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Rumsfeld Discusses Progress of Iraqi Government During Visit

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BAKU, Azerbaijan, April 12, 2005 – Progress and continuity were central themes for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today as he participated in a series of meetings with Iraqi leaders during an unannounced visit to the country.

U.S. officials are particularly interested in seeing continued progress in building Iraq's security forces and in ensuring incoming Iraqi leaders elected by the Transitional National Assembly don't purge the country's ministries of political opponents.

"It's important that the new government be attentive to the competent in the ministries and that they avoid unnecessary turbulence," Rumsfeld explained April 11 while en route to Iraq.

In a press conference outside his residence in Baghdad's heavily fortified international zone, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who has been nominated as prime minister of Iraq's Transitional National Assembly, said he doesn't deny there are challenges, but said he believes Iraq will have competent ministries.

"I am sure we are going to form very good ministries," Jaafari said. "All of (the ministers) are good technocrats. They are very efficient (and) from different backgrounds.

"So I think we can cooperate, all of us, and face these challenges together," he added.

As small helicopter from a private security contractor crisscrossed overhead, an American reporter asked Jaafari if he'll fight corruption. "Yes, yes," Jaafari responded.

A short time later, at another Iraqi government building in the international Zone, Rumsfeld again addressed Iraqi, American and international press - this time at the side of Jalal Talabani, who has been nominated to serve as TNA president.

Rumsfeld said he believes it's important to not delay the constitutional process or upcoming national elections. He said the world is watching progress as "the Iraqi people elect a transitional government and move toward a permanent government, a free government, and a freely elected government."

"It is a sunny day today," Rumsfeld remarked about the weather. "It is also a sunny day for Iraq."

In a moment that got a chuckle from the press corps, Rumsfeld - as he does routinely - corrected the premise of a reporter's question.

Rumsfeld stated that he said something the reporter attributed to him with "much greater diplomacy and eloquence."

Placing his hand on Rumsfeld's shoulder, Talabani chimed in with, "Because you are such a good friend, the best friend of Iraq, you can say it frankly, without diplomacy."

Talabani said he believes he can have the ministers for his new government in place within a week. He assured Rumsfeld the new transitional government will "continue our struggle to rise up against corruption, to try to secure our country, and to try to lay the groundwork for the Iraqi people's prosperity."

After spending the morning in Baghdad, Rumsfeld flew to Mosul on an Air Force C-17 cargo jet, then in a helicopter to Salahuddin, in Iraq's Kurdish north. Rumsfeld was met a local airfield by a colorful peshmerga, a Kurdish militia honor guard and military band, and by Kurdish children bearing flowers.

The Kurds ran an autonomous government in a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone protected from Saddam Hussein's government for more than 10 years. Accordingly, their economy and infrastructure are far ahead of those in many areas in the rest of Iraq.

"This is a lovely part of the country. It is green and shows success. It shows economic opportunity," Rumsfeld said during a press conference after meeting with Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani.

From the air, differences between northern Iraq and the rest of the country are stark. Flying north from Mosul, Rumsfeld's helicopter passed over verdant valleys and sharp mountain peaks. Evidence of successful agricultural endeavors show off the area's economic prosperity.

Rumsfeld is the highest-ranking U.S. government official to travel this far into northern Iraq. Barzani called the visit "historic."

"It is a message to restrengthen the alliance that we have established. It is a message of friendship, and certainly we will work together," Barzani said through a translator. "We have worked together for the future of Iraq in order to build the democratic, pluralist, federal Iraq, and for us to work together in the future combating terrorism."

Rumsfeld departed Iraq in the evening and flew to Baku, where he planned to discuss military-to-military agreements with Azerbaijan's minister of defense.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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