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Abizaid Says Regional Leaders Worry U.S. Won't Finish Task in Iraq

The commanding general of the U.S. Central Command says leaders in the region are more concerned with U.S. willingness "to stay the course" in Iraq than they are about the abuses that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Army General John Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee May 19 that on his way back to Washington from Iraq, "I stopped and talked to many of the region's top military and political leaders to discuss Abu Ghraib and the situation in Iraq, to assess the damage that this incident has done to our reputation." He said they were "shocked, disgusted and disappointed" by the abuse depicted in the photos.

However, Abizaid said, they all claimed confidence that "our system could and would produce answers and hold people accountable. If we endanger our ability to see that justice is served ... we will do ourselves, the regions and Iraqis in particular a great disservice."

But as concerned as his contacts were about Abu Ghraib, Abizaid said, they are even more concerned about the United States' willingness "to stay the course" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They are more worried," Abizaid said, "that we will lose our patience with the difficult tasks of stabilizing those places, and will walk away and come home and bring up the draw bridges and defend Fortress America." That "could be fatal" for some of the region's governments, he said.

"I reassured our friends that we are tough, that we cannot be defeated militarily, and that we will stay the course," Abizaid told the senators.

Turning to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Abizaid said one of his core principles is that U.S. military officers "are responsible; ... when in charge, we must be in charge. ... Every officer is responsible for what his or her unit does or fails to do. I accept that responsibility for the United States Central Command," he said.

Noting that a variety of investigations are still underway concerning the abuse of prisoners, Abizaid said the evidence so far points toward "systemic problems ... at the prison that may have contributed to events there." As for the investigations still in progress, he said he "will consider their findings carefully," and that "[w]e will follow the trail of evidence wherever it leads.

"We will continue to correct systemic problems. We will hold people accountable. And ... we will take appropriate action," he said.

Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, told the committee, "As a senior commander in Iraq, I accept responsibility for what happened at Abu Ghraib, and I accept as a solemn obligation the responsibility to ensure that it does not happen again."

Sanchez said that as soon as he learned of the reported abuses at detention facility, "I ensured that a criminal investigation had been initiated and requested my superior appoint an investigating officer to conduct a separate administrative investigation." Furthermore, he said, after receiving the initial report, he "directed suspension of key members of the chain of command of the unit responsible for detainee security at Abu Ghraib."

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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