Rumsfeld Meets Top Leaders, Troops, Iraqis in Baghdad Visit
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait, Feb. 23, 2004 Meetings with military and civilian officials and visits with U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces in Baghdad Feb. 23 marked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's fourth visit to Iraq since the country's liberation.
The day was to have culminated with the secretary having dinner with troops at the Baghdad International Airport dining facility. But when he was inundated with requests from soldiers and airmen to allow a friend to take their picture with him, Rumsfeld spent most of the visit doing just that. Hundreds of troops lined up along the long wall of the building, patiently waiting their turn, and the secretary greeted the last as enthusiastically as the first.
Rumsfeld's first stop of the day was to the "Muleskinner" forward operating base of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He received a briefing on Task Force 1st Armored Division activities and the reduction of the coalition's "footprint" in Baghdad from 36,000 soldiers at 48 locations to 24,000 at eight locations on the outskirts of the city by mid-April.
Officials told the secretary the threat environment in Baghdad is such that Iraqi security forces can manage it. The city now has 12,000 fully equipped police officers, seven battalions of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and three battalions of the Iraqi army.
Next, Rumsfeld paid a brief visit to a class of ICDC trainees before moving on to Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters, where he met with key officials. These included CPA administrator Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III; Army Lt. Gens. Ricardo Sanchez and Thomas Metz, the top U.S. military leaders in Iraq; and Charles Duelfer, the new head of the Iraq Survey Group. He also was interviewed by the Iraqi Media Network and visited the Baghdad Police Academy.
Speaking with Pentagon reporters traveling with him, the secretary had high praise for the Iraqi citizens who continue to join the country's fledgling security forces, using the police academy cadets he'd just seen as an example.
"It was terrific," he said. "What you've got is a group of people, a whole variety of ages some young and some not so young (and) all sizes and shapes. They were upbeat. They were proud of what they were doing. They were enthusiastic about their leadership."
Most of all, Rumsfeld said, they understand what the new Iraq is all about, and want to be part of it despite the dangers they will face. "Let there be no doubt that there have been a lot of Iraqi police men and women killed in the last six (to) eight months," he noted. "And they're aware of that." Rumsfeld said Ahmed Ibrahim, the Iraqi national police chief, whom the secretary met with during the day, embodies that spirit despite having been shot during a recent raid.
Clearly energized despite a long day that began with a flight from Kuwait early in the morning, Rumsfeld said he gets a lot out of visits like this. "There's just no substitute for it," he said. "The meetings I've had, and the opportunities I've had to talk to the troops and to say 'thank you' to them, the calibration I've gotten from the people here on the ground, the calibration I very likely have provided them from my perspective is all critically important in linking what's going on here to the president of the United States and the government of the United States."
In the last stop of his Baghdad visit, Rumsfeld told the troops at the dining hall how happy he was to be with them and how important their work is to the world. "As I travel around the country, I can tell you that the people are appreciative of you," the secretary said. "They are grateful to you for being all volunteers people who have put your hands up and said, 'I want to be a part of this.'"
He told the troops that in a visit to South Korea two months ago, a journalist asked him why South Koreans should go halfway around the world and risk their lives in Iraq. That very question was being debated that day in the country's parliament.
Rumsfeld impressed upon the Baghdad troops how South Korea, in stark contrast to North Korea, is a vigorous and prosperous country with a vibrant democracy, a free press and a booming economy. Rumsfeld said he told the journalist to look out the window and compare South Korea with its neighbor to the north, then to ponder that Americans had come halfway across the globe and had given their lives 50 years ago to help make their success and prosperity possible.
"And 50 years from now, people are going to look back on what you've done here," he told the troops in Baghdad, and know that they were part of what then will be a free and flourishing Iraq.