Published on Thursday, May 6, 2004 by Reuters
US Must Leave Falluja, Iraq General Says
by Michael Georgy
FALLUJA, Iraq - The Iraqi former general entrusted with pacifying volatile Falluja said on Thursday U.S. Marines must withdraw quickly from around the troubled town and go home so stability can be restored.
"I want the American soldier to return to his camp. What I want more is that he returns to the United States," General Muhammad Latif told Reuters in an interview.
"They should leave very quickly, very quickly or there will be problems. If they stay it will hurt the confidence and we have built confidence. They should leave so that there will be more calm."
Latif and a group of generals offered to tame Falluja with their Falluja Brigade after the town was subject to a month-long siege in which hundreds of Iraqis died as U.S. air strikes and guerrilla mortars rocked the town.
Life has been calm over the last few days, but Marines are still on the edge of the Golan area of Falluja, where the heaviest fighting took place, manning checkpoints with Iraqi security forces under Latif's command.
Major General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marines Division, said on Thursday after meeting Latif the Marines would maintain a presence around Falluja until certain security requirements were met.
"At some point, I am sure we will pull back if the foreign fighters are confirmed and turned over to us, the heavy weapons are turned over to the Iraqi army and then we get them. It is event driven," he said.
But Latif said there was no need for them to stay because Falluja was peaceful.
"I am confident they will leave in a few days," he said.
Wearing a European-style suit and tie, Latif has been meeting top Marine commanders to discuss ways of imposing security in Iraq's most rebellious city.
On Thursday, he appeared with four other Iraqi former generals, pointing out that one of them was a Shi'ite, a suggestion that his force in mostly Sunni Falluja would be mixed.
TORTURED UNDER SADDAM
Latif denied reports he had worked for Saddam Hussein's intelligence service.
"I never worked for the Mukhabarat at all. Saddam threw me in jail the first day he came to power for a period of seven years. I had two hands broken by Saddam. My arm and shoulder were broken due to torture under Saddam," he said.
"I was innocent except for the fact that I stood against a dictatorship. When I served in the special forces I had some information on Saddam, his brother and family. They hated me very much."
Saddam is gone but Iraq's problems are multiplying and Latif faces the daunting task of taming a combustible mix of tribes, Islamic militants, guerrillas, suspected foreign fighters and fierce anti-American sentiment on the streets of Falluja.
Latif dismissed the possibility that guerrillas lying low after the fighting could return with their rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assalt rifles.
"There are no insurgents. There are kind people," said Latif, who said he studied in Britain.
The Americans have said repeatedly that foreign fighters played a big role in the violence. But that's another subject Latif brushes aside.
"We have underground mujahideen. I believe 37 corpses are buried in the graveyard. I saw it with my own eyes," he said.
Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited.