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VOA Interview: US General Says No Increase in Hostility Toward US Troops Following Abuse Scandal - 2004-05-07

VOA's Paul Miller interviewed Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the Deputy Director for Coalition Operations in Iraq Friday.

MR. MILLER: ?May I ask you, first of all, what impact, if any, has there been from the prisoner abuse situation in terms of your operations in Iraq? I'm thinking either about the impact on morale of your troops or in terms of the impact on the Iraqis that you're coming into contact with.?

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?Well, certainly the soldiers are pretty dismayed by what they saw in those photos. Those are their fellow soldiers who let them down, but I think that most of the soldiers recognize, as they look to their left and their right, that their buddies are doing the right thing, they're going to do the right thing and I think, in general, their morale is going to see themselves through this.

With regard to the Iraqi civilians, of course they're disappointed by what they saw. They had much higher expectations for the people of America. They have much higher expectations for their soldiers. And as I've said before, in the eyes of the Iraqi people, we let them down. We have said that we are the bright, shining light and when they see these photos, that is put in doubt.?

MR. MILLER: ?Do you see any difference in terms of their actions? Is there more hostility toward Americans as a result of this??

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?No, we haven't seen that, but unless we take active measures in the future to engage strongly with our friends here in Iraq, there is that potential that it could turn into violence.?

MR. MILLER: ?I want to ask you also about impact on morale, if any, from the Rumsfeld hearings. Specifically what I'm talking about is a suggestion by a Republican senator that calls for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation could have a very adverse effect on morale of the troops in the field. Do you think that's possible??

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?Well, I think, quite frankly, most of us are too busy to be worried about what's going on in Washington, D.C. right now. I know we read that in the newspaper, but the average soldier is more concerned about what's going on in their particular town, in the particular province. They're confident in the American system. They're confident in the American justice system. They're confident in the American political system. So I think all of them say, look, whatever is happening in Washington, D.C., the right thing is going to happen. Let's get on with our job and let's get on with our work.?

MR. MILLER: ?Specifically about your work, I want to ask you about Fallujah. Are you comfortable with a situation where you have a Fallujah brigade in charge of security of that town, and many members, apparently, of that brigade are the same people who were shooting at your troops a few days ago??

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?Well, first of all, that has not yet been substantiated. As we go through the vetting process with the individual members of the Fallujah brigade, we'll find that out. Right now we are seeing positive results. The amount of tension inside Fallujah has gone down. However, we still have not seen any of our objectives met, the foreign fighters out, the weapons turned over, but we are seeing at least some patrolling going back.

So I think at this point, it's just a little too early to tell if this is going to turn out to be a net positive or a net negative. But I can guarantee you that we are going to find that anybody wearing the uniform of the Iraqi security forces that have shot at our troops and we're going to make sure they find that they no longer wear that uniform and we're going to bring justice to them.?

MR. MILLER: ?And you have not dropped your demands as far as the foreign fighters are concerned or the heavy weapons??

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?Our objectives for Fallujah have not changed, that's correct.?

MR. MILLER: ?And what about Najaf? I want to ask you, what is the goal there? We're seeing these skirmishes on a daily basis now. I know that you did take over the old Governor's offices. What is the specific plan as far as Najaf is concerned??

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?Well, in the case of Najaf, as you know, one of the major objectives is to restore Iraqi control. The announced Governor is moving back to Najaf. He will occupy the Governor's house and we expect to see a significant amount of Iraqi civil defense corps and Iraqi police soon patrolling the streets of Najaf. That's one of our objectives.

A second objective is that Moqtada al-Sadr and his militia leave Najaf; Moqtada al-Sadr himself faces justice.?

MR. MILLER: ?Are you still hoping to arrest him? And if you are, why, for example, would you not try to arrest him when he's traveling between Najaf and Kufa for the Friday sermon??

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?It remains an objective of the coalition that Moqtada al-Sadr sees justice.?

MR. MILLER: ?And are you hoping that the other Shia clergy are going to be able to bring pressure to bear on him and his militia and ultimately perhaps resolve this in a political way??

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?We would certainly welcome any attempts by other intermediaries here inside of Iraq to assist us in bringing Moqtada al-Sadr to justice.?

MR. MILLER: ?General Mark Kimmitt, thank you very much for your time.?

GENERAL KIMMITT: ?Sir, thank you. Good talking to you.?

MR. MILLER: ?Thank you.?