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Myers Speaks to Arab World via Al Jazeera

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2003 – The United States has absolutely no desire to stay in Iraq any longer than necessary, the U.S. military's senior officer told the Arab world today.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers reached out to the 60 million Arab viewers of the Al Jazeera satellite television network in an interview today.

Myers told Dana Budeiri, the Al Jazeera correspondent in the Pentagon, that the U.S.-led coalition will accomplish its mission of disarming Saddam Hussein.

A U.S. objective is to leave an Iraq that is better off "than it is under this brutal dictator," Myers said. "I think most of your viewers know the record of Saddam Hussein and the treatment of his own people and the treatment of his neighbors."

The United States will leave an Iraq that is intact, has a government that guarantees the rights of all citizens, and has no weapons of mass destruction, he said. "We want to do that as quickly as possible."

The U.S. military will pull out of Iraq as soon as the security situation is stable, Myers said. After Saddam falls, he added, there will be a military administration and that will shift to a civilian one. He hopes that the model of Afghanistan where a civilian interim government took charge fairly quickly can be followed in Iraq.

Myers said providing humanitarian assistance to Iraq is another pressing issue. He noted coalition troops have already brought humanitarian supplies into the country with them. Maritime forces are working to clear a channel so shipborne supplies can begin flowing in. "(Coalition forces) came into the country not only to fight the Iraqi regime but to provide humanitarian assistance," he said.

Myers said that coalition forces have not yet found any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. However, he added, forces have found new chemical and biological protection suits in a couple of places.

"People know full well that coalition forces do not have chemical weapons (and) do not have biological weapons," he said. "So the question that must be asked is why did this group of Fedayeen Saddam and Ba'ath Party folks have 3,000 chemical and biological protective suits?"

The Al Jazeera correspondent queried the chairman on the general steps involved in protecting Iraqi civilians and specifically about the Baghdad market that the Iraqi regime said was hit by coalition bombs. Myers said U.S. Central Command did not have targets near the area.

"We don't know what caused that," he said. "We will continue to investigate to make sure, and if it was coalition forces, we will admit that."

But Iraqi forces also could have caused the tragedy. "Iraqi forces put their anti-aircraft forces in civilian neighborhoods close to mosques, close to schools it's entirely possible that the damage was done by a surface-to- air missile that the Iraqis were trying to fire," he said.

Myers stressed that coalition forces will stand by their principles and do everything possible to spare civilians. "We have done this with our targeting so far," he said. "We don't know how many civilian casualties or deaths, because we're not on the ground. But we think they are very, very few.

"Our bombing has been very precise. You hear that from Baghdad the lights are on, the waterworks are running," he said. "During the day, it's pretty much life as usual in many neighborhoods."

Myers said coalition forces are taking great care to only apply power to regime forces that are resisting. "I can guarantee you that we will apply sufficient power to ensure that the end is never in doubt," he declared. "In fact I can assure you that we will win this war against the Iraqi regime not the Iraqi people and we will disarm Iraq.

"We still have a lot of tough fighting to do. We have not engaged the Republican Guard divisions yet. That should come here in the near future," he continued.

The coalition military plan is essentially on track, the general said. The number of coalition forces in Iraq continues to grow, and the United States continues to flow forces into the area. The 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, is beginning its deployment to the region.

Myers made a point that the coalition has more than 4,500 prisoners of war. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is due to visit with Iraqi POWs tomorrow. He said wounded POWs have been cared for aboard the USNS Mercy.

"We are taking extraordinary care," Myers said. "They are under the care of the best medical staff and doctors this country has. We would only hope that the Iraqi regime would allow reciprocal visits and the international Red Cross to the prisoners of war that they hold so they can ascertain their conditions."

The chairman would not estimate how long hostilities will last. "We have two armored divisions roughly within 50 to 60 miles of Baghdad right now, a Marine division that's a little bit further out," he said. "I can't put precise timelines on it, but we're satisfied all around."

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