Rumsfeld, Rice Arrive in Iraq to Meet With Military, Government Leaders
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Apr. 26, 2006 With Iraq's unity government in the process of selecting cabinet ministers, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived here this morning on an unannounced visit to meet with his senior military commanders and Iraq's new leaders.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Army Gen. George Casey, commanding general of Multinational Force Iraq, speak to the media after meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on April 26. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also arrived here this afternoon, joining Rumsfeld in meetings with U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Following a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, Rice and Rumsfeld are scheduled to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and later with Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki.
Rumsfeld and Casey met with reporters this morning after the two had spoken for about 30 minutes in Casey's office.
Rumsfeld noted that despite extremists' efforts to derail the process, Iraq's political process continues to move forward after successful elections and the drafting and ratification of a constitution.
"We now are moving through another important milestone -- the formation of a new government, a sovereign government of Iraq, the first government that doesn't have a qualifier in front of it," he said. "It's not a transitional government. It's not an interim government. It's not a governing council. It's a government, a government of Iraq, and that's an important thing. This is a sovereign country, and they're making impressive progress."
Rumsfeld also sharply rebuked what he called "naysayers and critics" who contended that Iraqi security forces aren't up to the job that lies ahead for them. He said people in Washington, D.C., have been "trashing the Iraqi security forces" for three years.
"(They have been) saying that they're not capable of this, they're not capable of that, they can't do this, they can't do that. And the fact of the matter is that what we have said, and what General Casey has just said, is the truth.
"And the truth is they have proceeded with their training and equipping," he continued. "They've gained more experience. They've provided the overwhelming portion of the security for the last two elections and for the referendum on the constitution. And they are increasing their capabilities every day, just as we predicted they would. And those naysayers and critics who constantly tried to undermine and denigrate the quality of those forces were just plain flat wrong."
The secretary said he plans to meet later today with the Iraqi government's newly selected leaders. "From everything I've heard about the meetings that General Casey and Ambassador Zal Khalilzad have had with them, they're moving forward aggressively," Rumsfeld said. "They intend to put together a government, a set of ministers, which would be the next benchmark."
Iraq's leaders are looking for competent cabinet ministers who understand the importance of running their ministries in a nonsectarian way for the benefit of the whole country and recognize the importance of fighting corruption, he said.
Casey said the Iraqi parliament's selection of a prime minister and other leaders is "a major step in the process" toward significant U.S. troop reductions in Iraq, but he emphasized it's only one piece of the puzzle.
"It's interesting to think that in this country last year, there were three national polls," Casey said. "In each of them, the levels of participation got greater, (and) the levels of violence got less. And this government formation now is another step."
Once the cabinet is chosen and settles in to start governing, he added, that will mark the next major step.
"So we are seeing the situation a little clearer, I'd say, and the clearer I see it, the better I can make my recommendations" on troop reductions, the general said.
Casey also noted that the state of Iraq's security forces is an important factor in determining the appropriate U.S. military presence in Iraq. Last year, he said, only one Iraqi brigade and two Iraqi battalions were in the lead in military operations, and now two divisions, 14 brigades and more than 50 battalions are in the lead.
"By the end of this summer," he said, "we think that will be up to about 75 percent of the Iraqi brigades, and by the end of the year, about 80 percent of the Iraqi divisions, so that process is continuing."
Continuing the development of the Iraqi police and the transition of the country's provinces to Iraqi control also is an important factor, the general said. "We have worked with the Iraqis to develop some criteria for that; the governors have been briefed on that; and that process is moving forward," he said. "And so you'll see some provinces starting to move in that direction -- the direction of Iraqi control -- over the coming months."