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 Home > News & Policies > April 2003

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, April 03, 2003 (Full Transcript)

MR. FLEISCHER: A final item for tomorrow, I want to highlight this today - tomorrow afternoon the President will have a meeting in the Roosevelt Room with a group of Shia, Sunni, and Christian Iraqis, all of whom have fled torture, persecution in Iraq and live in the United States. He looks forward to meeting with these free Iraqis to talk about the progress and speed being made in the war, and discuss the humanitarian situation on the ground.

QUESTION: Will that be open or closed?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm working on the coverage now. I don't have a determination. We will try to hand out a factsheet later this afternoon on who these people are. But let me share with you some of their stories.

Rahman Al-Jebouri -- he was a prolific writer while attending Baghdad University in the '80s. During his sophomore year he was apprehended and jailed after writing a fictional story that was interpreted by the Hussein regime as criticism of the war with Iran. He spent four years in jail and was released only after signing a pledge of allegiance to the regime and a promise not to write again.

In 1991, he joined the uprising in southern Iraq, but fled to Saudi Arabia as the revolt failed. After living in a refugee camp for four years, he came to the United States, with the help of the United Nations, in 1995. He now lives in the Washington area.

Ms. Zainab Al-Suwaij -- and we'll give you all the spellings on these -- she is Shia. She was born in southern Iraq. When she was 20 years old, she joined the 1991 uprising against Saddam in Karbala. During the revolt, she saw the city jail and saw firsthand the instruments of torture that were used by the Iraqi regime. As the uprising began to fail, she fled Iraq and drove to Jordan. She now lives in Boston and heads the American Islamic Congress Organization, dedicated to building interfaith understanding.

We will try to provide you additional biographical information on all the people that he's going -- that the President is going to be meeting with tomorrow. Some of their tales are quite graphic. All their tales are quite sad, but all their hopes are quite high, now that they see the day of liberation for their country coming.


QUESTION: Ari, can I ask about the question of whether to press on to Baghdad or linger on the outskirts for a while -- is that a question that rises to the President's level, or does he delegate that entirely?

MR. FLEISCHER: A decision that General Franks makes.

QUESTION: How concerned are you about chemical weapons being used at this point, and what are the consequences?

MR. FLEISCHER: We remain deeply concerned about the possibility that chemical weapons can be used. The consequences, of course, are -- the President has warned Iraqi officials not to follow orders, that they will be tried as war criminals if they do. And it remains a concern, a deep concern.


QUESTION: Ari, you said it's a decision for General Franks. Has General Franks or anybody else in the command joined in the NSC meetings or other briefings so that the President has been in on the consultation on this issue of the Baghdad drive?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President leaves these decisions to the military planners. They make the call. It is their decision about the timing and the tactics of the war. The reason for that is because it should not be a decision that's made on any other basis than on the military facts on the ground, made by the military officials that the President has charged with winning the war.

QUESTION: Right, but you've made a special point of saying that the President has been a tough questioner of his military leaders and wanted to be involved and informed, maybe not making the decision, but that would make the case for somebody like General Franks coming into the NSC meeting and having a chance to discuss this with the President.

MR. FLEISCHER: Every day, DOD officials will inform the President about what is next across the battlefront. And that's how the President stays updated on the latest events, and that's the process.

QUESTION: But how can he ask these tough questions if General Franks isn't having a conversation with him?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't understand the question.

QUESTION: Well, you've been making a point for days now that the President asks -- likes to ask tough questions and see his role as keeping people accountable. How does he ask those questions if Franks isn't in a conversation with him?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nobody said he's not in a conversation with him. Franks is in a --

QUESTION: I just asked whether General Franks was briefing the President by videophone on the issues of when you take Baghdad.

MR. FLEISCHER: The answer is yes. It's not on a daily basis, but it's on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Do you know if he did it today?

MR. FLEISCHER: I believe he did yesterday. But keep in mind, there's a military chain of command by design. And the chain of command works from General Myers -- I mean, General Franks to General Myers to Secretary Rumsfeld to the President.

QUESTION: Any new information on the pilot of the fighter jet that went down over southern Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a DOD issue.

QUESTION: Any new speculation about Saddam?

MR. FLEISCHER: Continue to not know.