Marine Gen. Peter Pace Decries Iraqi War Crimes
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2003 Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam Hussein have executed coalition troops and committed other "disgusting" war crimes, U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace said March 26.
The deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military's second highest ranking officer, Pace told CNN's Larry King he was surprised that Saddam's forces have committed so many war crimes since ground fighting began. He said the Iraqis have executed captives, put operational command posts inside hospitals, stored weapons in schools and dressed their soldiers in civilian clothes.
"They have used women and children as human shields," he continued, "and they have pretended to surrender and then opened fire on the forces to which they were supposedly surrendering. These are all war crimes, and they've all happened in the first six days of this conflict."
The executions Pace referred to occurred when a U.S. supply convoy took a wrong turn into hostile territory, a Pentagon official said. Intelligence reports indicate when the troops attempted to surrender, they were shot.
"I've never seen anything like this," Pace continued. "Although we have known in the past that they are capable of doing this, but to do it so blatantly, so early, is not only a surprise, but to me it's disgusting."
All told, there have been about 20 to 30 combat deaths, Pace said. "The reason I can't be more precise than that is that there are, as you would expect, (in the) fog of war, some who we think are missing (who) now may in fact be dead. We don't have precise locations on all of the folks on the battlefield."
Pace expressed empathy with the families of coalition prisoners of war.
"I hope they understand and know that all of us, especially those who are still forward, the teammates of theirs on the ground, are doing everything we can to locate and to free their sons and daughters," he said. "We thank them for the sacrifice that they're making, and we all hope and pray that this war can end quickly so that we can repatriate POWs, not only U.S. and coalition POWs, but any who we might capture from the other side."
As coalition forces have pressed forward in Iraq, Pace said, Iraqi opposition has been sporadic, More than 4,000 Iraqis have surrendered and he expects more will do so.
"Part of the problem right now, I believe, is that there are elements in the Iraqi military who would like to surrender," he said, "but literally directly behind them are thugs from the special security forces who kill them when they try to surrender, who have literally cut the tongue out of someone who spoke out against the regime, and let him die in the street, who hung a lady the other day because she had the temerity to wave at a passing convoy of coalition troops."
Overall, the general said, Operation Iraqi Freedom has been going extremely well. Saddam's regime no longer controls the north, west or south, and coalition forces have penetrated about 200 miles toward Baghdad.
"So, if you happen to be sitting in Baghdad in the center of Iraq, you ought to be getting nervous about now," he said.
Asked the whereabouts of the Iraqi air force, Pace replied laconically, "It's not in the air. Had they taken off, they would have been shot down by the coalition forces, which is probably why they did not take off.
"As best we know, all of the airfields from which they would be able to take off, from which they might have taken off in the past, are now cratered. So, to our knowledge, there is not a runway in Iraq from which they could actually take off."
Coalition forces have put over 1,000 planes into the air every day and will continue to do so. Whether this has produced the touted "shock and awe" intended, Pace said, depends on your perspective.
"I guess you need to be standing near the point of impact to understand whether or not it's awesome," he said.
The air campaign will continue as long as necessary, Pace added. "We will continue to put large numbers of airplanes in the air, and what will shift is we will move from a regime command and control to supporting troops on the ground as necessary to ensure that they have the firepower and the cover they need to get the job done."
Coalition forces have also worked to secure Iraq's oil fields. "One of our main objectives was to be able to secure the southern oil fields in a way that would prevent destruction of those and be able to turn back to the Iraqi people the wealth that is in the ground there so they can use it for their own prosperity," he said.
Significant progress has also been made on the humanitarian front, Pace noted. British coalition forces are working to clear mines and to hire local laborers to get the port of Umm Qasr back into operation. Ships laden with food and medicine lie off the coast.
The Kuwaitis have offered water, he said, and British and U.S. engineers are building a pipeline through the southern part of Iraq into Basra to be able to provide up to 2 million liters of water per day. As coalition forces have moved forward, they have distributed 300,000 humanitarian ration packs.
"They have another 1.5 million humanitarian rations with them in the forward fighting areas," Pace said. "And in the rear, the ships are beginning to come in, and the humanitarian efforts are beginning to really get into swing."
To date, the general said, coalition forces have not discovered any weapons of mass destruction, but that may change as the Iraqi people become free of the regime's oppression.
"What Pete Pace thinks will probably happen," he said, "is once the people understand that Saddam really is finished, that he is gone, and that there is a secure environment in which they can come forward, they will start pointing out to us the places where he has hidden these weapons in the past."
How long the war will last remains unclear, Pace said. Anyone who tries to put a time line on the operation is only guessing.
"What we need to understand is that we are six days into major land combat," he said. "We have already taken, wrested control, of a major portion of Iraq from the Iraqi forces. Some days are going to be better than others. It may go fast, it may go slow, but it is going to go, and we're going to apply whatever power we need to get this job done."
The goal, he said, is to get rid of Saddam Hussein, get rid of his regime, get rid of the weapons of mass destruction, and turn Iraq back over to the Iraqi people so that they can have their own form of representative government.
"Saddam is going to be gone. How that's going to happen, I couldn't predict," he concluded.