- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2004

Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, blamed Coalition Provisional Authority bureaucracy yesterday for the slow development of an effective Iraqi security force and warned that Fallujah was still a threat to the peace in Iraq.

The general also said the terrorist violence was largely being carried out by a homegrown insurgency organized into regional and perhaps national cells complemented by imported suicide bombers.

“I don’t know what the volume of foreign fighters is in Iraq, [but it appears] to be a very small number,” he said at a gathering at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explaining that of the 3,800 people his forces apprehended, only 50 were foreign fighters.

Gen. Swannack commanded the 82nd Airborne from October 2002 to May 2004, during which time he oversaw 18,000 soldiers deployed over a large swath of Iraq west of Baghdad, including the anti-American Sunni Triangle.

He is now deputy commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps and is candid about mistakes he believes were made in Iraq and what must be done to destroy the insurgency threatening the political stability of the country.

While in Iraq, Gen. Swannack established seven battalions of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, but said their ability to fight was curtailed by the slowness of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in delivering needed equipment.

“They don’t have the right accouterments to fight,” he said. Problems in getting badly needed flak vests, communications equipment and vehicles to the Iraqi forces was frustrating and “bugs me to this day.”

Gen. Swannack said he respected the U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer. But below that level, he said, “I didn’t see a whole bunch of folks who wanted to have interest in me or what I was doing. I felt my comments fell on deaf ears.”

For example, he recalled, he had requested equipment to be delivered by the CPA on Nov. 1. But the CPA person in charge left for vacation and never returned.

By Jan. 1, Gen. Swannack said, he was so fed up that he started using funds granted to him under the Commanders’ Emergency Relief Program (CERP).

His other struggle in western Iraq was to work with a local population he said would never like Americans.

“My belief is that 1 percent of the population wants to actively kill coalition forces. Ninety-nine percent are on the fence,” he said.

His strategy was “to kill or capture those who wanted to kill us and work with the local population,” including the thousands of males suddenly unemployed when the CPA dissolved the Iraqi military.

By the end of his tour, he had spent $41 million to build up the Civil Defense Corps and hire people, particularly young males and those “let out of the army for some reason.”

“If I got money from the CPA, it came with too many strings. So I used CERP.”

Gen. Swannack said Fallujah continues to be a “flash point for Iraq. … ”

“How we go ahead and deal with Fallujah is of critical importance,” he said.

A city of some 350,000 people, “Fallujah is like an 18th- or 19th-century town in Iraq vested in tribal and religious law. And that’s the tough nut we need to crack.”

Control of Fallujah was handed over to Iraqi forces led by a former Ba’athist general after an international outcry over how U.S. Marines — who took over from the 82nd Airborne — laid siege to the city in April after the brutal murder of four U.S. contractors there.

“I’m not going to talk about what the Marines did,” said the general.

But, he added, “What we could have done was very surgical, precise activities” against the perpetrators.

He said, he would not have given up control of the volatile city to Iraqi forces until the insurgency had been quashed.

“I never agreed to acquiesce to self-rule or self-security,” he said. “I would not give them free room and board to do what they wanted to do. I think that’s what they wanted, and that’s what we gave them.”

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