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Rumsfeld Wraps Up Overseas Trip With Visit to Baghdad

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2003 – A first-hand look at Iraqi Civil Defense Corps training and a series of meetings with military, coalition and Iraqi officials made for a busy afternoon Dec. 6 for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The Iraqi capital was the last stop of an overseas trip for the secretary, who left Washington Nov. 30 and participated in the Dec. 1-2 NATO defense ministers conference in Brussels, Belgium. Over the next four days, Rumsfeld traveled to Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Georgia and Iraq. A planned stop in Uzbekistan Dec. 5 was cancelled when heavy fog prevented his plane from landing.

Rumsfeld arrived at about 11 a.m. following a morning visit to Kirkuk, and traveled by helicopter to a forward operating base of the 82nd Airborne Division. At various sites on the compound, he watched U.S. soldiers training ICDC recruits. One group - the newest - was working on drill and marching skills, and the precision of their steps and maneuvers belied the fact they're in only their third day of the two-week program.

A second group was learning about proper care and cleaning of firearms, while a third was practicing techniques for entering a room where hostile elements might be present. Iraqi translators repeated the U.S. soldiers' English instructions for the recruits.

"I think what I've seen first-hand is the fact that the approach we've taken attempting to develop Iraqi security forces has been the right approach," Rumsfeld said. The training is good, he added, and the security work the graduates do is being accomplished "well and professionally."

The secretary noted the rapid progress of training Iraqis and putting them to work, noting that on June 1, the number of trained security forces was zero, and that only six months later, more than 140,000 Iraqis are working in the ICDC, the border patrol, the Iraqi police and the new Iraqi army.

"Now they represent the largest single security force in the country," Rumsfeld said. "They are larger than the U.S. forces, and, I believe at this stage, almost larger than all the coalition forces combined." And with more Iraqis handling security, the coalition is getting better intelligence, he added.

"(They) know the neighborhood. They know the language. They can tell things that are unusual ... and are coming forward with information that is improving the coalition forces' ability to aggressively weed out the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime," he said.

After having lunch with soldiers in the compound, Rumsfeld traveled to the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority, where he met with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and other leaders of Combined Joint Task Force 7 and with L. Paul Bremer III, CPA administrator. He also found time to tape a broadcast address to the Iraqi people.

In the message, the secretary provided an update on the growing participation of the Iraqi people in their own security and on the progress coalition forces are making in defeating the enemies of a stable and free Iraq.

"The battle in Iraq is not a fight between Iraqis and foreign forces," he said. "It is a battle between free Iraqis and the last remnants of a defeated regime, who still do not realize that their cause is lost." He said when the history of the liberation is written, Iraqi children "will read about the heroism of so many brave Iraqis who struggled and sacrificed, and gave their lives, for their country's freedom."

Later, the secretary visited the staff and patients at the 28th Combat Support hospital, and credited the staff with saving more than 1,000 lives to date. Afterward, Rumsfeld met with Abdel Aziz Hakim, president of the Iraqi governing council.

A senior U.S. official who was present in the meeting said that while the tone was "warm and cordial" it included frank discussions about the need for the council to quicken its pace in taking the necessary steps needed for Iraqi self- government between now and June, when sovereignty in Iraq is scheduled to transfer to the Iraqi people from the CPA.

The official said Rumsfeld and Hakim agreed that much needs to be done in a short time. Hakim told the secretary the council is unanimous in its support for the principles of a Nov. 15 agreement on the way ahead in the political process. The principles include a bill of rights, a transitional national assembly and establishment of a provisional government. Hakim added, however, that details need to be worked out that would help to win over a large segment of the population.

The official said Rumsfeld recalled his Dec 5 visit to Georgia, and pointed out that the three interim leaders of that country in the wake of the president's resignation last month all come from different parties, but have put their personal political agendas aside to do what's best for Georgia. Hakim, he said, took the point.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, met with the secretary at Baghdad International Airport before Rumsfeld boarded his jet for the first leg of his trip home. The secretary arrived back in Washington Dec. 7.

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