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Secretary Rumsfeld En-Route to Kuwait

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 22, 2004
Secretary Rumsfeld En-Route to Kuwait

            Rumsfeld:  A couple of questions, then I'm going to go have a cup of coffee.


            Q:  [inaudible]


            Rumsfeld:  You go regularly.


            Q:  Pretty much.


            Rumsfeld:  It gives us a chance like this to visit with some troops which is about the most fun and best thing you can do in this job is to have a chance to thank them.  They are certainly terrific folks, eager to serve and all volunteers, and our country's fortunate to have them.


            Q:  And were they surprised to see you?


            Rumsfeld:  Indeed.


            Q:  What are your feelings now about what needs to be accomplished for a transition to an Iraqi government?  Clearly Ambassador Bremer is looking at making some changes in the plan.  What are your thoughts about the June date and in your view is the caucus plan now officially dead?


            Rumsfeld:  Oh, goodness.  Jerry Bremer is working that with the President and also us, and it is going along about as one ought to expect.  You've got a country that has no experience with democracy to speak of for the adult lifetime of anyone there.  You have the normal untidiness of democracy where people say this and people say that and they discuss and debate and argue, and that's a healthy thing.  We do that in our country as well.


            The difference here is that in Iraq they have been living for several decades under a very vicious dictatorship 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.


            We watched what happened in Afghanistan.  They now have a constitution, they're moving towards elections and they have an interim government.  That's a good thing.  We're going to see what happens in Iraq.


            My guess is it will be not perfectly predictable, as most democracies are not.


            Q:  What are your feelings now about the role of outside forces including al Qaida and al Qaida-related fighters in Iraq?  Do you believe the Zarkawi letter is for real, that it's genuine?  Do you believe there are al Qaida influences in Iraq?  What can you tell us about that?


            Rumsfeld:  The experts in our government believe that the letter is authentic.  I asked the officials who study those matters personally on Friday.  That is their belief.  I don't read Arabic.  That's not my business to be the authenticator, but the people who make a living authenticating seem to feel it is in fact exactly what it seems to be.


            Q:  And the role of al Qaida fighters in Iraq or al Qaida influences?


            Rumsfeld:  They're clearly involved and active.  There's also no doubt in my mind but that several things are happening.  One, there's a coincidence of interests on the part of terrorist networks, plus the former regime elements plus some criminals.


            Second, they are, some among them are clearly attempting to foment strife between the various religious and ethnic groups in the country hoping that that will advantage them and disadvantage the coalition forces.


            The other thing that seems notable is the fact that we have security forces that have gone from zero up to something in the range of 200,000 and they are being attacked by the terrorists and the forces opposing the coalition.  They're killing Iraqis.  And interestingly, the Iraqi people don't like it.  Instead of responding by acquiescing, 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.


            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.


            Q:  With all the attacks on Iraqi forces can you stick to the military plan of reducing the footprint in Baghdad at least as you want to as General Dempsey's outlined?


            Rumsfeld:  I think that what you'll see is that it will vary in different parts of the country over time and there will be an ebb and flow.  IT may very well be in one section of the country.  The military commander will make a judgment that they can move back and put the Iraqi forces out front, and that that will stick permanently.  It may also be that in some parts of the country that will happen and they'll make a judgment a month or two or three or four later that they need to press back in and support the Iraqi security forces and that you'll see that ebb and flowing for a period of time, I suspect.


            Q:  Mr. Secretary, could you be more specific about who is trying to foment sectarian violence?  Which of these elements that you mentioned?


            Rumsfeld:  We've seen information that indicates that terrorists are attempting to cause violence between various religious and ethnic groups in the country.


            Q:  These are foreign terrorists or Iraqi terrorists?


            Rumsfeld:  They're terrorist networks.  You keep saying foreign.  Some of these folks have 13 different passports and 20 different aliases.  It's hard to know what their country of origin might be.


            Q:  Mr. Secretary, other than the Zarkawi letter is there any other evidence that has come to light about al Qaida links specifically to the insurgency?


            Rumsfeld:  I'm going to leave that to the intelligence community.


            Q:  Was the attack on the police station in Fallujah an instance of that?  An attempt to spark communal or intra-communal violence?


            Rumsfeld:  I can't track a threat through that that way.  Everything I've said is accurate.  But in which instance it's a manifestation of what particular attitude is something that's very difficult to predict.


            Q:  Thank you, sir.


            Q:  There are limits to what you can see during this time given security conditions.  What do you get out of these trips?


            Rumsfeld:  A lot.  I get a chance to say thank you to folks that are putting their lives at risk for our country and that's really important.  It's important to me, it's important for them to know how deeply we feel about what they're doing and what a fine job they're doing.  And they are doing a fine job.


            Second, I have an opportunity to talk to people at different levels -- military as well as civilian -- and give them a chance to say things and ask questions.  I have a chance to talk to Iraqi and U.S. leaders and hear their views on what their thinking is happening now and what they're planning with respect to the future.


            I've found it consistently useful.


            Voice:  Thanks, folks.


            Q:  Thank you, sir.

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