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U.S. Not Putting Timetable on Iraq, Rumsfeld Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2006 – The United States is not looking to place any timetable on the Iraqi government's process of assuming responsibility for the country's security, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

Rumsfeld spoke following meetings with Spanish Defense Minister Jose Antonio Alonso at the Pentagon.

The secretary said that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, are working with the Iraqi government to see what can be accomplished in the near future.

“What they are doing is just having a discussion about how they see the way ahead over the rest of this year and next year,” Rumsfeld said. He called the work “projections” and not a timetable.

For example, he said, the coalition passed two southern provinces –Muthanna and Dhi Qar – over to Iraqi control. “They are planning to pass over the other 16,” he said. “The question is, ‘When do you think that might happen? When do you think the Iraqis may be able to assume those responsibilities?’”

He said the Iraqi reconciliation process, is another factor in charting the way ahead.

Rumsfeld said there will be no penalties if the Iraqis do not make one of the projections. The projections are meant to help all chart the way ahead, “so their parliament, their government can have a set of tasks that they need to do, to get prepared to assume the responsibility for governing their country and providing security for their country,” Rumsfeld explained.

The secretary said these discussions have been going on since the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office. “I sense there’s general agreement that this is a good approach,” he said.

He said that in no case is there likely to be a specific deadline or day for each milestone. The secretary said the targets would be periods of a month or two. The Iraqis may be able to meet some milestones early, “or they may not meet a projected target date in which case it will slide to the right,” he added.

Anything is possible in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, acknowledging the possibility that the situation in any given province could deteriorate after the coalition transfers it to Iraqi control. Coalition personnel would go back in, restore the situation and then pass it back to the Iraqis a few months later, he said.

Noting the short time the Iraqi government has had to establish itself, the secretary urged patience. “This outfit has been in office less than a baseball season,” Rumsfeld said. “They are dealing in a very difficult environment.”

He said everyone wishes the process would move more quickly. “But I think people have to be realistic, and our hope is we can assist them in assuming responsibility for their country sooner rather than later,” he said. “We’re encouraging that.”

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