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Rumsfeld Arrives in Baghdad to Meet with Troops, Iraqi Officials

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 12, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in the Iraqi capital in predawn hours today after an overnight flight from Washington. He plans to visit U.S. troops and meet with coalition military leaders and Iraqi officials.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and recently elected Iraqi President Jalal Talabani conduct a press conference in Baghdad, Iraq, on April 12. Rumsfeld is in Iraq to visit with U.S. and coalition forces and to meet with the newly elected members of the Iraqi government. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"Obviously the first and foremost thing on the secretary's mind is the morale of the troops," said a senior defense official traveling with Rumsfeld.

Among the secretary plans was a town hall-style meeting with soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. The unit made the historic drive to Baghdad in March and April 2003. Many in the unit are on their second or third Iraq rotation.

Rumsfeld is also scheduled to briefly visit the 86th Combat Support Hospital, which is reported to be the fifth busiest trauma center in the world. The hospital treats Americans and other coalition troops, and Iraqi security forces and civilians.

In a briefing on his plane en route to Iraq, Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him that he'll meet with officials from both Iraq's outgoing interim government and the incoming transitional government.

He said January elections to select a Transitional National Assembly were a good sign of progress in the country's political situation, particularly when "after the elections the winners did not try to get even, but rather tried to reach out."

"The people who made the mistake of trying to sit it out now understand it was a mistake and are now leaning forward," Rumsfeld said. "I think all of those things are good signs."

The Transitional National Assembly on April 6 announced its nomination of Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader, as president. A day later the assembly nominated Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite Muslim, as prime minister.

In his meetings with newly elected Iraqi leaders, Rumsfeld plans to stress the importance of not purging ministries simply for political or ethnic reasons.

"It's important that the new government be attentive to the competence in the ministries and that they avoid unnecessary turbulence," Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Iraq. "It seems to me that we have an opportunity to continue to make progress politically, economically, and the Iraqi security forces are making progress to be sure.

"Anything that would delay that or disrupt that as a result of turbulence or lack of competence or corruption would be unfortunate," he continued.

The secretary said he plans to discuss with Iraq's new leaders "important aspects of strengthening the ministries in ways that they can do a still better job for the Iraqi people."

He said he also plans to stress the importance of carrying on the political process as laid out in the Transitional Administrative Law, a document that has served as Iraq's interim constitution. The TAL calls for Iraq's Transitional National Assembly to draft a constitution by Aug. 15, vote on the new constitution via national referendum by Oct. 15, and to hold national elections under the provisions of the new constitution by Dec. 15.

The TAL also allows for one six-month extension on these dates. "Our hope is that that will not occur," Rumsfeld said.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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