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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


13 May 2004

U.S. Troops Will Stay Until Iraq Is Stable, Says Abizaid

Arab-American general expresses shame over prison abuses, Berg killing

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) head, General John Abizaid, says U.S. military forces will remain in Iraq long enough to make the country stable, despite his prediction of difficult and perhaps violent times ahead.

Abizaid, speaking at a press conference in Jordan May 12, described the current period in Iraq as "one of the most difficult." He said this is due to political uncertainty, because the interim leadership, set to govern the country after June 30, has yet to be chosen.

"[W]ithout having the interim leadership chosen, it creates an opportunity for those who don't want to have a peaceful process to become violent," he said.

Abizaid said the December-January election period will also be potentially violent. He said that given the country's long history under Ba'athist dictatorship, it will be difficult for Iraq to transition into "a stable and representative nation, one that is substantially different from what existed before."

With these difficulties, "Many people doubt that the United States will stay long enough to make Iraq stable," he said. "But we will. We will stay," said Abizaid, adding, "there is no other military force that can help get through this transitional period."

Abizaid, who is an Arab-American, also was asked his opinion on the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghreib prison.

[T]here are few times when I have been ashamed to be an Arab-American," he said. "One of the times was to see what a small group of Americans could do to Arabs. Another time was to see what a small group of Arabs would do to an American like you saw today with Zarqawi's people chopping the head off an American," he said, in reference to the killing of American businessman Nicholas Berg in Iraq.

The CENTCOM commander said he wishes to see a bridge built between Arabs and Americans "with dialogue and mutual respect."

"We must move together. It can't be America versus the Arabs. It must be Americans and Arabs, Muslims and Christians working against the people that have no vision for the future other than hate. And if we can't do that, then we will suffer just like the people of Abu Ghraib and just like the poor American who was beheaded at the hands of the terrorists yesterday," he said.

Following is the transcript of General Abizaid's press conference in Jordan:

(begin transcript)

Press Conference
General John Abi Zeid
Marka Airport
May 12, 2004


I'm always happy to be back in Jordan. I'm happy to be here with the Ambassador of course; the meetings that we had today with His Majesty and with members of senior leadership of the Jordanian Armed Forces were very useful as always.

I expressed to them my deep regret about what has happened at Abu Ghreib prison, and I'm especially concerned that American military personnel were involved in a serious event which has to be fully investigated --in which we will follow a full investigation and court should that be necessary. Which it will be, I'm sure, because we already have taken people and charged them with crimes.

We will have to let the military justice system work through the requirements that will bring the full facts to the public. We have been open about the problem from the beginning and we will continue to be open about it. We had problems both with discipline among a small group of people, with whom I'm very disappointed, and we have problems with the system that we must look at and ensure that the systemic difficulties that existed there don't exist elsewhere in our system.

As you know, we were involved in combat operations in Iraq, in certain portions. But it's very, very central that Americans, Coalition and Iraqi security forces work together to bring security to Iraq because it's in the best interest of everyone in the region. We don't desire to dominate Iraq. We don't want their oil. We don't want anything other than an independent sovereign Iraqi state to emerge-- that is a state that would be chosen by the word of the Iraqi people. And, when that happens, you'll find that the United States has only the interest of peace and stability in the region. So, I said too much of an opening statement, I really want your questions.

QUESTION: Concerning the Fate of Saddam Hussein, you will hand him over to the Iraqis, but doesn't that look contradictory given his status as a prisoner of war?

GENERAL ABI ZEID: No, I think that when Iraq moves to a sovereign entity, that there will be at that time some discussion about how he will be handled in Iraqi courts. We have always said that we believe that he should be handled by Iraqi courts, and when that court is mustered up, to do the case in a fair and proper manner, I'm sure we'll find a way to make that happen.

QUESTION: (inaudible) but the question might be related to: "Re-addressing his current status as a Prisoner Of War, and if handled by the Iraqis, does that status change?"

GENERAL ABI ZEID: That he is a prisoner of war does not excuse him from the incredible crimes that he has undoubtedly committed in Kuwait, in Iran and in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people were buried in mass graves all over Iraq, and that happened when he was President. I presume that he's responsible. So, again, I would leave it to the Iraqis to come to the decision about what will happen to Saddam Hussein, but I have no doubt about the crimes his regime committed, and I can assure you that there was never a single investigation of any disappearance of any official under his leadership, which is the difference between my country and his.

QUESTION: ...inaudible...

GENERAL ABI ZEID: You are asking me many political questions, it's very difficult, I'm a soldier you know (laughs), a soldier who has a large area. Iraq is only part of my area, which includes Afghanistan, and a large area in Jordan, Thank God, Al-Hamdullillah.

You know, one of the most difficult periods that we face in Iraq is this current period right now. It is a period of political uncertainty because we haven't chosen the interim leadership, and without having the interim leadership chosen it creates an opportunity for those who don't want to have a peaceful process to become violent. So as you know we had these major military operations against Sadr's militia in the south and in the Falujah area. But it is our hope that we can move towards a period of partnership with the new Iraqi government where we work together. We're trying to build a better country for them, not for us, and we look forward to the period of interim government moving towards elections.

And the election period in December - January time period will also be difficult and probably violent. You don't take a dictatorship like that, which has existed as long as it has, and expect it to move without trouble along the road to some sort of a stable and representative nation, one that is substantially different from what existed before.

I think it will be a difficult time. Many people doubt that the United States will stay long enough to make Iraq stable. But we will. We will stay, and we'll seek the help of the Jordanian government, to the extent possible, and seek the advise of His Majesty and other key leaders here to help us build a good solution that will benefit the Iraqi people. But we also know that there is no other military force that can help get through this transitional period.

So, I probably haven't answered your question, because it will be an interesting period for all of us to see how Lakdar Bbrahimi and the process that is going on in Iraq evolve into an interim solution. I'm not clear myself of how that will evolve, but I'm confident that there are more people trying to hold Iraq together than trying to take it apart.

QUESTION: (translated) Was the dissolution of the Iraqi Army a mistake?

GENERAL ABI ZEID: The dissolution of the Iraqi army was a political decision, and I won't comment on it at all. I will say that there is a role for former members of the military in the security services of Iraq. They can serve in the police. They can serve in the Iraqi civil defense corps. And they can serve in the new army. We are hopeful that there will be senior officers, who served in the previous army, who served with honor, who served with distinction, and who in fact did not commit crimes against the Iraqi people, who can have a place in the new Iraq. This will not be the choice of the United States; this will be the choice of the Iraqi people as they move towards a new government. But clearly military professionals of good reputation will have an opportunity to serve in the future of the new Iraq.

QUESTION: How do you as an Arab American feel about (Abu Ghreib) and what do you read in the faces of the Arabs?

GENERAL ABI ZEID: Of course, you all know that I'm of Arab descent, and you also know that I lived in Jordan, and I have great respect for the people of Jordan and this country and there are few times when I have been ashamed to be an Arab American. One of the times was to see what a small group of Americans could do to Arabs. Another time was to see what a small group of Arabs would do to an American like you saw today with Zarqawi's people chopping the head off an American.

I believe that there is a bridge between us that can be built towards a better future, and we shouldn't think that this bridge will be built by violence. It must be built with dialogue and mutual respect. I have great respect for the Arab culture, and almost every Arab I know has great respect for the United States in many different forms. Sometimes it's not necessarily positive politically, but it's positive in other ways —in our educational system, for example. But this gap that exists between us-- if we are to defeat the people that will do things like Osama Bin Laden, crashing the airplanes into the World Trade Center, or Zarqawi, who would have killed thousands of Jordanians-- thousands of Jordanians, if his plan had been pulled off. We must move together. It can't be America versus the Arabs. It must be Americans and Arabs, Muslims and Christians working against the people that have no vision for the future other than hate. And if we can't do that, then we will suffer just like the people of Abu Ghreib and just like the poor American who was beheaded at the hands of the terrorists yesterday. So, (in Arabic) thank you very much, I'm very happy to be in Jordan.

(end transcript)

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



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