Army General Says Baghdad Secure, Iraqi People Free
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 7, 2003 The Army general who led the battle of Baghdad said today he is "not particularly concerned about security" in the Iraqi capital.
Lt. Gen. William "Scott" Wallace said his troops occasionally come under small-arms fire, deal with "criminal elements" and witness sporadic celebratory fire. "But, in general terms," he added, "the security situation in Baghdad is improving every day." Wallace spoke to reporters in the Pentagon via a satellite connection to Baghdad.
The Army's 5th Corps commander, who deployed with his unit from Germany, waxed poetic in his opening remarks. "The warm, clear weather (in Baghdad) mirrors the improvements we've made and continue to make on behalf of the people of Iraq," he said. "Over 111,000 soldiers of the Victory Corps fought valiantly to defeat the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein.
"They have freed the Iraqi people," he added. "They deserve the praise of a grateful nation for their sacrifices."
In a broad-ranging press conference, Wallace espoused some of his own theories of why Iraqi forces didn't use chemical or biological weapons on advancing coalition forces.
One theory is that coalition troops "moved so fast" the Iraqis couldn't get to their weapons. Wallace reminded reporters that U.N inspectors left the country only days before military fighting began. It's conceivable that the Iraqis hid their weapons so effectively from the inspectors that the weapons weren't easily accessible when coalition military forces entered the country, he said.
"And secondly," he added, "I'd like to believe our information operations campaign had an impact on those commanders that might have the opportunity to pull the trigger and they thought it was not such a good idea."
American forces blanketed Iraq with leaflets in the weeks leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many of the leaflets urged Iraqi forces to abandon their weapons and return to their families. Others warned of dire consequences against any Iraqi soldier who deployed biological or chemical weapons. American broadcasts from the Commando Solo aircraft filled the airways with similar warnings.
Wallace spoke with admiration about the "power of the combined arms team." He recalled, with obvious amusement, one incident in which American airpower decimated Iraqi forces around Hillah as they tried to regroup after an attack from U.S. Army soldiers.
"It was about 3, maybe 4, in the afternoon on a beautiful sunlit day, " he recalled. "At that point, the U.S. Air Force had a heyday against those repositioning Iraqi forces."
Wallace disputed a reporter's suggestion that U.S. forces didn't have enough troops to control looting that broke out after major military fighting ceased.
"I don't think it was as much an issue of the number of troops as the fact that we were still fighting our ass off as we went into Baghdad," he explained. "And our first responsibility was to defeat the enemy forces, both paramilitary and regular army."
He also said new information shows the Baghdad Museum wasn't looted to the extent first believed. U.S. officials now believe there are only between 17 and 38 artifacts missing, he said.
"What doesn't get reported is the fact that we also secured a significant museum that is located at the (Iraqi version of the) Tomb of the Unknowns in downtown Baghdad," the general added. "That was not looted at all by virtue of our presence."
Wallace had received some criticism for comments he made during the war that Iraqi forces are more formidable than American commanders had expected. An article in today's edition of the International Herald Tribune suggested defense officials are replacing Wallace for his earlier comments.
The general denied that theory today and congratulated the man who has been named as his successor, Maj. Gen. Rick Sanchez. After nearly two years in command, a 5th Corps spokesman said in the article, Wallace is due for reassignment. He remains unapologetic for the earlier remarks.
The enemy that 5th Corps assets encountered in An Najaf, Hillah, Samawah, Karbala and Nasiriyah "was much more aggressive than we expected him to be, or at least than I expected him to be," Wallace said today.
U.S. forces expected Iraqi troops to concentrate on defending towns, when in practice they were "willing to attack out of those towns toward our formations," he said.
The presence of foreign fighters with Saddam's Fedayeen paramilitary force, which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called "Saddam's death squads," was also unexpected. Wallace called the members of these death squads "at least fanatical, if not suicidal."
Still, the general said, they were no match for American military might. "Soldiers of the (3rd Infantry Division) and the 101st and 82nd (airborne divisions) reacted very well in adapting to those enemy tactics," he said. "And 16 days to Baghdad ain't a bad record."