Abizaid Warns Fallujah Brigade Results Won't Be Instant
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 30, 2004 The new Iraqi brigade being formed to restore peace to Fallujah won't instantly solve the problems in the city, the commander of U.S. Central Command said today from his forward headquarters in Qatar.
Army Gen. John Abizaid spoke with Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference.
"What we have there is an opportunity, and not necessarily an agreement," the general said. "The opportunity is to build an Iraqi security force from former elements of the army that will work under the command of coalition forces, that will be mentored and worked next to by coalition forces.
"And I think that we should be very careful in thinking that this effort to build this Iraqi capacity will necessarily calm down the situation in Fallujah tonight or over the next several days."
Rather, he said, it's a step-by-step effort that will have to include a clear understanding of the security situation.
"Clearly, there are certain things that we will not tolerate in Fallujah," Abizaid said. "We will not tolerate the presence of foreign fighters. We insist that the heavy weapons come off the streets. We want the Marines to have freedom of maneuver in Fallujah, along with Iraqi security forces and Iraqi police."
Marines in and around the city are working hard with the people of Fallujah who want to get their lives back to normal, he said.
"The Marines have been extremely forthcoming in holding their fire, in choosing their targets, in trying to achieve a solution that's good for the good people of Fallujah," he said. "And yet, at the same time, will take out the common enemies that we share, which are the foreign fighters, the terrorists and others that wish to destroy the peace process and the move to sovereignty in Iraq."
Fugitive terrorist Musab al-Zarqawi has used Fallujah as a base of operations, Abizaid said. A $10 million reward awaits the person who leads the coalition to Zarqawi.
"I can't tell you that he's there now, but I can tell you that he has personally been responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens," the general said. "He's worked not only against the Shiia, but also against the Sunni."
Abizaid called the notion that Fallujah will be a safe haven for Zarqawi "absolutely unacceptable."
"Nor will we or our Iraqi partners allow foreign fighters to freely roam the country and attack indiscriminately and use Iraqi civilians as shields from which to conduct military operations," he added.
Although there's room for optimism, Abizaid said, the details of building an Iraqi security capacity in Fallujah will take some time to work out.
"We need to have some patience," he said. "I think it's a possible breakthrough, but certainly the conditions that must be met are foremost in our minds, and that has to do with the restoring of law and order into Fallujah."
Catching up with the people who murdered and mutilated four American contractors in Fallujah on March 31 remains "a non-negotiable objective," the general said.
"I think it would be a stretch for you to say that they are in Fallujah. I can't tell you that, nor can anybody else," he said. "We will get the murderers of the contractors and we will find them, but we may not necessarily find them in Fallujah."
Despite the hope offered by the program to put an Iraqi face on security in Fallujah, Abizaid emphasized that coalition forces are ready to deal with whatever might happen there.
"All military options with regard to Fallujah are on the table," he said. "And I say they're on the table because I can't tell you what the enemy will do. There is an enemy in Fallujah that has something to do with Zarqawi; it has something to do with foreign fighters."
Even the best people in Iraq can't control the enemy, "and so we will have to eliminate that enemy in a way that does not allow that force to challenge us throughout Iraq and other places at other times," the general said. "No doubt some of them will 'exfiltrate' out, and no doubt some of them will find other means to escape, like any insurgent, or blend in with the population.
"But it may still be necessary to conduct very robust military operations in Fallujah," he continued. "We hope we don't have to do that. We look for a solution that allows Iraqis and Americans, together in a spirit of cooperation, to regain control for the good people of Fallujah so they can get on with their lives."
If terrorists, foreign fighters and Iraqi extremists refuse to take part in the political process and lay down their arms, the coalition may have to take strong military action. "And we're prepared to do that at a time and a place of our choosing," Abizaid said.