lives of the Iraqi people. And this is another example of that. They -- we take three steps forward and they try to pull us one step back and in fact, it doesn't work. But that's I think what happened.


QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with CNN. Can you tell us what are you basing that on that you think that, you know, this was an attack to try to set you back, if you say it required several months of preparation, how long had you made public that the bridge was opening yesterday as well as the curfew being lifted yesterday?

DEMPSEY: Yes. I don't know how long, exactly how long it's been since we decided to open the bridge and lift the curfew.

I've been an advocate of lifting the curfew for some time, and many of you probably know that it's been a matter of priority for the city council of the city of Baghdad as well as the district councils of Karkh and Karadah on either side of the river to get that bridge back open because of the trafficability (ph) challenges in Baghdad. Many of you know, I'm sure, because you've experienced it. Prewar there are approximately 500,000 cars in Baghdad, post-war it's about 1.5 million that created an enormous strain on the roadwork networks.

We've been negotiating discussing the timing of these things probably since the middle of July so, therefore I think perhaps it's not too great a stretch for them or for us to believe that they said, OK, they're going to open the bridge, lift the curfew and we'll try to do something in response.


QUESTION: General, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from "The Wall Street Journal." Two questions. Yesterday when the bridge was re-opened, you mentioned that that and the curfew were a reflection that, in your estimation, security had improved. Given that we've already heard the number of attacks is rising, given today's attack, do you still stand by that assessment from yesterday?

And as the second question, as the walls around various American buildings get higher and Americans pull back further and further behind those walls, the terrorists still find a way to get past them. What do you do when you build walls to block car bombs so rockets sail over those walls, what do you do next?

DEMPSEY: That's a fair question and one that we constantly assess. But let me answer the first question. Do I stand by the comment that security has improved? Absolutely. I can, in fact, document that both in terms of crime statistics, you know, there's any number of different challenges to the definition of safe and secure environment in the city of Baghdad, and for that matter in Iraq, and certainly one component of that is crime. Another component of that is these kind of terrorist attacks, attacks against the coalition. And though certain parts of that definition, of that definition of a safe and secure environment, are relatively steady state, the IED threat, for example, is fairly steady state.

We have not yet made much of a dent in that, though I will tell you that we have captured in the last month we have captured three IED-makers -- let me give you one anecdote of why these things work and why I'm optimistic of why we're getting ahead of this challenge. This was an attack by air to ground missiles. Out there as well there are 57-millimeter missiles in some large number. And about a week ago, we detained, based on human intelligence, and by the way the better we do at opening bridges and the better we do at opening streets and schools and the better we do at repairing sewage treatment plants, the better we do at gaining intelligence. It's just common sense. Last week we received human intelligence that there would be, at a particular time on a particular road and a particular car, there would be a movement of three improvised explosive devices into the city of Baghdad from the south. We laid an ambush. We captured the vehicle. We detained the personnel. We interrogated them. They led us to a cache, which made the news media by the way and in that was 386 57-millimeter rockets. That's progress.

As you know there was enormous stores of ammunition spread across the country and in Baghdad at least we've got that down to about six caches that we're aware of, only one of which requires a guard. So those are progress. The number of police on the street, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which walks side by side with us in virtually every mission we do now. That's why I believe we're getting ahead of it.

As for the -- what was the second part of your question?

QUESTION: Second part was, when you build walls to block car bombs, what happens next?

DEMPSEY: Well, I think it's probably appropriate at this point in time to point out who's getting attacked. You know, the United Nations was attacked. Whose only sin was that they were over here trying to improve the lot of the Iraqi people. Who was attacked in the al Rasheed Hotel? Was it people like me out on patrol with machine guns and sidearms? No, it was people who work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, for the ministry of health, for the ministry of education, for the ministry of public works, that's who's being attacked. Now, we're doing the best we can to protect them, as you say, some of that is done with walls. Some of that is done with external defenses, but fundamentally I think it's more indicative of the kind of enemy we're facing than it is in any security issue here. It is incredible to me that these people continue to target the people they do. And for the most part in my view the Iraqi people are getting pretty fed up with it. Just today after this attack I won't specify what kind of people from what kind of organizations came forward, but there is no shortage of people coming forward to try to help us solve this and they're not just U.S. personnel.


QUESTION: In the 15 window does that include the two FPS officers?

DEMPSEY: It does not count the two FPS officers. The two FPS officers were wounded and taken over to one of our military hospitals and transferred to an Iraqi hospital. They've since been released back to duty. But that number I gave you does not count them.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Broadcast. You say that there's been progress and -- but since August there's been a series of very spectacular attacks in Baghdad under your command, and we have yet to hear exactly who is behind them. How are the investigations proceeding? You say you've captured people, this man, this Syrian man. What information have you gotten that may lead you to believe to who is behind these attacks?

DEMPSEY: Well, I think we've got some diagrams that lay that out in pretty good detail. And it wouldn't be appropriate or prudent for us to parade them in front of the media when, in fact we build target folders, we reconnaissance, surveillance, and then at the appropriate point in time, when we don't think there's any intelligence value to be lost, I mean, sometimes you conduct reconnaissance of surveillance and bide your time hoping to get at not just the trigger puller but who is paying him and who's commanding him.

And so I'm not sure how to answer your question except to say that we have a fairly clear -- not completely clear. I'm not going to stand up here and tell you I absolutely with 100 percent granularity who's attacking us in Baghdad. And I won't put a percentage on it. But I can tell you we have a very good idea of who's attacking us in Baghdad and a pretty good plan to, over time, diminish that threat.

Now why over time? Because it involves the support and cooperation of the Iraqi people. And there are in Baghdad about 90 -- we've broken Baghdad into 94 military zones. And I would say at any given time six or eight of them we have problems with, and that's in a city of 5.6 million. So, yes, you're right some of these attacks get a lot of notoriety, but fundamentally they're a single event that tends to give them what they're seeking which is notoriety. And no one of those is any more serious to me than another. It is -- we have to take a look at this problem and challenge over time, rather than in isolation, I think. Yes? QUESTION: Greg Lamont (ph), VOA. Given the fact that we now have gentlemen driving around with rocket launchers that can go over the walls, and who you described as who they were attacking, isn't it safe to say that nobody in Baghdad is safe?

DEMPSEY: Well, I think that -- I heard that same comment made on one of the morning talk shows, that no one in Baghdad is safe, but I think probably -- you may have to shrink that question down a bit and say those working the hardest for the Iraqi people may be less safe than those that don't care about the Iraqi people. Now, depends which camp you want to be counted in. We choose to be counted in the camp of those trying to help the Iraqi people. If you do that, then you will be targeted because, let's face it, there are any number of different kinds of organizations none of which who are overwhelmingly large, but all of which are somewhat passionate about what they're doing, who will target you for being in the camp that stands for an idea and stands for the Iraqi people. Do you follow?

QUESTION: Yes, but if that's the case, then why should an Iraqi want to help the coalition?

DEMPSEY: You know, I tell you, that's one of the reasons that I do what I do. We have this ICDC group, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, and every Thursday, many of you have been invited to the graduation ceremony. We pay them a pittance; we pay them far less than they deserve to be paid for what they do. And every week at their graduation ceremony, I ask them that question, why do you do this? Why have you come into this civil defense corps, and why are you now joining us when you know you'll be threatened? And the answer that they give me, almost universally, not all the time, is that they believe that in their country and they want to be part of its future, not part of its past.

Now, you and I may not fully understand that. But these people have been suppressed and repressed and oppressed for 35 years, and there's a portion of them out there that are frankly tired of it. That's the portion we have to appeal to in order to make this thing turn around.

The last thing I'll say about that is, you know, this is not the kind of conflict where we're going to know it's over because somebody walks out of a building with a white flag. And so, if the standard of effectiveness in Baghdad or in Iraq at large is the single bomb or the single attack then it's going to be a long year for both of us. It is going to be a long year for Iraq. In fact, I think it's just as important to look at the other indicators.

Yes? Please.


CALLEBS: OK. We're listening to General Martin Dempsey; he's the commander of the 1st Armored Division, holding a news conference in Baghdad bringing us up to date on the rocket attack at the al Rasheed Hotel that happened just after 6:00 in the morning Baghdad time.

Now, the general saying somewhere between six and eight rockets struck the waste side of the hotel. He said that the device was rather primitive, however, clever, and he added that it probably took about two months to put this entire operation together, saying it probably needed reconnaissance and planning as well. He also specifically talked about the fact that U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was in the hotel at the time of the attack. He says he does not believe that Wolfowitz was the target of this attack, because he said it took at least a couple of months to plan this attack, and the fact that Wolfowitz was going to be there hadn't been known that long.

He also went on to talk about progress that he had believed the coalition troops had made in an effort to bring stability to Iraq. And the news conference is still going on, and we will bring you news as warranted. That is the very latest from Baghdad.



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