Rumsfeld Confident Iraqi Constitution Vote to Proceed on Schedule
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ASUNCION, Paraguay, Aug. 16, 2005 Despite a seven-day deadline extension for drafting a new Iraqi constitution, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters traveling here with him today that he's confident the slight delay won't push back the Oct. 15 deadline for a national vote on the constitution.
Rumsfeld joined other U.S. officials in acknowledging he wishes the constitution had been ready for a vote Aug. 15 as originally scheduled. He emphasized, however, that he doesn't see the extension as a stumbling block to political progress.
"I think what you are seeing is the Iraqi people for the first time wrestling with very tough fundamental issues that are important to them and important to their regions, to their futures," he said.
The United States went through the same challenges with its own constitution, the secretary noted. "Think of the arguments and discussions and debates the United States had over federalism ourselves," he said, noting that the U.S. Constitution has been amended more than two dozen times.
The Iraqis "have made very good progress," proceeding with their deliberations in "a very orderly and peaceful way" that Rumsfeld called "admirable."
And the faster they complete their work and come up with a constitution that the Iraqi people can live with, the better, he said.
"I have always believed that the sooner the constitution was completed and the sooner it was voted on, the greater the likelihood that the Iraqi people would feel they have a stake in the country and that they have an acceptable set of compromises that would protect them from each other, and have a set of arrangements that they could live with peacefully," Rumsfeld said.
That will have "a big effect" on Iraq, resulting in more stable conditions and fewer Iraqi, U.S. and coalition deaths, he said.
Asked about a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, Rumsfeld reiterated that any plans to draw down the U.S. presence will be based on conditions, not an artificial deadline.
"The president has said over and over and over again that it is condition-based," Rumsfeld said. A wide range of variables affect those conditions: progress on the political front with the constitution, progress in training and equipping Iraq's security forces, economic progress, and behavior of Syria and Iran among them, he said.
Countries that supply or provide a pipeline for terrorists or the weapons and financing that support them further destabilize Iraq, requiring greater capabilities on the part of Iraqi security forces to deal with them, the secretary noted.
Iranian weapons are being found inside Iraq, Rumsfeld said. He added that Iran would like to see its brand of government replicated in Iraq.
That kind of government, basically run by "a handful of clerics," is "fundamentally inconsistent with the kind of constitution being drafted in Iraq," the secretary said. "And an Iraq that is democratic and representative will stand in stark contrast to Iran."
The war in Iraq boils down to "a battle of wills," Rumsfeld said, adding that the Iraqis and coalition have no intention of losing their will.
He cited continued progress in training Iraq's security forces, with help from NATO and other countries, to provide for their own security. "And as the president has said, when they stand up, the coalition forces will stand down," he said.
Rumsfeld spoke to reporters en route to his first visit to Paraguay as defense secretary. He was slated to meet with President Nicanor Duarte Frutos to affirm the two countries' ties and lay the groundwork for a stronger cooperative relationship in the future.