Interview: Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV on Iraq and the Alleged Revenge Killings of GIs

On July 11, 2006, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for the Multinational Force Iraq, spoke with ABC News' Terry McCarthy about the state of Iraq after an An al-Qaeda-linked group posted a Web video showing the mutilated bodies of two U.S. soldiers. The group claiming it killed the soldiers in revenge for the rape-slaying of a young Iraqi woman in Mahmudiyah by American troops from the same unit.

Caldwell addressed the video's release, its potential effect on stabilizing Iraq, and a timetable for troop withdrawal, among other issues. Here is a transcript of the interview:

Question: I wanted to ask you what the propaganda effects you see coming from the video of the two mutilated bodies and the claim that it was for the revenge of the raped girl in Mahmudiyah?

Answer: What it proves to all of us here that are serving in Iraq is that we really are against the evil enemy out there. Someone that would take people who are dead and then brutalize their bodies and then show it on TV like that, and on the Internet, just shows a distinct difference in how we approach these kinds of things and how they approach these kinds of things.

Q: You don't fear by using news events of these five men being charged that the insurgents are more media-sophisticated? Because clearly, they had it for more than a month and chose to release it in a news cycle.

A: Well, we don't know how long they've had it available to release. That's probably a question but they've obviously had it. But what I would tell you is this -- when you look at what's happened in Mahmudiya, and the fact that we have identified a situation that occurred down there where there's the death of an Iraqi family, we went ahead and did an investigation. We've found some reason to charge our people and they've been charged. We right now are proceeding forward with a full and open and transparent investigation to that case, that's how we approach it when we see that somebody has done something wrong. Whereas in the case of this anti-Iraqi elements that we're up against, their approach was we'll go out and kill more people, we'll brutalize their bodies, we'll show it on the internet, I mean there's just a -- just a dramatic difference in how they approach life and how we approach life. We're out for justice. They're out for revenge.

Q: Moving on to operation forward together launched with 50,000 troops. How would you assess the effectiveness of the initiative given the violence we are seeing today?

A: Operation forward together was the intent of the prime ministers to reduce the level of the violence in Baghdad. Because as we all know, as goes Baghdad, will go the rest of this country. And so, every anti-Iraqi element is focused there. It is not progressing as well as perhaps we had hoped it would. We clearly had thought that the level of violence would be further down than it is today. But there's so many good things that are also occurring. As long as we're steadily declining in the overall violence, we're having success, we'll keep going out there so we'll keep figuring out how to make adjustments and tweak the plan and make refinements so that we can, in fact, give the people of Baghdad the security, the comfort of knowing that they can be outside their homes and be secure.

Q: I am thinking of the jihad neighborhood violence on Sunday when Shiite militia were rampaging through that district killing Sunnis. It took the involvement of American troops to bring that area under control. Does that suggest that Iraqi forces are not yet well trained enough or capable of providing security to their own people?

A: Well, the reporting in that whole area was a little off, as we found out once we got there, you know there were reports of forty or so that were murdered, we did find about fourteen when we were able to get on the scene there. The Iraqi security forces are getting better each day. We see things like this past week where they foiled two kidnapping attempts inside of Baghdad, where they're out locating and stopping vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. They're making steady progress themselves, they clearly want to do better themselves too in a place like jihad, they don't want to see that happen, and I think that's why you see they'll continually reassess -- why did it happen there, what didn't go well, and what can we do better next time.

Q: [U.S.] Ambassador [to Iraq Zalmay] Khalilzad said the next six months are crucial for the future of Iraq, and [Iraq] Foreign Minister [Hoshyar] Zebari said he wanted to see security restored by the end of the year. What is your assessment from a military point of view? How long can this violent standoff continue?

A: Well the ambassador, we all totally concur with. His assessment -- that we have 'til Christmas time frame, 'til the December time frame to make a difference -- is exactly right. The people of Baghdad have very high expectations. They've seen the installation of a new government, they've seen the prime minister talk about a national reconciliation and dialogue plan, they hear a lot of talk from the politicians about how they're going to unify this country together, they've heard about basic services are going to be restored, there's a lot that needs to be delivered to them that's going to have to happen over these next six or eight months so the people themselves don't become disillusioned. But they themselves are a part of the solution. The military forces here can only set the conditions for peace. We cannot achieve peace. It's going to be the Iraqi people themselves are going to have to achieve this peace.

Q: As you say, it is not really a military problem it is a political problem to be solved by political means. What effect is the violence going to have on that attempt to reach a political settlement?

A: Well, that's exactly what these anti-Iraqi elements would want us to do. Every chance they get, they're gonna do some more bombings, they're gonna do some more mass murders. If you look what happens, 87 percent of the casualties that occur in this country every week are innocent civilians. They're not coalition forces and Iraqi security forces. I mean, clearly these anti-Iraqi forces are focused on producing civilian casualties and that's who we're targeting, that's who we're going after. They in fact are operating outside of the law, and that's exactly who we're going to target and focus our efforts on. And we're gonna keep getting at this security. We're gonna continue making adjustments and refinements.

And we're going to make that a primary focus of ours -- to bring greater security to the Baghdad area.

Q: Is there a specific plan to step up security? What more can you do or Iraqi forces do to bring this city back to a peaceful situation?

A: Well, as we continue to interact, really, on a daily basis with the government of Iraq and talk to their senior officials, both in the ministry of defense, the ministry of interior, the senior politicians, it's a multi-pronged approach that's going to occur in the city. They're going to put the emphasis on security in terms of military, and police, and national police operating within there to bring a more stable environment, to reduce the level of violence, but they're gonna focus on economic efforts too, and they're going to bring more economic jobs and opportunities inside the city for the people. Because if you can get the people, if you can get these young men back to work and give them a hope and a promise for the future, that's going to give them less of an ability to be influenced and sucked in to some kind of anti-Iraqi elements who might be doing something just to make money. And then the unity peace is huge, and the more the politicians continue to show that they mean what they say in unifying this country back together, the greater the possibility is that we're gonna show tremendous progress by the December time frame.

Q: Some say that the increased number of checkpoints has made it more dangerous -- harder to move around. Is there something that can be done to make that situation safer?

A: You know there's the government of Iraq and us look at that and do analysis of it, and it's not at the checkpoints that we're seeing the level of violence and seeing the casualties produced. It's away from the checkpoints, and in fact the checkpoints have proved very effective in identifying vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, identifying the kidnappers, picking up weapons that are being stored in vehicles and trying to be moved around the city, and then through intelligence sources we in fact can hear and understand that we're having an impact on their ability for free movement. So the inconvenience that the citizens themselves are experiencing ultimately is having a better effect for them in terms of helping reduce some of that violence.

Q: Anything you can do to protect those targets that are repeatedly hit? The mosques, the market zones in particular?

A: I know the government of Iraq is looking at that very closely, and that the mosque is an area that they ultimately do want to put a lot of protection on. And I think you're gonna see some adjustments in their plans, which I should let them talk about but I know they've been talking about the adjustments they're going to make in their plans and take that into consideration just in the last twenty-four hours.

Q: I think a lot of people in Baghdad think it takes more than a few adjustments. People are scared to go out now. They think their city, as one parliamentarian said today, is on the verge of civil war.

A: Yeah, we just do not see that. There's, there's no question there's, there's a level of violence that still exists, but it's not increasing, it's about the same as it has been for the last two or three weeks. Slightly less than it was perhaps a month ago now, not a lot, but just slightly. If you go through and you look at the polling data that's done within the Baghdad area, you'll find that most people say within the neighborhood they live in, they feel very safe. They're very high percentage. But then when you talk to them about well, what's the security like in Baghdad overall, they'll tell you it's not that good. So their perception is where they are is okay, but not in other places. But we need to change that. There's no question that we have to reduce this level of violence. The death of one innocent Iraqi civilian is too many, and, and we're just going to keep focused on this, and we're gonna keep putting the effort, and the time, and the energy to bring them a more stable and secure environment in which to live.

Q: It may be that the level of violence is the same as a couple of months ago, but the perception is that things are getting worse. I guess there is a propaganda war here going on in addition to boots on the ground.

A: Well, I'd have to agree with you there. Because you do have some radical elements, I mean, that are way outside on the left and the right in both the Shiite and the Sunni communities, they're the extremists that inflict harm on each other, which is extremely sad when you look at what these people have gone through already over these many years. And those are the people we're targeting. Those who are operating outside the law and we're going to do everything we can to help these people have the hope, the future, you know, as we say in America, the life, the liberty, and the prosperity, and you know, to have that hope that we do in our lives, to give them that same kind of ability to hope for in their lives too.