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General: Iraq going 'very well'

Associated Press
Published March 6, 2006


WASHINGTON - The Pentagon's top general acknowledged Sunday that "anything can happen" in Iraq, but he said things aren't as bad as some say. "I wouldn't put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they're going very, very well from everything you look at."

The comments drew criticism that Gen. Peter Pace is glossing over problems in the three-year-old U.S. campaign.

"Why would I believe him?" asked Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war. "This administration, including the president, (has) mischaracterized this war for the last two years."

Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited political progress such as holding elections and writing a constitution as well as military progress like training Iraqi security forces. "No matter where you look - at their military, their police, their society - things are much better this year than they were last," Pace said on NBC's Meet the Press .

Murtha, responding to Pace in an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation , said that Iraq has 60 percent unemployment, oil production below prewar levels, and water service to only 30 percent of the population.

U.S. troops are doing everything they can militarily but "are caught in a civil war," said Murtha, a former Marine who has called on the administration to bring U.S. troops home.

Pace said the firestorm that followed the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque two weeks ago had forced Iraqis to look into "that abyss" and realize "that's not where they want to go."

"Anything can happen, I agree," Pace said, then added: "I believe the Iraqi people have shown in the last week to 10 days that they do not want civil war."

TORTURE ALLEGED: Detainees in Iraq are still being tortured, receiving electric shocks and beatings with plastic cables despite U.S. promises to prevent such abuse after the Abu Ghraib scandal, a report by Amnesty International said today. Former detainees claimed they were beaten with plastic cables, given electric shocks and made to stand in a flooded room as an electrical current was passed through the water, London-based Amnesty said. Its report said the interviews were conducted last year and this year.

U.S. detention command spokesman Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill said in an e-mailed response to questions from the Associated Press that all detainees are treated according to international conventions and Iraqi law, and all detainees are given a form explaining the reasons for their imprisonment and their files are reviewed every 90 to 120 days.

U.N. envoy to Iraq Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, meanwhile, expressed serious concern Sunday about human rights in the country, citing reports of excessive use of force, illegal detention centers and disappearances - many of them the responsibility of insurgents.

PRESSURE ON PRIME MINISTER Sunni Arab and Kurdish politicians turned up the heat Sunday on Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to abandon his bid for a new term, while leaders of Iraq's Shiite majority struggled to paper over growing internal divisions.

Despite the squabbling, there were reports the new parliament would be called into session for the first time as early as the end of the week, starting the clock on a 60-day period during which it would have to elect a president and approve a prime minister and Cabinet.

Under the constitution, the Shiites' United Iraqi Alliance, the largest bloc in parliament, has the first crack at forming a government and chose Jaafari as its nominee for prime minister.

But the Alliance has too few seats to act alone. And it is facing a drive by Sunni, Kurdish and some secular parties that want to prevent Jaafari from continuing, favoring instead current Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

SECTARIAN STRIFE CONTINUES: Targeted sectarian violence killed at least five people Sunday. Three men died in a gunfight at a Sunni mosque in Baghdad and two relatives of a top Sunni cleric were slain in a drive-by shooting. Sunnis accused deaths squads allied to the interim government, allegations denied by the Shiite-dominated Interior Ministry.

Sunni and Shiite clerics, meanwhile, issued a joint appeal for Muslim unity and the protection of religious sites.

"Extinguish the flames of the sectarian treachery," said the followers of Sadr and members of the Sunni Endowment, a government agency responsible for Sunni mosques and shrines. "Every drop of blood shed is a waste."