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US Military Officials say Problems in Iraq Should Not Obscure Progress - 2004-05-21

U.S. military officials appearing before a congressional committee say problems in Iraq should not obscure progress being made there. Testimony by General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others comes as new photographs showing alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldier appeared in the media.

General Myers told the House Armed Services Committee the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq remains strong, despite continuing attacks by insurgents.

He says the focus of coalition efforts remains on preparing the way for a successful transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi provisional government on June 30.

?The Iraqi people, understandably, want to know that their efforts are in support of their own country and their own government,? he said. ?Iraqi security forces want to work under an Iraqi chain of command and put their lives on the line for their own country.?

That said, General Myers added that he expects the situation after June 30 to be, "extremely challenging."

His appearance, along with Army Chief of Staff General Peter Schoomaker and General Michael Hagee commandant of the Marines, came as new photographs of alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers were published in The Washington Post newspaper.

This exchange was between the top Democrat on the committee, Congressman Ike Skelton, and General Myers:

SKELTON: ?How damaging is this prison situation, General Myers, in relation to winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis??

MYERS: ?I think that most Iraqis, whose contact is with our servicemen and women who are out there throughout [Iraq], basically North to South, understand that they are only there for one reason, and that is to -- and it is a very noble cause -- that is to give the Iraqis a chance for peace and prosperity, a chance they have not had for a long time. I think the majority of Iraqis understand that. I think they probably understand that, whatever abuse has occurred will be worked very hard by this government, by our military.?

The raid on the offices of Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi has concerned many lawmakers and General Myers told the committee the decision to move against Mr. Chalabi was made by Iraqis.

?My understanding is, and the reports to me say, that it was the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior that wanted this action to happen, that it was Iraqi police who conducted the activity, that the role for U.S. forces was as an outer cordon, not part of the activity in any of the [Chalabi] facilities, or that business, and that the Coalition Provisional Authority [CPA] was notified,? he said.

That explanation is not likely to satisfy many lawmakers, who are already pressing for more information, such as (Democratic) Congressman Jim Cooper. ?This seems to be a substantial development in the war, when one of the most highly paid and trusted advisors [of the U.S.] may have deliberately misled our nation for months and years and some of our officials may have swallowed it hook, line and sinker,? he said.

Mr. Chalabi has been the focus of sharp criticism in recent hearings on Capitol Hill from lawmakers who question his involvement in providing intelligence to the Bush administration on alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, prior to the war that ousted Saddam Hussein.