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Rumsfeld Condemns Murders, Discusses Iraq Progress, Challenges

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2005 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today condemned the July 19 assassination of two Sunni Arab members of the commission drafting Iraq's new constitution as a "terrible act of violence" that demonstrates the insurgents' brutality and their low regard for the Iraqi people.

Mijbil Sheikh Esa and Dhamin Hussein Ubaidi were ambushed while on their way to work at a U.S. military base in Khalis, about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad.

"The coalition countries and much of the civilized world mourns the assassination of Iraqi officials involved in drafting the Iraqi constitution," Rumsfeld told Pentagon reporters.

The murders "underscore the nature of the fight in Iraq," the secretary said. "If violent extremists do such things to these people and to innocent Iraqi children, it is clear what kind of a regime theirs would be," particularly with their close working relationship with the al Qaeda terrorist organization. "And one can imagine what they would try to do to the American people and other civilized societies," he said.

Rumsfeld said it's important for the American people to understand why Esa and Ubaidi were assassinated. "They were murdered for what they believed and for what they were trying to build - a new democratic and peaceful Iraq," he said.

Millions of other Iraqis share their determination to follow through with that mission, despite desperate efforts by violent extremists to stop them, Rumsfeld said. He praised the Iraqi people who continue to step forward to support their country - participating in elections, taking part in the Iraqi transitional assembly, running for public office and serving in the Iraqi security forces. "This shows that the Iraqi people have a lot of courage," the secretary said.

Rumsfeld acknowledged that violence "has long been a mainstay in Iraq" and is likely to continue even after coalition forces leave the country.

"But despite their headline-grabbing mass murders, the extremists are failing," the secretary said. "Indeed, the murders of Iraqi citizens and children appear to be hardening the majority of the Iraqi people's commitment to defeat al Qaeda and to build a better country."

Rumsfeld cited recent polls that reflect Iraqi's confidence that their country "is going in the right direction" - 61.5 percent today, compared to 52 percent in January.

But media coverage devoted to violence in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, is losing sight of "historic events" and genuine progress being made.

A DoD report expected to go to Congress as soon as July 21 will outline Iraq's progress in moving toward a secure and self-supporting society. The report assesses Iraq's status on the political, economic and security fronts and also "offers a candid assessment of the challenges that remain for the Iraqi people and for the coalition," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld emphasized that the DoD report is "not a single source of knowledge about what's going on in Iraq," and that it must be viewed in context with reports from other U.S. government agencies involved in Iraq.

On the political front, the DoD report shows that the terrorists have failed to derail progress, he said. The United Nations is supporting Iraq's constitutional development process, and constitutional referendum is still on track for Oct. 15. Elections for a new assembly are slated for Dec. 15.

In addition, international support continues, Rumsfeld said, with more pledges for financial aid for the new government promised at a June meeting in Brussels, Belgium, and with Jordan scheduled to host an international donors conference later this month.

Economically, new business registrations in Iraq have increased about 50 percent so far this year, a factor Rumsfeld said could help alleviate Iraq's high unemployment rate.

On the security front, Iraqi security forces now outnumber coalition troops "by a good margin," Rumsfeld said. More than 171,000 Iraqi security forces are now trained and equipped. In addition, week-to-week attacks are down from their pre-election peak, although Rumsfeld said they're likely to pick up as the political progress continues to move forward.

Despite numerous setbacks, the insurgents continue to incite tension, ethic strife and a civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites through murders and attacks on religious sites, the secretary said.

In doing so, the insurgents are increasingly losing any support they may have had within the Iraqi population. "They are angering people in that country, because they realize that it is mindless carnage," Rumsfeld said.

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