London, Asharq Al-Awsat- General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for planning and strategy of the US Army’s Central Command, has stressed that the United States has no plans to establish permanent military bases in Iraq, emphasizing that the basic goal at present is to lower the number of US troops in the region “so that Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden would not use that as an excuse to recruit more supporters”.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq al-Awsat, General Kimmitt emphasized that the Iraqi forces should take over the tasks of entrenching security in their country in order to encourage the Iraqis to cooperate with them and to trust “those in official military uniform”.
Regarding the “long war” on terrorism, Kimmitt said, “Al-Qaeda is a network. It is not just a network of fighters. It is a network of financiers, banks, the Internet to pass on their messages, and governments that sympathize with them. We have to construct a similar network to fight them”. He added, “The army is fighting against the combatants, but we cannot fight the rest of the network’s elements”. on how to fight them Kimmitt explained that the second step after setting up a network is to deprive the terrorists of safe haven and the third step is to cooperate with others to defend ourselves. We saw this in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and in other places where they did a very good job”. He added, “This should not be turned into an American war but a global war”. Regarding the main goal in winning this war, he said, “We have to leave the Middle East. We cannot do what we did in Europe after the Second World War and stay there. Nations do not believe in this and we must prove it to them”. Kimmitt reiterated, “We should lower our presence in the Middle East to as a low a level as possible so that the region would not depend on our presence there”. Regarding the military operations center in Doha, General Kimmitt said that it is possible to change the location of the “headquarters” but he did not elaborate further. He said, “We have close relations with the government of Qatar and we renew our agreements with it every two years. It is possible to reconsider our presence there if need be but there are no plans at present to do so”. Kimmitt pointed to the importance of cooperation between the foreign troops in Iraq and their relations with the national (Iraqi) forces. He said, “The Iraqis should protect and secure the streets. The coalition troops should remain in the background to offer assistance if asked”. He affirmed, “There are no plans to build permanent military bases in Iraq”, adding, “there is no need to build permanent military bases in Iraq”. However, he went on to say, “If (Prime Minister) Nuri al-Maliki asks us to build bases, we will consider such a request but we do not have any such intentions at present. We did not come to Iraq to occupy it”. He stated, “There is no other better way to convince the peoples of the Middle East that we do not intend to stay except by not building such bases”. He stressed the importance of taking into consideration “the sensitivities in the Middle East and Bin Laden’s claims that we want to occupy the region. Therefore, we have to take away such excuses from him and prove that we have no such intentions”. General Kimmitt summarized Bin Laden ‘s claims as follows: “Bin Laden claims that we (the West) wish to occupy the holy lands, that there is an alliance between the Crusaders and the Jews to kill Muslims, that we are taking the oil of the region, and that we install governments that are subservient to us. Bin Laden repeats these claims whenever scandals break out, such as the one in Abu-Ghraib Prison, and exploits such incidents against us. This harms us a lot”. However, Kimmitt stressed, “Despite the horror of some incidents, like the one in Abu-Ghraib, we have to keep in mind the millions of good deeds inside Iraq.”
General Mark Kimmitt emphasized that it is important for the new Iraqi government “to demonstrate its ability to restore security to the country, especially in Baghdad. The Iraqi government must seek to bring public safety and security for which the Iraqi people voted”. He said that the Iraqi security plan is important “not only to lower the level of instability in Iraq, but also to get rid of impressions of instability as well and to show that the government is capable of succeeding”. He said that this plan should restore security in the capital, adding, “but the coming week should show whether it is effective on the long run”. Kimmitt added, “It is obvious that the residents of Baghdad are appreciating what Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is trying to do”. He went on to say, “The Iraqi security forces are now more capable than in the past in controlling the security situation if the number of soldiers and policemen is doubled. We have to keep in mind that what Iraq needs is a heavy Iraqi security presence and forces”. The general, who was the spokesman of the coalition forces in Iraq immediately following the fall of the former Iraqi regime, spoke about the importance of “reaching a point where the people would feel that they can trust the security forces and cooperate with them by informing on those that come in the darkness to destroy”. He said, “The Iraqi people were tired of the violence from the start. But they ignored it until it began to threaten them personally. Even then they did not to ignore it but they are afraid”. Kimmitt admitted that as long as the Iraqi forces are seen with the coalition troops “some would continue to think that the Iraqi forces are collaborating with foreigners. Therefore, they feel that the insurgency is a legitimate resistance movement. But when the Iraqi people see that the Iraqi forces and police are legitimate and not corrupt and when they realize that these forces are working for them rather than for the government all the people will cooperate with them”. He added, “This is the gradual phase that we should reach. Despite the growing number of statements by the public against the gunmen, we have not reached this stage of restoration of the people’s cooperation”. Kimmitt referred to the problems facing the Iraqi Interior Minister and the reported involvement of some people dressed in military uniforms in acts of violence in Iraq. He said, “When the people are afraid of those in military uniforms and when they feel that their allegiance is not the state but to a specific militias, the Iraqis would be more reluctant to cooperate with the government”. Although he admitted that the problems of “corruption, militias, and sectarianism in Iraq” exist, the US general said that the Iraqi government should solve this problem. However, he added, “The militias in Iraq are now part of the Iraqi realities. The coalition forces do not consider them as enemies or that they constitute a threat to our forces. We do not hesitate in confronting the militias. However, we do not see the need at present. This is an issue left for the Iraqi government”. The general said that it is necessary to tackle the issue of unofficial armed forces in the country and the militias in a systematic way. He added, “It is a process that depends on gradually disarming and dismantling the militias and gradually merging them with the official forces in the country. This process should start in Iraq now but (Iraqi Prime Minister) Al-Maliki must convince the political parties and the various factions that the government forces will protect them all and that they can be trusted”. He added that this is not a process that is built on rapid steps, but “a series of programs that takes into account and preserves the dignity of the armed men”. He explained by saying, “This is a process that is part of the general framework for national reconciliation in Iraq”.
On the killing of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, Kimmitt stressed the term of “justice against Al-Zarqawi”, saying, “Al-Zarqawi has always known that those who live by bombs will die by bombs”. Despite the announcement of a new leader for the Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq, General Kimmitt said, “We should not underestimate the importance of bringing an “icon” that embodies evil to justice whether it is Al-Zarqawi or (former Iraqi President) Saddam or (Al-Qa’ida leader) Bin Laden or (former Serbian leader) Milosevic”. He added, “Al-Zarqawi was a professional commander of the Al-Qaeda in Iraq and I expect this organization to be strongly affected by his death. But I do not see it collapsing in the near future. Therefore, we have to continue to be aggressive in hunting down the terrorists”. Kimmitt declined to go into the details of finding and killing Al-Zarqawi. He only said, “several intelligence sources and different information sources were used to carry out this operation”. He strongly denied the reports that Al-Zarqawi died because US soldiers beat him up after he was hit. Saying that these reports are “lies,” Kimmitt added, “As soon as he was hit, Al-Zarqawi became a wounded noncombatant and the US rescuers tried to give him first aid”. Regarding the documents that were found in Al-Zarqawi’s hideout, General Kimmitt said that no documents were found pointing to support for Al-Zarqawi or to the Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq by a foreign country. On a possible cooperation between Al-Zarqawi and leaders of the Iraqi Baathist regime, Kimmitt said, “There are still senior cadres of the Baath Party that we have not apprehended and there also thousands of party members that we do not know. Attempts are certainly being made to reorganize the party; however, these attempts are not well developed and there is a kind of cooperation between the two sides”.
On a related development, General Kimmitt said there is no excuse for the killing of Iraqi civilians at the hands of the coalition troops. He emphasized that if any soldier is found to be psychologically unprepared to carry out his job, he will be relieved and he will not be in the battlefield. He rejected this as a potential excuse to kill civilians. He stressed that the investigators of the incident related to the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha “have broad powers to go where they wish to find out what happened and to find out how the details of this incident did not reach the officials”. He added, “Some attorneys defending soldiers implicated in misdeeds may try to use the excuse of psychological pressure. But this is not correct and unacceptable”. He went on to say, “The truth will always be revealed; it is just a matter of time”. Kimmitt talked about the main sources of violence in Iraq and defined them as the following four sources. The first source is “the terrorist threat that is embodied in the booby-trapped cars and the large-scale murder of civilians. These are followers of the Al-Qaeda organization and the other movements close to it that was connected with Al-Zarqawi. Their main goal is to return to the 14 th century and to turn Iraq into a dictatorship”. The second source, he said, is “the insurgency on a smaller scale. It is normally commanded by members of the former Iraqi intelligence organ and elements of the special Republican Guard that realize that there is no place for them in the new Iraqi government because their hands are tainted with blood”. He added that these do not wish to return to the 14 th century but to only four years ago. They have the impression that the former regime may come back to power again”. As for the third source of the rampant violence in Iraq, Kimmitt said, “This third source is crime. Without a vibrant economy, the young unemployed resort to crime in order to have an income”. Kimmitt also pointed out that “since February, sectarian violence has escalated in Iraq, especially since the bombings of the two (Shiite) mausoleums (Al-Hadi and Al-Askari) in Samarra. This is very worrying”. He said that Al-Zarqawi “tried to create a rift between the Sunnis and Shias. Despite his hatred of the West, he hated the Shias more and he considered them apostates”.
General Mark Kimmitt was in London for consultations with the British Defense Ministry and Foreign Office on the situation in Iraq. He explained, “We meet every two months to discuss the Japanese, Italian, Australian, and other troops in southern Iraq”. About lowering the number of troops from countries like Italy and Japan, Kimmitt said, “We are still in the phase just prior to taking final decisions. It is difficult to talk about specific numbers of troops at this time”. Nevertheless, he said that the Japanese forces will withdraw from Iraq at the end of this year. Kimmitt pointed out that of the four provinces in southern Iraq that are under British command, “the Province of Al-Muthanna and the Province of Dhi Qar are preparing to change the number of coalition troops there. However, Misan and Al-Basra have a long way to go. Regarding possible signs that security control would be transferred from the coalition forces to Iraqi forces, Kimmitt said, “This is an important question. The power of the local government and the provincial police are important. Furthermore, the province is distant from the militias and the intense cases of violence” (sentence as published). Kimmitt declined to talk about the reasons behind the escalation of violence in southern Iraq preferring to leave this to the Britons. However, he pointed out that “Muqtada al-Sadr’s Al-Mahdi Army is still a strong military and political force in the region. Sometimes, Muqtada al-Sadr decides to flex his muscles and sometimes we do not know the reason for that”. Answering a question on the fate of the arrest warrant issued against Muqtada al-Sadr, Kimmitt said, “He was involved in the murder of Abdul majid al – Khoi and the Iraqi judiciary issued the warrant. I have asked them about the fate of this warrant myself”. He added, however, “The coalition forces do not consider Muqtada al-Sadr as a wanted man as he was in 2004. He has become a political force inside Iraq. It seems that through the system of outreach among the various Iraqi factions – such as the Sunnis and the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr – there is an admission by the Iraqi government that the more factions enter the political process the better it is for the country”.