garners comments on iraq

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    Garner: A Million Iraqi Corpses Possible
    The former head of the Iraq reconstruction effort also says the continuing uncertainty about Sadam Hussein's fate will further complicate the reconstruction effort there.

    9:29 PM EDT,July 2, 2003
    By Mark Fineman and John Hendren, Times Staff Writers

    WASHINGTON — The former head of the U.S.-led effort to rebuild Iraq predicted Wednesday that investigators would find the corpses of as many as 1 million Iraqis executed during Saddam Hussein's reign.

    Reflecting the Bush administration's increasing emphasis on human-rights violations by Saddam — as more time passes without discovery of weapons of mass destruction — retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner offered the highest such estimate to date by a present or former senior official of the U.S.-led coalition.

    "I think before it's all over that we will come close to uncovering 1 million bodies killed from probably in the mid-'80s all the way up to the time of the war," Garner said.

    Garner's estimate of the number of Iraqi citizens slain by Saddam's government in "killing fields" scattered mostly in Shiite regions of Iraq is plausible, said Ann Clywd, Britain's envoy to Iraq for human rights.

    In an interview with the Los Angeles Times reflecting on his four months as head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Garner brushed aside criticism of his efforts. He asserted that the United States would succeed in building a new, democratic and peaceful Iraq.

    "I think there's unrealistic expectations on the part of those who are criticizing," Garner said.

    Those involved in the reconstruction effort — redubbed the Coalition Provisional Authority — have known that, he said.

    "I said, `When you get there, it's going to be the most chaotic thing you ever experienced in your life. And you'll look up and say: "How in the hell can we get this done?""' Garner recalled. "And I just said, `Hang in there, because it'll all start coming together.' And it is now."

    That task, Garner said, will take a year or two. He added that his replacement, L. Paul Bremer III, "has got at least the third-hardest job in the world — behind (President) Bush and (British Prime Minister Tony) Blair — and it may be harder."

    Garner, 65, who spent more than three decades in the Army, said his mission in Iraq was "the most challenging job I ever had."

    He blamed the reconstruction effort's slow start on massive looting that gutted virtually every major government ministry his agency planned to use as a cornerstone for rebuilding. He also blamed the faulty telecommunications system, much of which was destroyed by U.S. forces during the war.

    The looting, he said, could not have been prevented because American combat forces were too busy fighting to capture Baghdad while most of it took place.

    Among the top priorities facing U.S. troops is capturing Saddam, Garner said. He said lingering uncertainty about the fate of the former dictator will continue to complicate reconstruction efforts.

    "I think 90 percent of the Iraqi people are happy as hell" that the United States invaded and occupied their country, he said. "But they're not saying anything because they have the experience of, `He (Saddam) was there with us for 30 years, and nobody has showed me his body yet. And if he comes back, he's going to get even with everybody.

    "So they're just sitting there doing nothing. They're fence-sitters just watching."

    Garner spoke most passionately about the mass graves, especially those near Hillah, the renamed biblical city of Babylon.

    "You go stand out in those killing fields and look at them exhume the remains and put them in those plastic bags, some of them aren't any bigger than this," he said, holding his arms barely a yard apart. "They're just kids — a significant number of them."

    Other estimates of the number slain during Saddam's regime range from 500,000 to 800,000, according to Clwyd, a member of the British Parliament.

    "Anything's possible in this country where so many people disappeared or were executed," said Clwyd, who recently returned from a visit to Iraq.

    Records of the dead were carefully kept by the Baathist government, much as German Nazis recorded the killings of Jews in World War II. Yet much of the data remains unreviewed.

    As recently as three weeks ago at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, records of the dead littered the floor. The papers suggested that some victims were fed into "plastic shredders," machines designed to shred plastic that were found at the site. Prison records referred to killings by "mincing," Clwyd said.

    Added Garner:

    "I went to just one killing field outside of Hillah ... and they brought the old man up there who was there at the time. And I said, `How did this happen?' He said, `Every morning, at 9 o'clock, they began killing, and they killed continuously, constantly, until 5 o'clock, and then they shut it off.' And he said it lasted for 31 days.

    "I asked the governor there, `How many people got killed?' And he said, `In Hillah alone, we're missing over 100,000 people."'

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