BAGHDAD -- Misdeeds by service members in Iraq, while rare, give the world the wrong impression of what the U.S. military stands for, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a visit here yesterday.
Gen. Peter Pace said the incidents, which include the alleged murder of Iraqi civilians in Haditha and the alleged rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and her family south of Baghdad, reflect badly on all American service members and represent only a tiny proportion of the Americans who have served in Iraq.
"It's not who we are as a nation; it's not who we are as an armed force," Pace said. He said that when the allegations surfaced, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael Hagee visited thousands of deployed Marines to reinforce just how Marines are supposed to act.
"We've had between 1 million and 1.5 million Americans deploy to the Gulf," Pace said. "A small fraction of them have done things that we know for sure were wrong." He called such acts and those who commit them "unacceptable."
"And we will deal with that," the chairman promised.
Pace said that with the exception of the Haditha incident, all the others were reported via the chain of command. He said this proves the system works.
Pace visited with U.S. military leaders in Baghdad yesterday, including Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr.; Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the effort training Iraqi security forces; and Army Maj. Gen. James Thurman, Multinational Division Baghdad commander. Pace said the generals discussed ongoing operations, trends for the future, U.S. troop levels in Iraq and progress in training the Iraqi security forces to shoulder the responsibility for defending their nation.
Pace acknowledged the sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital has concerned him, but said he is confident that Iraqi and coalition forces can get a handle on it. However, he said, the Iraqis themselves must decide they do not want that type of violence in their country. Only then, he said, can the coalition begin reducing its troop numbers in the country.
"The problem is not so much how much combat power you have in a country, it's more how is the governance going," Pace said. "How are the people doing? What is getting better about their economic situation, what is getting better about their trust for each other? What is getting better about the education system and roads and the like? What gives them hope for a better future? This drives you to the understanding that to have a better future, you need to stop killing one another."
There are problems in Iraq, but there are also signs of hope, he said. "Despite all the violence, there are still between 4,000 and 5,000 tips per month reported by the Iraqi people," Pace said. "The Iraqi army is in the fight - the army is taking casualties three to four times what the coalition is. The population needs to make the fundamental decision that they have had enough."