A US general based in northern Iraq defended Tuesday his tough punishments for soldiers who get pregnant or impregnate a fellow soldier and said fears the new rules could result in courts-martial were unwarranted.
"I see absolutely no circumstance where I would punish a female soldier by court martial for a violation... none," Major General Anthony Cucolo told ABC News. "I fully intend to handle these cases through lesser disciplinary action."
The Stars and Stripes military newspaper reported that seven US soldiers, including three men, have already been punished under Cucolo's November 4 policy statement. They received letters of reprimand that will not remain in their permanent military file.
Under his new rules, which have unleashed a fiery debate, violators are threatened with criminal charges or even a court-martial. They apply both to women who get pregnant and men who get female soldiers pregnant, even if the couple is married.
"How dare any government say we're going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant," National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill told ABC. "This is not the 1800s."
Cucolo defended his decision as a means to help guard against the loss of valuable female soldiers. US troops get sent back home if they become pregnant. Cucolo currently commands around 22,000 soldiers in northern Iraq, about 1,700 of whom are women.
"I need every soldier I've got, especially since we are facing a drawdown of forces during our mission. Anyone who leaves this fight earlier than the expected 12-month deployment creates a burden on their teammates," he said in a written statement.
The United States, which currently maintains a military force of some 115,000 in Iraq, plans to reduce its footprint to 50,000 by the end of next August ahead of a full withdrawal of all troops by the end of 2011.
"The high operational tempo combined with the hazardous duty faced by Task Force Marne soldiers make it necessary to restrict certain activities in order to maintain good order and discipline and ensure optimal readiness," Cucolo explained in his general order that lists two dozen other banned activities.
The soldiers under his command are also barred from any sexual contact with Iraqi or other non-American nationals who do not belong to coalition forces.
They are forbidden from spending the night with anyone of the opposite sex, unless the couple is married, cannot convert people to their faith, enter a mosque without orders or be in possession of drugs or alcohol.
The Pentagon says a commander can impose such rules to personnel under his command.