Rumsfeld Praises Iraqi Resolve
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait, Feb. 22, 2004 Terrorists have been targeting some of the roughly 200,000 Iraqis participating in their country's security, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today the Iraqi people don't like it and they're not giving in.
"Instead of responding by acquiescing," Rumsfeld told reporters during a refueling stop earlier in the day at Shannon, Ireland, "we see that volunteers are still in line to join the police. They're still in line to join the army. Instead of retreating, they are leaning forward and taking losses, and God bless them for it. And when the story is written on Iraq finally, it will be a story that will include Iraqis fighting for their own freedom and putting their own lives at risk, and that's impressive." The secretary was en route here for a meeting with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Ahmad al-Jabar al-Sabah.
Rumsfeld listed indicators that al Qaeda and other terrorist networks are "involved and active" in Iraq. "There's a coincidence of interest on the part of the terrorist networks, plus the former regime elements, plus some criminals," the secretary said.
He also cited efforts to create strife among the country's ethnic and religious groups, and the violence against Iraqi security forces. While the indicators point toward terrorist networks, Rumsfeld said, it's hard to tell where they're from. "Some of these folks have 13 different passports and 20 different aliases," he noted.
Rumsfeld said progress toward the June 30 transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people is going as well as one should expect, given Iraq's inexperience with democracy. He pointed out that democracy has a "normal untidiness" to it as people discuss, debate and argue.
"That's a healthy thing," he said. "We do that in our country as well." The difference, he said, is that until Iraq was liberated, it was not a place where matters of national policy were up for discussion.
"They have been living for several decades under a very vicious dictatorship," Rumsfeld said, "where they did not have the opportunity to say what they thought and to vote as they wished, to compromise and to have the protection of a constitution."
He noted that Afghanistan now has a constitution and an interim government, and is moving toward elections. "We're going to see what happens in Iraq," he said. "My guess is it will be not perfectly predictable, as most democracies are not."
Coalition forces have begun reducing their profile in some cities, being available from the outskirts if needed. This allows Iraqis to move to the forefront as their security forces continue to grow in numbers, experience and visibility. Rumsfeld said the degree of more such shifts will differ from region to region, and probably will "ebb and flow" as local commanders make decisions based on changes in the local situation.