Bremer Speaks to Iraqis About Security, New Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 23, 2004 The vast majority of Iraqis want to live as a free, democratic and peaceful country, said the top coalition official in Baghdad today, but they must work with the coalition to make this a reality.
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III said on the Al-Iraqiyah national television service that Iraq faces a choice between freedom and continued tyranny.
The people of the country must think of themselves first as Iraqis and only then as Sunni, Shiia, Arab, Kurd or Turkoman. Any other choice will lead to a path that copies Iraq's past, "where violence and fear rule, where power comes from a gun, and where only the powerful and ruthless are secure."
Bremer said that former-regime fighters and foreign terrorists, along with common criminals, pose the greatest threat to a new Iraq. While the coalition has about 150,000 troops in Iraq providing security, the country will not be truly secure until all Iraqis participate.
The coalition continues to train members of the Iraqi security forces, he said. The U.S. Defense Department has taken on the task of training and equipping the Iraqi police, the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the Border Police, the Infrastructure Protection Service and the new Iraqi army. Bremer said members of the Baathist Party must participate in the new Iraq.
"Sunday, the minister of defense announced his appointment of the top Iraqi generals in the new Iraqi army," Bremer said. "Iraqi officers, drawn almost entirely from the many honorable men of the former Iraqi army, already command these forces. Over 70 percent of all the men in the Iraqi army and Iraq Civil Defense Corps served honorably in the former army. They have asked to serve their country again, and we welcome their renewed service."
Bremer assured Iraqis that those considered for jobs who were members of the Baath Party will be carefully and thoroughly screened.
Part of the push is to establish a true Iraqi chain of command for Iraqi forces. Officials in Baghdad said that the Iraqi units that fought best in the riots of early April were those with good, clear Iraqi leadership.
As the coalition continues to train the new Iraqi army, more officers with the former army will be called on to serve. "In the coming months, we will steadily strengthen our security partnership, placing increasing responsibility in the hands of Iraqis," Bremer said. "By June 30, Iraqi soldiers in the ranks will report up through an Iraqi chain of command to Iraqi generals."
The administrator said the coalition will continue to work with Iraqi security forces for some time after the return of sovereignty June 30.
Bremer also spoke about the situation around the rebel city of Fallujah. He said the area has calmed in recent days. "But those responsible for the lawlessness and unrest that began in Fallujah in February with the murder of 17 Iraqi policemen still bear heavy arms in the streets," he said.
Former regime elements and foreign fighters continue to hold the city hostage. "These are the people who have brought death and destruction to Fallujah," he said. "And Fallujah cannot be peaceful while such men remain at liberty.
"We call upon the people of Fallujah to support the legitimate Iraqi authorities in bringing this crisis to an end," he continued. "We hope that they join in ridding the city of heavy military weapons. Those who turn in weapons voluntarily will not be arrested for weapons violations."
Bremer said if armed bands continue to patrol Fallujah and hang onto their heavy weapons, "major hostilities could resume on short notice."
The administrator said that militias also threaten Iraqi security. "Ultimately, Iraq cannot be secure, free and united if people can set up armed militias and define the law of the land to suit their own ambitions," he said. "That is why all armed elements in Iraq must be controlled by the central government, not just now, but during the next government and the next and the next."
He said that militias present a particular problem in Najaf and Karbala. The militias, part of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's gangs, place these Shiite holy sites in jeopardy, he added.
"I add my voice to those of the religious authorities who have called for disarmament in these holy cities," Bremer said. "We are prepared to work with these authorities to achieve disarmament. Armed militias should not be allowed to exploit holy shrines to advance personal political interests."