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14 April 2003

Pentagon Says U.S. Winding Down Air Campaign Over Iraq

(Also notes first meeting by free Iraqi leaders planned for April 15)
(1080)
By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer

A senior U.S. military officer says the air campaign over Iraq is
winding down and two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf are
planning to pull out this week and head home now that "major combat
operations are over."

This comes at the same time that a Pentagon spokeswoman says a group
of Iraqi clerics, tribal leaders and other free Iraqis plan to meet
April 15 in Nasiriyah, Iraq, in the first of several meetings to
address the issue of future self-government in Iraq.

Army Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director of operations for
the Joint Staff, told reporters at the daily Pentagon update on Iraq
April 14 that that day would be the last that aircraft would fly from
all five battle carrier groups, and that two of the carriers would
depart the region in the next few days.

These military and political activities are transpiring as the
coalition is moving toward its goal of establishing "a safe and secure
environment throughout Iraq," McChrystal said, to be achieved through
a "rolling" effort whereby safety and security would occur at
different time points as conditions permit. "As major combat
operations wind down," he said, "we'll still conduct some minor combat
operations ---- to include some sharp fights in areas -- and adjust
our operations in each area."

Asked for a security assessment of the Iraqi city of al-Qaim on the
Syrian border, McChrystal said Saddam Hussein's regime no longer has a
controlling hold over that city, but he also said it can not yet be
declared secured by coalition forces.

As further evidence that the intensity of the military campaign is
diminishing, McChrystal said the number of daily air sorties over Iraq
has dropped from around 1,000 to 700 or 800 per day. The number of
precision-guided munitions dropped over a 24-hour period is also down
to around 200, he said. Even as the numbers decline and redeployments
are made, the military official said coalition forces continue to
patrol Iraq "with due diligence."

On the meetings in Nasiriyah, Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Public Affairs Victoria Clarke said that while the United States has
been working with a variety of groups inside and outside the country,
including the Iraqi Kurds, Shi'a, Free Iraqi Forces (FIF), tribal
leaders, clerics and local community leaders, it will be the Iraqi
people -- collectively -- who will decide their future political
course.

Clarke said good progress is being made on the objectives established
for "Operation Iraqi Freedom," such as freeing the country from the
grip of the regime of Saddam Hussein, helping the Iraqis work toward a
transition to self-government, and securing the northern and southern
oil fields for future production. But she also acknowledged that there
is still a long way to go on some of the stated objectives including
finding and destroying weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Clarke said that resolving the WMD objective is not confined to
discovering physical sites. The process is "very complex," she said,
and involves cultivating information from knowledgeable people and
sifting through vast amounts of documents.

McChrystal said U.S. teams have been to some suspect sites already to
gather physical samples that have been shipped off to the United
States for "detailed analysis." So far, there have been no positive
results to identify the presence of WMD, he said.

McChrystal dismissed press reporting that suggests 36 WMD sites have
been identified in Iraq for further investigation. He would only say
that investigation teams have been to a small percentage of suspected
sites.

But McChrystal also said he expects the number of locations visited to
grow more quickly now that more forces will be freed from combat to
carry out investigations and as the investigations occur in a more
secure environment. The task of information gathering become
immeasurably easier, he said, as the scope of safe and secure
environments grow.

Once Iraqis feel secure enough to speak up, because the former regime
is gone, the military official said, the investigators will be able to
"connect the threads" leading to the WMD that Bush administration
officials say will be found. As the comfort level of the Iraqis to
come forward and speak out grows, McChrystal said the investigation
would become much more akin to "police work." Still, he warned that
the investigation process will likely go on for "an extended period of
time" due, in part, to rules of evidence that are being imposed.

Before and during the Iraq campaign, Clarke said, there had been
concern in the U.S. government and elsewhere that WMD or the means of
producing them might be shifted from Iraq to other countries.

Clarke dismissed the significance of the surrender of Iraq's
presidential science adviser Amir Hamudi Hasan Saadi ---- who still
maintains that Iraq has no WMD -- describing him as a senior player in
a regime that took lying, deception and denial "to new heights."
Saadi's surrender, however, has been followed by that of another key
scientist, Jafar Jafar, who is reported to have had oversight
responsibility of Iraq's nuclear program.

Clarke declined to go beyond comments already made by President Bush,
Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
when asked for further details about recent Syrian transgressions with
respect to Iraq.

On April 14, Rumsfeld reiterated statements he had made the day before
that senior Iraqi leaders are known to have moved into neighboring
Syria, and some have stayed while others have merely used the country
as a transit point. "We certainly are hopeful that Syria will not
become a haven for war criminals or terrorists," he said following a
series of network interviews. Asked if Syria has begun cooperating
with the United States since an earlier warning by Rumsfeld, the
secretary of defense replied: "Not noticeably."

During a media availability at the Pentagon April 14 with Kuwait's
Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Salem al-Sabah, Rumsfeld also said Syria
has conducted chemical weapons tests in the past 12 to 15 months.
During his appearance with the Kuwaiti minister, Rumsfeld also pointed
out that Syria has permitted Syrian nationals and others to cross into
Iraq. He described these individuals as "people armed and ... carrying
leaflets indicating that they'll be rewarded if they kill Americans
and members of the coalition."

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)