Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 28, 2003 (Full Transcript)
MR. FLEISCHER: He also today spoke with Prime Minister Aznar of Spain about events
in Iraq. He currently is having lunch with the Vice President. And
later today, the President will meet with commanders of national
veteran service organizations and he will give remarks in the Rose
Garden about the war in Iraq, the progress that's being made, and the
service and the sacrifice of those who are in our Armed Forces.
Before I take your questions, the United Nations Security Council
has just, moments ago, voted unanimously to reauthorize the
oil-for-food program. The President would like to express his thanks
to the United Nations Security Council for this unanimous action. This
will be a way to help take care of the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi
people, using Iraqi resources. The President is pleased with this
QUESTION: On the event you talked about, earlier
today you said that the President is going to talk about some of the
atrocities that the U.S. says were committed by Iraqi troops.
Yesterday he talked in graphic terms about some of the things that have
been done. Is this part of a campaign or part of a move you see to
continue educate, continue justify the war to the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, no, I think it's part of describing
the horrible reality that Saddam Hussein is putting his people
through. And this is one of the reasons the President talks about it.
He's talked about it repeatedly. He talked about it repeatedly last
fall; he talked about it during the winter; he talked about it now as
the war, indeed, has begun.
The actions that Saddam Hussein has been taking have been brutal
toward his own people. They have been, previously, before the United
States engaged in this action to disarm him from his weapons of mass
destruction. He continues in that path today.
QUESTION: Why is it important to keep telling people
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it is important always to speak out
on behalf of those who seek liberty. And this is one reason why the
President believes so strongly that once the Iraqi people see that
Saddam Hussein and those around him will be removed from power, they
will welcome freedom, they will be a liberated people. There are
indeed those who are fighting alongside of Saddam Hussein, who have
always been loyal to him, who want to preserve their power, and,
therefore, are willing to go to extraordinary means in terms of the
death squads that are existent on the ground, to enforce the will of
Saddam Hussein. The President will describe it for as brutal as it
QUESTION: Given what General Wallace and other
commanders down the line that we're hearing from embedded reporters are
saying, that this is a greater level of resistance, there's more fight
in the Iraqis than they were expecting, what would be the harm -- I
mean, do you have a policy of not acknowledging at this level, the
political leadership level, what the soldiers on the ground are seeing,
that it may be easily overcome, it may be part of the exigencies of
war, but that we are a little bit surprised at the level of Iraqi
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think General Brooks addressed it
and I think it's always been understood that there was going to be
resistance. This is war, there's going to be resistance, there's going
to be fighting. That's why the President said what he said in
Cincinnati in October.
QUESTION: It seems like you're unwilling, as a matter
of policy, to acknowledge that the President and the political
leadership of this government might have miscalculated -- not in any
fatal or even dangerous way, but might have miscalculated the response
of the Iraqi army.
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only tell you the President's
approach. And the President's approach remains exactly as the
President described it to you. The President has faith in the plan.
He believes that the plan is on track, it is on progress, it is
working. Saddam Hussein will be disarmed. And the President, as I
made repeatedly clear on any number of occasions, is not going to sit
in the White House as the play-by-play commentator on every battle and
every day's mission. The military is in charge of the daily,
day-to-day operations. They are very available and you have their
briefings, and they will be talking about these things.
QUESTION: Can I ask then one overall assessment that
you might have made at this point? Given that level of fight that has
been seen in the Iraqis -- and as you just said these are Saddam
loyalists -- is it possible that it's more than that? Does the
President have any judgment as to whether these aren't just soldiers
who are being terrorized to fight, and not just simply gangsters who
are loyal to Saddam, but these are Iraqis who believe they are acting
as patriots in defending their country from an invasion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's a certain element, of
course, that is very deeply invested in Saddam Hussein staying in
power. After all, they're the ones who have carried out his
brutality. They're the ones who turned on their own people. They're
the ones who have terrorized and tortured Iraqis. They're the ones who
previously authorized the use of chemicals against the Iraqi people.
They, of course, don't want the Iraqi people to be free because they
know what the future holds for them as the ones who enforced the
terror. Of course, they don't want the Iraqi people to be free. And
that's why they'll turn on the people and support Saddam Hussein.
Whatever numbers they are, whatever numbers they may be, whatever
numbers they may be, they are insufficient for the American military.
QUESTION: So there are no Iraqi nationalists -- not
Saddam loyalists, not terrorists, but no ordinary Iraqi nationalists
who are fighting for their nation. It's only, in the President's
judgment, fanatics, dead-enders, as Secretary Rumsfeld said, fighting
solely for Saddam Hussein.
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I don't know that it's my job to
psychoanalyze the Iraqi military. They may fight for whatever their
QUESTION: He's the Commander-in-Chief. Does House
have no assessment of what's happening on the ground there?
MR. FLEISCHER: He does. He's continually shared it with
you, and you heard it yesterday.
QUESTION: The key element of the integrated political
and military strategy was the hope that you'd be able to turn over some
local government functions in the first towns to fall to local Iraqis,
and then, ultimately, create an Iraqi interim authority. Now that it
appears that that will be a more difficult and delayed process,
particularly in the south, can you tell us how that is going to affect
your ability to make the case in Baghdad and elsewhere that, in fact,
you're coming in as a liberation force?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, after one week I don't know
that you can draw any conclusions about the timing of it. But the
purpose of it is unchanged, and the purpose of it remains that the
President believes that Iraq should be governed by the Iraqis from both
within and without. Iraq certainly does have a large infrastructure, a
civil society who are capable of governing the country and handling
particularly some of the municipal work, the services that get provided
outside of the security arena. And the ability for this to take root
and to develop and grow will depend on the security environment on the
So as the fighting drops off in any one region, and security is
enhanced, I think you're going to see the very things that we talked
about develop. But, of course, it can't develop until the security
situation is addressed.
QUESTION: Had there been a hope that this process
would have started one week in?
MR. FLEISCHER: I had not heard any specific timing of it,
David. I think the hope is, because this is the best way to protect
the Iraqi people, that it will happen as soon as possible.
QUESTION: One of the questions that has been --
perhaps is premature -- has been, where are the weapons of mass
destruction. And so let's accept the fact that that is a question to
be answered weeks or months down the road when you have a secure
environment inside Iraq, and the focus now is on the military
operation, does the administration want to do that, provide the
inventory, look at the sites, go looking and finding and cataloguing on
its own as a military operation? Or when there is a secure environment
inside Iraq, would you prefer that the U.N. come back in and be the
agency that does that?
MR. FLEISCHER: At the end of the day, after the fighting is
over, and the military needs are first taken care of and secured to
protect our troops who are currently on the ground, where we have very
real fears about Iraq using chemical weapons against our troops -- as
evidenced by the fact that Iraqi military units have been found to have
chemical protection gear -- I think that remains a point to be
discussed with the international community. It is not something that
has been ruled out. There is going to be a role for the United Nations
in the future of Iraq, and that's important in the President's
judgment. So we have never ruled out anything involving their use of
inspectors or anything else down the road. I think it's just too soon
QUESTION: Okay, as the war goes on, is the United
States well-positioned as far as oil deliveries and oil supplies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is the United States domestically prepared
on oil supplies?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the markets have very much answered
that question. One of the things that you have seen since the
operation began has been a stability in oil markets; in fact, the price
has declined as a result of fears that did not materialize on the price
of crude oil.
In addition, a major environmental disaster has been averted as a
result of the taking of the southern oil fields, which Saddam Hussein
has previously tried to light on fire. One way to look at this, in the
southern oil fields, depending on how you want to count them, there are
either 500 or 1,000 approximately oil fields; a handful, a small
number, some 9 or so, were set on fire. That contrasts to Kuwait,
where there were some 700 oil wells put on fire by the departing
Iraqis. So there's been that stability. That's good news to the
consumer in America.
QUESTION: Ari, to follow up on John's question a
little earlier. Was the President, before the fighting broke out in
Iraq, was the President aware of the potential threat from
paramilitaries in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there was a widespread discussion of
the variety of threats that could come from Iraqi resistance.
QUESTION: Specifically, was that something that, can
you tell us --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, Ken, just as an overall general rule,
I just don't go into the specifics of the President's briefings.
QUESTION: An unrelated follow-up, please. What is
the White House position on the potential for another paramilitary
group potentially taking up arms on the side of Britain and the United
States, potentially in the south, a group beyond the Kurds? Is that
something that the White House would support, or is that something that
the White House is opposed to?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, I think it's important to
recognize what you have here really are the equivalent of death squads
for the state of Iraq that are taking action against the people of Iraq
because they fear a free and liberated people of Iraq. That's really
what you're witnessing on the ground. That's -- they dress as
civilians, they pretend to surrender.
As far as the people of Iraq joining with the United States or
Great Britain, I think that you can expect that if people feel
liberated and they feel free, they will, of course, express their
support. I think as fear declines in some of these Iraqi cities, you
will see more of that. I can't predict every form in which that
support will be manifest. Some of it will -- maybe just overt,
people celebrating or rejoicing, people welcoming the humanitarian
relief. Of course, the Sir Galahad has now arrived in port and the
humanitarian relief is already accelerating. So I can't manifest
every -- predict every way it will manifest, but we'll just see how
all that goes on the ground.
QUESTION: That's not something that the
administration has actually advocated? We know that we had several
expatriates here, for instance, that were part of the State
Department's working groups. Some of these folks focused on military,
for instance, and certainly --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, there was a training
program that you're very well aware of in East Europe that involved
working with Iraqis who want to go back to their homeland to help out
in a number of ways. Of course, they are from different regions,
different corners of the state -- of the country. They are fluent in
Arabic and so, therefore, they are helpful to us in our endeavors.
QUESTION: Ari, we've seen some wire reports in the
past hour or two that Iraqis have been seen unloading chemical -- or
drums that would appear to be chemicals, Iraqis wearing chemical
suits. Do you have anything on that? Has the President been advised
of some new intelligence that there is something to worry about on the
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, again, I think that's something that if
somebody brings that up, that would be something Secretary Rumsfeld
QUESTION: If I can just ask you briefly, can you look
ahead to Monday, since that's now on the record? What particular
aspect of homeland security does the President want to talk about?
QUESTION: Ari, the President was quite definitive
yesterday when he joined Tony Blair in saying that the British POWs had
been executed by the Iraqis. I know that Peter Pace at the Pentagon
has said American POWs have been executed by the Iraqis. And I wonder
whether there's new evidence that the Iraqis are killing American POWs
and what level of concern the President has about the Iraqi activities
in this area?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I talked to the President about this
yesterday. And the President would not be surprised at the depravity
that this regime would go to, the lengths that they would go to. I
don't have anything more specific for you on that. Again, that's a DOD
issue, but that's the President's approach to it.
QUESTION: Has any evidence been brought to his
attention in this area?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've expressed how the President expressed
QUESTION: Will the President -- Prime Minister
Blair said yesterday said, we would go and seek approval for a
post-conflict administration in Iraq. Is the President planning to be
part of that "we"? Is the U.S. going to try to get approval for the
post-Iraq administration from the United Nations?
MR. FLEISCHER: From the United Nations? Let me refer you
to the statement that the President issued after his meeting in the
Azores, and this is the statement of the President's policy. We
endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq, and this
is part of a new United Nations Security Council resolution. So we
will, of course, be working with the United Kingdom and other nations
on that. This is why I wanted to begin today with the President's
thanks to the United Nation's Security Council for the oil-for-food
Despite the difficulties that we have had with the United Nations
Security Council and the events that led up to the war and their
inability to enforce their own resolutions, that hasn't changed in the
President's mind. But there still, in the President's judgment, is a
role for the United Nations to play involving humanitarian relief and