NEW YORK – The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday he was "greatly concerned" by a recent survey that concluded many combat troops in Iraq would not report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.
Speaking to the annual meeting of The Associated Press, Gen. David Petraeus called for a "redoubling of our education efforts" to identify potential abuses among soldiers and anticipate problems related to combat stress.
"We can never sink to the level of the enemy," Petraeus said by video link from Baghdad. "We have done that at times in theater and it has cost us enormously" — referring specifically to the torture and humiliation of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib facility west of Baghdad.
Petraeus said he was drafting a memo that would closer examine issues of battlefield ethics and ways pre-empt possible problems, adding that he was "greatly concerned by the results" of a Pentagon report last week by a special mental health advisory team assessing forces serving in Iraq.
"So the first step is that we've got ... make sure that folks remember that that's a foundation for our moral compass ... anything we do that violates that is done at considerable peril," he said.
The Pentagon report included a range of findings that pointed to potential violations of military codes and standards, including only 40 percent of Marines and 55 percent of Army soldiers interviewed saying they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.
The survey also found that 47 percent of U.S. soldiers and 38 percent of Marines interviewed saying noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect; and 44 percent of Marines and 41 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to save the life of a soldier or Marine.
Petraeus noted some successes in adapting to the Iraqi battlefield, such as a better abilities to detect roadside bombs — the chief killer of U.S. forces — and plans to modify military Humvees for greater protections such as V-shaped hulls that can better deflect blasts,
He also reiterated his belief that Iraq's long-term stability cannot be achieved through military means and requires political reconciliation from its main groups: the majority Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. But he noted that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki remains focused on "narrow agendas" standing the way of unity and crucial U.S.-backed legislation, such as a law to share Iraq's oil wealth.
He said he plans to deliver a report to President Bush in the first two weeks of September on the future direction of Iraq, including the U.S.-led effort to try to reclaim Baghdad from extremist factions.
The battles will "likely be harder in Iraq before it gets easier," Petraeus said just hours after two suicide car bombers attacked a market and a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramadi west of the capital — an area where Petraeus noted some success in marshaling Sunni tribes to help fight al-Qaida insurgents. At least 20 people were killed in the attacks.
On Sunday, roadside bombs killed eight American soldiers, including six who died in a single blast in Diyala province — a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency as many militants fled the Baghdad security crackdown.