BAGHDAD — A U.S. general in Iraq who listed pregnancy as a reason for court-martialing soldiers said Tuesday that he would never actually seek to jail someone over the offense, but wanted to underline the seriousness of the issue.
Last month, Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo issued a policy that would allow soldiers who become pregnant and their sexual partners to be court-martialed. But he appeared to back away from the policy in a conference call with reporters, saying the policy was intended to emphasize the problems created when pregnant soldiers go home and leave behind a weaker unit.
"I have never considered court-martial for this, I do not ever see myself putting a soldier in jail for this," said Cucolo, who oversees U.S. forces in northern Iraq. But since pregnant women automatically go home, their units are left short-staffed, he said.
"I need every soldier I've got," Cucolo said. "I need them for the entire duration of this deployment."
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Cucolo commands a task force of 22,000 soldiers, which oversees northern Iraq, including cities such as Tikrit, Kirkuk and Mosul. He said he has 1,682 female soldiers.
As soon as the military knows a soldier is pregnant, she is immediately sent home.
"If you are a pregnant female in a combat zone, you are redeployed, period. That is actually not my call, that is just what we do," he said.
Cucolo is believed to be the first to make the pregnancy an offense that could be dealt with by court-martial — for both the man and the woman. The ruling only applies to troops under his command. He said women who are raped would not be subject to this order.
"I have to accomplish a very complex mission," he said. "I'm going to do what it takes to maintain our strength."
Cucolo's order outlines some 20 barred activities. Most of them are aimed at keeping order and preventing criminal activity, such as selling a weapon or taking drugs.
The general said he consulted with a number of women in his unit before coming up with the policy and all supported it.
"It's a very difficult issue because pregnancy does impede readiness," said Genevieve Chase, the founder of American Women Veterans, an organization designed to help female veterans. "Enforcing the rule of this is what's going to be difficult."