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Interview With Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt

Aired February 11, 2004 - 12:25   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: BLITZER: As we reported earlier, another suicide bomber has struck in Iraq against Iraqis viewed as supporters of the U.S.-led occupation. That's two such attacks the past two days, with more than 100 people dead, many, many, many more injured.
Just a short time ago, I spoke about the attacks and predictions of more to come with U.S. Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt in Baghdad.


BLITZER: General Kimmitt, thanks very much for joining us. What can you tell us? What's the latest? It looks like about 100 Iraqis have been killed over the past two days alone, almost 50 today, 50 yesterday. What's going on?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Well, first of all, this is not the first time in the last few months that we've had incidents of this sort. The fact that we've had two in a row on two subsequent days is unusual. But we've had a significant number of incidents such as this. But I think it's a credit to the Iraqi people and it's a credit to the Iraqi security services that they bounce back quickly after these incidents.

BLITZER: Do you suspect that these two incidents, these most recent incidents, the one in Baghdad yesterday, the one in Iskandaria yesterday, are related?

KIMMITT: No way to tell. They certainly have some similarities, but I think it's still too early to make that determination.

BLITZER: Yesterday, the target was police officers. Today, Iraqi military, potential soldiers who are being recruited. It is clear that whoever is responsible is going after Iraqis who want to cooperate with the U.S. and the coalition. Is that your assessment?

KIMMITT: That's our assessment, too, Wolf. And that's what we said, that as we get close and closer to governance, that there will be terrorist groups that are going to try to demonstrate to the citizens of this country that the coalition is unable to protect them, that the security services are weak. But I think it is clear to them that they're failing in this, and both the coalition is standing firm and so are the people of Iraq.

BLITZER: When you say it is clear that they're failing, they've had two successes from their standpoint over the past two days. Clearly, you must be bracing for more of this?

KIMMITT: We're certainly prepared for more of them. And as we have said, as we get closer and closer to governance, we could see an uptick in violence. But in a country of 25-plus million, I certainly don't want to minimize the loss of life that we've seen over the last few days, but it is clear what the terrorists are trying to do is come up with some spectacular and symbolic attacks to try to terrorize the people. And frankly, they just won't be terrorized, and neither will the coalition.

BLITZER: Is this an al Qaeda or al Qaeda-associated operation?

KIMMITT: It is certainly bearing the hallmarks. Yesterday's attack in Iskandaria has all the fingerprints of al Qaeda, and we're starting to see -- get some evidence that might suggest the same thing happened today here in Baghdad.

BLITZER: As you know, it comes on the heels of this letter that was released by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian operative from Ansar al-Islam, which has ties with al Qaeda. Do you see a connection between Zarqawi and this?

KIMMITT: Well, at this point, it would be probably imprudent to jump to that conclusion, though it certainly leads us in that direction. There's some evidence that would suggest that.

But I think it's important that we do the investigation, we take a hard look at this. But this is absolutely the type of attacks that Zarqawi was talking about that he's conducted inside this country. And that's why he's so frustrated, because time after time he does these attacks, but the people still stand firm and people still reject the terrorist false promises.

BLITZER: Do you see any indication -- and be candid with us -- that these attacks against Iraqis cooperating with the U.S. and the coalition forces as having an impact in demoralizing them, discouraging them from either becoming police officers, shall we say, or military officers?

KIMMITT: I will be candid. What I would tell you is that these people are not being attacked because they're working with the coalition. These people are being attacked because they're working for a free, democratic and sovereign Iraq. And that is what the terrorist fears more than anything else.

The fact is that we've sadly lost over 300 police in the line of duty since we started up the Iraqi police service. Yet the Iraqi police service continues to grow. They keep coming back to work. They still stay fielded on the streets of Baghdad and all the other major cities. And the people are rejecting the false promises of these terrorists.

BLITZER: This incident was not far away from the so-called Green Zone, the most secure area in Baghdad. How worried are you about security for U.S. military personnel in and around the Sunni Triangle, shall we say? KIMMITT: Wolf, our soldiers are well trained, they're well equipped, they have the support of the American people, they have the support of the United States Congress and the president. To say that this country is without risk would not be true. These soldiers know what the risks are, but they also know what the mission is. And they're going to continue to work the mission and they're going to succeed in the mission.

BLITZER: General Kimmitt, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you and all your troops.

KIMMITT: Thank you, Wolf.



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