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Visit Gives Rumsfeld Firsthand Look at Iraqi Forces

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 11, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told several hundred U.S. soldiers in Mosul today that he was "every bit as proud" to be there as he was during his pride-filled moments attending Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's inauguration in December.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld addresses troops at Mosul during a Feb. 11 ceremony honoring Iraqi, U.S., and Algerian troops for their service during the Iraqi elections. Photo by Sgt. John Franzen, USA
  

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On that day in Kabul, he said, his thoughts turned to "so many American men and women in uniform who made that day possible," especially the fallen and the wounded. He thought he could never feel as proud as he had at that moment until today, that is.

The secretary reminded the soldiers of the oppression under which the Iraqi people had lived before they were liberated. "They had to learn helplessness, carefulness. If they stuck their head up and expressed an opinion that wasn't consistent with the regime's, they knew they'd end up in one of those mass graves." He thanked the soldiers for helping the Iraqis to take another step in their Jan. 30 elections to shrug off oppression and embrace democracy.

Rumsfeld's Mosul visit was his first stop in an unannounced trip to Iraq. This was reportedly the secretary's eighth visit to the country since coalition forces liberated it from Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

Rumsfeld hit the ground running, landing at Mosul airfield to start a jam- packed day that included a firsthand look at Iraqi security forces.

Before he addressed the U.S. troops, he went to the combat surgical hospital at the airfield. There, he chatted with Army Sgt. Sean Ferguson of the 25th Infantry Division, who was recuperating from being shot in the right hand by a sniper - the second time he had been wounded during his four months in Iraq. Earlier in his tour, Ferguson was injured by shrapnel from a car bombing.

"I sure want to wish you well," Rumsfeld told the Visalia, Calif., native. "I appreciate your service to your country."

Next, the secretary presented Army Commendation Medals to 10 U.S. and 10 Iraqi soldiers at the airfield's theater for their roles in providing a safe environment for citizens in Ninevah province to vote in the Jan. 30 provincial- council and national-assembly elections.

After the troop talk in Mosul, the secretary and his party boarded UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to go to the Joint Coordination Center at Forward Operating Base Freedom, the headquarters for operations in northwest Iraq.

The governor and police chief of Iraq's Ninevah province, other local officials, and three senior Iraqi Intervention Force officers met with Rumsfeld during his JCC visit.

The police department in Mosul, which is in Ninevah, had evaporated in November when Iraq security forces had wilted, under intense insurgency attacks. The department had to be rebuilt in time to provide election security Jan. 30.

"It was just weeks before the election when people said Mosul wouldn't work," Rumsfeld said. "And then we got reports that Iraqi security forces of all types were moving up, and it looked like it would work." The local officials, through an interpreter, told the secretary they were able to keep all 95 polling places open all day, with Iraqi National Guard and Special Forces providing three lines of defense.

Clearly enjoying the success story, the secretary peppered the Iraqi officials with questions, his own excitement and the Iraqis' pride gaining with every piece of the story.

When Rumsfeld asked if the successful election had given the Iraqi people confidence in facing down those who threatened them with death if they participated, one official responded through an interpreter, predicting an even better election when Iraqis vote on a new constitution in December.

"Now the people have no fear," the official said. "The next election will be even more successful."

The secretary and his party then returned to Mosul airfield to board an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport jet bound for Baghdad. At Camp Dublin here, Iraqi forces showed him demonstrations of their Emergency Response Unit and Counter Terrorist Force capabilities.

At the next stop, a 20-minute helicopter flight to Tadji, the secretary visited the Combined Military Advisory Training Team for overviews on the build-up of Iraq's 1st Mechanized Brigade, 1st Transportation Regiment and the Iraqi Intervention Force.

The secretary's whirlwind morning ended back in Baghdad for a working lunch with Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq.

Rumsfeld's afternoon schedule included meetings with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and other key government officials, and Army Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps.

Rumsfeld's trip to Iraq followed two days in informal meetings with NATO defense ministers in Nice, France.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visits with Sgt. Sean Ferguson, now a two-time Purple Heart recipient, at the military hospital in Mosul on Feb. 11. Photo by Sgt. John Franzen, USA  
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