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General John Abizaid: Iraq Situation Report

July 16, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: The new commander of U.S. forces in Iraq is General John Abizaid. At his first formal press briefing today, the questioning focused on Iraq: The state of the war, the troops, and his faith in U.S. Intelligence. Here, some of his answers.

REPORTER: General, today a U.S. soldier was killed in a grenade attack. A surface-to-air missile was fired at a C-130 as it approached the Baghdad airport, and the mayor, has been mentioned, was killed west of Baghdad. Is the resistance escalating? And can you explain why you consider this a guerrilla war — because there’s been some hesitance to describe it as that inside this building?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Well, I think that, you know, all of us have to be very clear in what we’re seeing. We’re seeing a cellular organization of six to eight people, armed with RPG’s, machine guns, et cetera, attacking us at, sometimes, times and place of their choosing, and other times we attack them at times and places of our choosing. They are receiving financial help from probably regional- level leaders. And I think describing it as guerrilla tactics being employed against us is, you know, a proper thing to describe in strictly military terms.

REPORTER: Are these attacks against American forces better coordinated now than was originally suspected?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: At the tactical level they are better coordinated now. They are less amateurish, and their ability to use improvised explosive devices, and combine the use of these explosive devices with some sort of tactical activity, say for example attacking the quick reaction forces, is more sophisticated. Ansar al-Islam, which is a terrorist group that we hit very hard in the very opening stages in the war up in the area of northern Iraq and northeast of Sulimaniyah, is coming back. We don’t know exactly how they’re infiltrating. There’s some impression that they could be infiltrating through Iran. I would state without any, you know, any hesitation that the mid-level Ba’athist threat is the primary threat that we’ve got to deal with right now.

REPORTER: We’ve been told by military planners say that the units heading into Iraq in the coming weeks and months can expect year-long deployments. Does that sound about right?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: I think you need to go to the Department of the Army, but if you look at contemplating keeping the force structure stable for a while until the security situation improves, that year-long deployments are possible for certain units. All of us were a bit taken aback by the complete destruction of the Iraqi army and the near total disillusion of Iraqi security institutions, especially police. Once we started to understand that environment, we knew that we were going to have to extend people longer than we had hoped.

REPORTER: Did the military get surprised by all of this emerging over the last several weeks since may 1? How is it that you didn’t sort of see it coming? How has all of this, the whole list of things you’ve gone through, come to pass and get so reorganized inside Iraq?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: Did we know that Iraq would be fractious? Did we know that Iraq would be difficult? Did we know that there would be various levels of difficulty? Absolutely. We planned, like we always do, for all different sets of contingencies. But we are where we are and we’ve got a security problem in Iraq that we are approaching in a very steadfast manner. The troops are doing a great job.

TONY CAPACCIO, Bloomberg News: Based on what you know now, what realistically do you expect the U.S. to find over there by way of either weapons or program?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID: I think that we’ll find evidence of a biological program. I think we’ll find evidence of a chemical program, and I still believe that before it’s all over, and I can’t tell you when it’s going to be all over, that we’ll uncover specifically what happened to either biological agents or chemical agents.

GWEN IFILL: General Abizaid also said he thinks the current force of about 148,000 Americans in Iraq is about the right size. But, he added, he would not hesitate to ask for more if conditions get worse.