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22 April 2004

U.S. General Denies Charge Coalition Is Importing WMD into Iraq

Kimmitt calls on Iraqis to turn in illegal weapons

Washington -- U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt April 22 denied a report circulating on the Internet that the United States is introducing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into Iraq to aid defense manufacturers who are financially supporting President Bush's re-election effort.

"I can categorically deny that we are bringing any weapons of mass destruction into Iraq either [to] facilitate the military campaign or the election campaign," the general said.

Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for Combined Joint Task Force-7, made the denial during a briefing in Baghdad in response to a reporter's question. The Internet report, allegedly sourced to an unidentified Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) official, suggested that the weapons were being introduced and concealed in southern Iraq.

Kimmitt went on to talk at length about ongoing efforts by the coalition and Iraqi security forces to collect illegal, heavy weapons in the Fallujah area as called for in the cease-fire agreement reached April 19 (http://www.cpa-iraq.org/transcripts/20040420_communique.html). The weapons that have been turned in so far demonstrate neither serious intent to disarm nor a "serious demonstration that they want peace," he said.

Much of what has been turned in has had little value, Kimmitt said, because it is too old, has been buried in the ground too long, or was intended only for training, rather than the kind of equipment used in recent engagements with the coalition.

Coalition Provisional Authority ((CPA) spokesman Dan Senor, who briefed with Kimmitt, said a peaceful resolution to the situation in Fallujah is being sought, but that time is running out.

Kimmitt said U.S. forces maintain a cordon around Fallujah, where there are reports of some 1,000 to 2,000 foreign fighters holed up inside, and they are ready "to resume offensive operations" upon order.

Both men were questioned about the implementation of the de-Ba'athification policy. "There is no room in the new Iraq for the Ba'athist ideology and for the most senior members of the former regime that had a direct hand in the -- some of the worst Ba'athist crimes and brutality," Senor said. "[Policy] implementation, however, should be reformed."

Senor said there have been complaints that the process "sometimes excludes innocent, capable people who were Ba'athists in name only from playing a role in reconstructing Iraq" and noted that CPA and IGC officials were looking for ways to revise and expedite the process.

As Iraq's armed forces are rebuilt from the ground up, Kimmitt said, there will be a need for generals, colonels and senior officers to command the various services. The skill levels required for such tasks cannot be developed in a short period of time, he said, but result from the decade-long training that former Iraqi Army officers possess already. There are many former senior Iraqi officers, he added, "who can meet all of the criteria that had been established in the de-Ba'athification policy" and still have a significant contribution to make to Iraq's defense infrastructure.

Reporters also wanted to know what would be done to compensate for the withdrawal of Spanish, Honduran, Dominican troops that have given notice of their intention to leave Iraq. Analysts are looking at several options to prevent a security vacuum from occurring, according to Kimmitt, including moving troops around within Iraq, asking existing troops to cope with less backup, or asking a new nation to come in and join the coalition.

There were also questions about issues such as freedom of assembly and speech in the new Iraq. Senor said there is no attempt to silence free speech or prevent freedom of assembly in places like Basra, but he also said there is no room for illegal militias or the kind of "mob violence that Muqtada al-Sadr has attempted to organize."

With respect to the decision to close down al-Sadr's newspaper, al-Hawza, the CPA spokesman said freedom of expression in a democracy must be carried out in a responsible manner "and there is no tolerance in any democracy for using newspapers to incite violence."

The CPA has sought to ensure the right and freedom of some 200 newspapers to exist in the new Iraq "whether they be critical or supportive of the things we do," he said. But a newspaper that incites violence against the Iraqi people or the coalition won't be tolerated, Senor said.