CENTCOM Report, May 10: Abizaid Says He Is Accountable for Forces


Monday May 10, 2004

"Holy shrines also holy to us," General says of Najaf restraint

The head of the U.S. Central Command took responsibility for the actions of his forces in Iraq, saying he believes, as military commander, he should be held accountable for what happens in his area which "stretches from Afghanistan to Kenya to Sudan and across into Jordan."

Army General John Abizaid, speaking to an international press roundtable May 10 in Bahrain, said the investigation into prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib military prison will be taken "as far as it needs to go. This is not what we expect of those who are wearing the uniform of the United States nor those who are employed by the United States."

"I am disappointed that something like this could happen," he added, "and, as an Arab-American, I am deeply disappointed." Abizaid said, and promised, "[W]e will not be afraid to investigate everything that needs to be investigated and we will correct the system so that abuses like this cannot happen again.

"Remember we are at the beginning of that process," he said. "In our system we have to ensure that justice is done. Justice will only be done if we can collect the evidence, protect the rights of the accused, and get them into court in such a manner that the media hasn't tried them already ... so I just ask people in this part of the world to understand that ... one of the things we're fighting for is the right to a free and fair trial. We have to ensure that this is available."

Abizaid spoke of the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq, noting "as we move toward elections there will be certain people who will want to influence the elections by violent means." He said, however, that the political process also taking place gives him hope "that we can get through this violent period, stabilize the country, move to elections, and allow for a better future in Iraq."

"As I have said many times before, The United Stated gained nothing by being in Iraq other than the freedom of the people of Iraq," the general said. "We do not gain from the oil. We do not gain from the natural resources. We have paid a lot in terms of our national blood and treasure to make Iraq a free and independent state."

Abizaid said Iraqis need to know that "their success is our success. Their success is a [stable] government that allows us to leave."

The Iraqi Ministry of Defense is currently working on building a coordinated chain of command between Iraqi authorities and military units, the general said. "There needs to be an Iraqi authority all the way from the top to the bottom because we can't expect Iraqis to fight for the United States of America. They have to fight for their own country," he explained. "However, the Iraqi security forces, unfortunately, will not be ready [by the June 30 handover] to defend their new government alone. So I expect that there will be a period between now and elections where a multinational force endorsed by the United Nations, that includes Iraqis, will work to defend the sovereignty of the nation," he added.

The coalition forces have refrained from moving into Najaf to stop attacks by Muqtada al-Sadr's militia because "holy shrines are not only holy to the Muslim world, they are also holy to us," the general said. "People have asked us to do everything we can to keep from moving our forces into the holy area where Sadr seems to have most of his strength."

Instead, Abizaid said, the coalition is looking for Iraqis to play a role in solving this problem, as they did in Fallujah. "We will use our power in as wise a way as we can to preserve Iraqi cultural and historical areas, to prevent civilian casualties and we'll be patient," he explained. "But our patience will not last forever. There is a limit to our patience with Sadr; but we also know that there is an Iraqi way for Sadr to come to justice."


(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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