BAGHDAD - The U.S. military commander in northern Iraq defended on Tuesday a new policy imposing strict penalties, including possible jail time, for troops who become pregnant or get other soldiers pregnant.

In this 22,000-soldier task force, I need every soldier I've got, especially since we are facing a drawdown of forces during our mission, Major General Tony Cucolo, who commands U.S. soldiers in northern Iraq, said in a statement.

Cucolo's new directive, issued last month when he took command, lays out a long list of activities that could lead to court martial or criminal charges, from gambling to stealing historical artefacts, and applies only to his command.

The clause about pregnancy has garnered the most attention, affecting seven soldiers under Cucolo's command, according to military spokesman Major Jeff Allen. The command includes 1,682 female soldiers, Allen said.

There are some 115,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, a number set to drop to about 50,000 by the end of August next year as the U.S. military ends combat operations. Under a deal with Iraq, a full withdrawal of U.S. troops is due by the end of 2011.

U.S. Central Command rules do not prohibit sexual contact between consenting, single service members.

I wanted to encourage my soldiers to think before they acted, and understand their behaviour and actions have consequences -- all of their behaviour.

I consider the male soldier as responsible for taking a soldier out of the fight just as responsible as the female soldier who must redeploy, Cucolo said.

Allen said Cucolo takes each case on its own merits, considering each set of circumstances before deciding on punishment.

He said such punishment could, in the most serious case, include jail time. But soldiers violating the rule so far have received letters of reprimand.
In a statement to ABC News, Cucolo said he would not resort to using the court martial for such cases.

I see absolutely no circumstance where I would punish a female soldier by court martial for a violation ... I fully intend to handle these cases through lesser disciplinary action, he wrote, according to the ABC report.

(Reporting by Missy Ryan; editing by Tim Pearce)