Read the offical press statment from the American Forces Press Service.
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 25, 2004 – The media-reported upcoming departure of Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez from Iraq was planned long ago and has nothing to do with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, a senior U.S. military spokesman noted today.
“”We have always expected General Sanchez to depart (Iraq) sometime after (the) transfer of sovereignty,”” Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Multinational Force Iraq, explained to reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
News reports that speculate Sanchez is leaving Iraq prematurely due to the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse investigations “”have got the story wrong,”” Kimmitt said. Combat commanders in Iraq, he explained, typically serve in theater for a year before rotation.
Sanchez, Kimmitt pointed out, has been in Iraq since last April. The transfer of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to an interim Iraqi government is slated for June 30.
Therefore, Kimmitt said, he had always believed Sanchez would likely depart Iraq “”in the July time period.””
Kimmitt said he’d seen no official Army confirmation of Sanchez’s departure date from Iraq, although he’d heard of news reports announcing Sanchez’s departure around the end of June. That, the general said, would not be “”inconsistent with the timeline that we’ve been working on.””
While an interim government will take charge of Iraq’s sovereignty after the June 30 changeover, multinational forces – including U.S. troops – would remain in the country to assist Iraqis with security operations, Dan Senor, chief CPA spokesman, pointed out. Senor accompanied Kimmitt at the news briefing.
The establishment of Iraqi governmental sovereignty, Senor explained, “”doesn’t mean that they won’t need help from time to time, particularly in the initial period after they gain sovereignty.””
After June 30, the United States and Iraq will have a bilateral relationship, Senor explained, and “”not one of occupation.”” That relationship, he added, also entails a partnership between U.S. and Iraqi security forces, until the country is stabilized and Iraqis are ready to take over their security.
“”There is still a significant terror threat in Iraq,”” Senor pointed out. U.S. forces would stay in Iraq, he emphasized, “”until the job is done, but we will not stay a day longer”” than is necessary.
Kimmitt cautioned it will take time to train Iraqi security forces to the point at which they’re able to function independently.
Increased insurgent activity in April, Kimmitt pointed out, had caused the U.S. military to extend troop deployment tours in Iraq. The additional troop strength gained by that action, he noted, gives the U.S about 135,000 troops in Iraq, as opposed to the 105,000 originally envisioned as being needed at this time.
Kimmitt reported that over the past 24 hours, U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq had conducted 2,368 patrols, 33 offensive operations and 43 Air Force and Navy sorties, and had captured 60 anti-coalition suspects.
Between 580 and 600 detainees would be released from Abu Ghraib prison on May 28, Kimmitt said, noting another prisoner release is slated for June 4.
A suicide car bomb exploded outside a Baghdad hotel today, Kimmitt reported. Two civilians were injured in the blast. Another explosion in Baghdad later in the day, he said, hit the area where Saddam Hussein’s statue was pulled down.
West of Baghdad, the city of Fallujah remains quiet, with no reported violations of a cease-fire agreement since May 3, Kimmitt said.
Turning southwest of Baghdad, Kimmitt said it appears that renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s militia has been decreasing or ending its activities in Karbala, but the militia still is conducting harassment attacks outside the city.
Sadr’s militia continues to be active near the cities of Najaf and Kufa, Kimmitt said. The group conducted a series of recent attacks on U.S. and coalition forces and Iraqi police in the region, he added.
Contrary to rumors, Kimmitt said, U.S. and coalition forces had nothing to do with the recent damage to a Najaf mosque. Sadr, he said, may be blaming others for the mosque damage “”for his own personal gain.”””