Secretary Praises 'Breathtaking' Courage of Iraqi People
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2005 The Iraqi people showed "breathtaking" individual and collective courage by participating in the country's Jan. 30 election, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here Feb. 1.
Rumsfeld commented on the Iraqi election in interviews with Fox News Channel and CNN.
While it's too soon to know how things will turn out in the long run, the election was "an amazing accomplishment for the Iraqi people," the secretary told CNN.
"I think that 35 years of a repressive dictatorship can change people," Rumsfeld said. "It can affect their ethics and their morale and their confidence. It can impose a feeling of helplessness on them. Under Saddam Hussein, if you stuck your head up and disagreed, you'd be killed, so people learned not to disagree. And they learned to accept. And yet here they showed a collective and individual act of courage that was just breathtaking."
In his Fox interview, the secretary noted that a campaign of intimidation failed to keep most Iraqis from voting. "They were told if they voted they would be killed," he said. "The election workers were told they'd be killed if they worked at the election area. Iraqi security forces were attacked, and they stayed right there and did their job."
The result of the Iraqi people's courage, the secretary said, was that those who want freedom saw they have plenty of company. "The important thing was they saw that the overwhelming majority of the Iraqis, millions of Iraqis, want to vote, they want to have elections, they want to be free, they want to make a success out of their country, and they saw that everyone else felt that way," Rumsfeld said. "The encouragement and the confidence that that gives them just has to be enormous. That has to cause a tipping of support for the government, whoever is elected."
People must be patient as the election's aftermath plays out, Rumsfeld told CNN. He explained that counting the votes will take about two weeks, and the newly elected national assembly must be organized and seated before it selects a president, two deputy presidents and a prime minister. Then, he continued, the prime minister must select the people to serve on the cabinet and run the government's various ministries -- and they'll need time to get things organized.
"Now you're talking about February, March, probably into April," Rumsfeld said. "It takes time for it. Democracy is not efficient. It's the best form of government that anyone's ever tried, but it doesn't do things in one second because it's not dictatorial. So we're in a period where we're going to have to work with them and have them sort through and fashion an Iraqi solution to how they're going to manage their freedom."
The secretary acknowledged to Fox the price of Iraq's progress and said the successful election carries a message to people who have sacrificed in the effort as well as to the effort's critics.
"You can't help but think of all the people who have been killed or wounded," he said. "Those people who were there putting their lives at risk, those people who fell in the nation's service over there, those people who were wounded and are now in recuperation and therapy and trying to recover from terrible wounds, they have to be proud."
He said the success of the election also made him think of "all the people who have said we shouldn't be there, we should pull out, we shouldn't have done it, that type of thing."
In both interviews, Rumsfeld stood firmly behind the Pentagon's assertion that more than 130,000 Iraqi security forces are trained, equipped and working in the country's defense and interior ministries -- an declaration challenged during Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent Senate confirmation hearing. The U.S. military commanders in Iraq keep track of the number of trained and equipped Iraqi forces, and he believes them, Rumsfeld pointed out.
Rumsfeld said that Afghanistan, with a head start on Iraq, continues its march toward democracy despite predictions to the contrary. "If you think back about Afghanistan, everyone said this country couldn't do it," he told Fox. "Sure enough, there they are. They've elected a president. They're going to have parliamentary elections this April or May. They're on a good path towards a democratic system stacked full of all of the diverse elements of the country."
The question of when U.S. forces can come home from Iraq will be answered by conditions, the secretary told CNN, not by a timetable.
"It will depend on how fast the Iraqi people are able to come together, as they did on election day, and develop that capacity to provide their own security," he said. "They're doing it -- they've made good strides. We're making good progress, and notwithstanding where you hear, 'Well, the Iraqi security forces aren't very good.' In fact, they did a very good job on election day."
During his Fox interview, Rumsfeld also addressed the issue of when U.S. troops would come home. "The goal is to assist the Iraqis to develop the capability with respect to their security forces so that they can provide for their own security," he said. "And that's what we're doing. When that's done, they'll come home."
In the meantime, Rumsfeld said, the progress achieved and progress that lies ahead should be a great source of pride for U.S. servicemembers.
"They know that what they're doing is noble work. And when this is over, they will look back with great pride on what they've accomplished, on the people -- 25 million people in Afghanistan they've liberated, 25 million people in Iraq they will have liberated -- and they will see those two countries on a path towards democracy, and they'll be proud the rest of their lives," he said.