Secretary Hints at Troop Reduction During Flight to Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq, Dec. 22, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hinted at an announcement on troops levels in Iraq during a flight here today.
The secretary said there has not been an official U.S. government announcement, but said one will be forthcoming soon.
"It's possibly the worst-kept secret in Baghdad," said a senior defense official. News reports have said that there will be a two-brigade cut in the number of troops needed in Iraq.
Senior defense officials said the increasing size and capabilities of Iraqi forces are primarily responsible for the possible cut. Iraqi soldiers and police handled the recent elections well. There were few incidents in any part of the country, and a record number of voters turned out, officials said.
Embassy officials said some 68 percent of eligible voters participated in the Dec. 15 election.
Rumsfeld arrived here today and immediately went into meetings with Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzhad.
After the meeting, he was scheduled to hold a short news conference, but word leaked out and hundreds of U.S., Australian, British and other coalition servicemembers swarmed to the middle of the Al Faw Palace to hear him. As he emerged from the meeting, the crowd burst into applause - clearly not something the secretary expected. "I am very pleased to see so many of the troops who do such a wonderful job in Iraq for our country, for the world and for the Iraqi people" Rumsfeld said.
This was the secretary's 11th visit to Iraq since April 2003, when he met with troopers of the 3rd Infantry Division at the then-newly renamed Baghdad International Airport. "One can't help but look back over the recent years and appreciate the impressive accomplishments that have been achieved," he said.
Rumsfeld said the political process has moved forward, and the Iraqis have met every political benchmark. "We're now in a period where the politicking and the pulling and the pushing and the debating and the arguing over who will do what and what positions people will have" begins, he said.
The secretary said he thinks just the fact that Iraqis are having these discussions is a cause for celebration.
U.S. officials said they are not too concerned that the government may take some time to form. Senior Multinational Forces Iraq officials said unity is more important than speed in forming the government. It is important that Iraqis perceive their new government is inclusive and that all viewpoints get representation, they said.
"The work that you do in so many different ways has changed this country, and it's changed it for the good," Rumsfeld told the servicemembers.