U.S. Troops Will Stay Until Iraq Is Stable,
General John Abi Zeid
May 12, 2004
I'm always happy to be back in Jordan.
I'm happy to be here with the Ambassador of course; the meetings that we had
today with His Majesty and with members of senior leadership of the Jordanian
Armed Forces were very useful as always.
I expressed to them my deep regret about what has happened at Abu Ghreib prison,
and I'm especially concerned that American military personnel were involved in a
serious event which has to be fully investigated --in which we will follow a
full investigation and court should that be necessary. Which it will be, I'm
sure, because we already have taken people and charged them with crimes.
We will have to let the military justice system work through the requirements
that will bring the full facts to the public. We have been open about the
problem from the beginning and we will continue to be open about it. We had
problems both with discipline among a small group of people, with whom I'm very
disappointed, and we have problems with the system that we must look at and
ensure that the systemic difficulties that existed there don't exist elsewhere
in our system.
As you know, we were involved in combat operations in Iraq, in certain portions.
But it's very, very central that Americans, Coalition and Iraqi security forces
work together to bring security to Iraq because it's in the best interest of
everyone in the region. We don't desire to dominate Iraq. We don't want their
oil. We don't want anything other than an independent sovereign Iraqi state to
emerge-- that is a state that would be chosen by the word of the Iraqi people.
And, when that happens, you'll find that the United States has only the interest
of peace and stability in the region. So, I said too much of an opening
statement, I really want your questions.
QUESTION: Concerning the Fate of Saddam Hussein, you will hand him over to the
Iraqis, but doesn't that look contradictory given his status as a prisoner of
GENERAL ABI ZEID: No, I think that when Iraq moves to a sovereign entity, that
there will be at that time some discussion about how he will be handled in Iraqi
courts. We have always said that we believe that he should be handled by Iraqi
courts, and when that court is mustered up, to do the case in a fair and proper
manner, I'm sure we'll find a way to make that happen.
QUESTION: (inaudible) but the question might be related to: "Re-addressing his
current status as a Prisoner Of War, and if handled by the Iraqis, does that
GENERAL ABI ZEID: That he is a prisoner of war does not excuse him from the
incredible crimes that he has undoubtedly committed in Kuwait, in Iran and in
Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people were buried in mass graves all over Iraq,
and that happened when he was President. I presume that he's responsible. So,
again, I would leave it to the Iraqis to come to the decision about what will
happen to Saddam Hussein, but I have no doubt about the crimes his regime
committed, and I can assure you that there was never a single investigation of
any disappearance of any official under his leadership, which is the difference
between my country and his.
GENERAL ABI ZEID: You are asking me many political questions, it's very
difficult, I'm a soldier you know (laughs), a soldier who has a large area. Iraq
is only part of my area, which includes Afghanistan, and a large area in Jordan,
Thank God, Al-Hamdullillah.
You know, one of the most difficult periods that we face in Iraq is this current
period right now. It is a period of political uncertainty because we haven't
chosen the interim leadership, and without having the interim leadership chosen
it creates an opportunity for those who don't want to have a peaceful process to
become violent. So as you know we had these major military operations against
Sadr's militia in the south and in the Falujah area. But it is our hope that we
can move towards a period of partnership with the new Iraqi government where we
work together. We're trying to build a better country for them, not for us, and
we look forward to the period of interim government moving towards elections.
And the election period in December - January time period will also be difficult
and probably violent. You don't take a dictatorship like that, which has existed
as long as it has, and expect it to move without trouble along the road to some
sort of a stable and representative nation, one that is substantially different
from what existed before.
I think it will be a difficult time. Many people doubt that the United States
will stay long enough to make Iraq stable. But we will. We will stay, and we'll
seek the help of the Jordanian government, to the extent possible, and seek the
advise of His Majesty and other key leaders here to help us build a good
solution that will benefit the Iraqi people. But we also know that there is no
other military force that can help get through this transitional period.
So, I probably haven't answered your question, because it will be an interesting
period for all of us to see how Lakdar Bbrahimi and the process that is going on
in Iraq evolve into an interim solution. I'm not clear myself of how that will
evolve, but I'm confident that there are more people trying to hold Iraq
together than trying to take it apart.
QUESTION: (translated) Was the dissolution of the Iraqi Army a mistake?
GENERAL ABI ZEID: The dissolution of the Iraqi army was a political decision,
and I won't comment on it at all. I will say that there is a role for former
members of the military in the security services of Iraq. They can serve in the
police. They can serve in the Iraqi civil defense corps. And they can serve in
the new army. We are hopeful that there will be senior officers, who served in
the previous army, who served with honor, who served with distinction, and who
in fact did not commit crimes against the Iraqi people, who can have a place in
the new Iraq. This will not be the choice of the United States; this will be the
choice of the Iraqi people as they move towards a new government. But clearly
military professionals of good reputation will have an opportunity to serve in
the future of the new Iraq.
QUESTION: How do you as an Arab American feel about (Abu Ghreib) and what do you
read in the faces of the Arabs?
GENERAL ABI ZEID: Of course, you all know that I'm of Arab descent, and you also
know that I lived in Jordan, and I have great respect for the people of Jordan
and this country and there are few times when I have been ashamed to be an Arab
American. One of the times was to see what a small group of Americans could do
to Arabs. Another time was to see what a small group of Arabs would do to an
American like you saw today with Zarqawi's people chopping the head off an
I believe that there is a bridge between us that can be built towards a better
future, and we shouldn't think that this bridge will be built by violence. It
must be built with dialogue and mutual respect. I have great respect for the
Arab culture, and almost every Arab I know has great respect for the United
States in many different forms. Sometimes it's not necessarily positive
politically, but it's positive in other ways —in our educational system, for
example. But this gap that exists between us-- if we are to defeat the people
that will do things like Osama Bin Laden, crashing the airplanes into the World
Trade Center, or Zarqawi, who would have killed thousands of Jordanians--
thousands of Jordanians, if his plan had been pulled off. We must move together.
It can't be America versus the Arabs. It must be Americans and Arabs, Muslims
and Christians working against the people that have no vision for the future
other than hate. And if we can't do that, then we will suffer just like the
people of Abu Ghreib and just like the poor American who was beheaded at the
hands of the terrorists yesterday. So, (in Arabic) thank you very much, I'm very
happy to be in Jordan.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: