Elections in Iraq Key to Stability, Rumsfeld Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2004 Time will tell, but 18 months before Oct. 9, no one gave the Afghan elections much of a chance, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld during an American Forces Press Service interview today.
Rumsfeld said the Iraqi election in January to choose people to write the country's new constitution is important to the Iraqi people. "People will find they have a stake in the country," the secretary said. The election will show the Iraqi people they can have a voice in their government a luxury they have not had in more than 30 years, the secretary noted.
"That will add a great deal to stability in the country and create a more peaceful environment in the country," he said.
The elections in Afghanistan were supervised by the United Nations. Millions of Afghans turned out and chose Hamid Kharzai as the country's first elected president.
American and Iraqi forces are now moving into Fallujah. Officials in Iraq said that ending the insurgency in Fallujah which officials characterize as the center of terrorist activity in Iraq will go a long way to securing the nation. The Iraqi military is playing a prominent part in Operation Al Fajr, an Iraqi term meaning "Dawn."
As the Iraqi security forces train up and take over more of the mission in the nation, there will be fewer coalition forces needed in the nation, Rumsfeld said. "I think of the wonderful work being done by the men and women in uniform from the United States and 30 other nations," he said. "I think of the courage being demonstrated every day by the Iraqi security forces and the police and the border guards and the army. These folks are putting their lives at risk for their country. They have lost hundreds, yet others continue to sign up.
There will be 120,000 members of the Iraqi security forces trained and equipped by the end of the year, the secretary said. "As we keep adding Iraqi troops, we will most likely reduce the number of (U.S.) troops in the country," he said.
Leadership, though, is just as important as boots on the ground. Members of the Iraqi ministries are being trained, and they are receiving operational experience, Rumsfeld said, and should become more expert in dealing with the terrorist threat. He said that once elections take place and the terrorist problem is reduced, fewer American servicemembers should be needed. "Is that a prediction? No," he said. "The facts on the ground determine (the number of troops in Iraq)."
Rumsfeld reiterated President Bush's statement that the United States will stay in Iraq as long as it is needed, "and not one day more." He also spoke about some of the invective that came out during the recent U.S. presidential election. He said it was the first time in U.S. history when an election was held in the middle of a war and people around the world even those in the combat zone had unfettered access to news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He said the country as a whole survived the experience with good grace.
"We've had tough elections in the past," Rumsfeld said. "George Washington was attacked for his leadership during the Revolutionary War." Abraham Lincoln went through a very tough re-election campaign at the height of the Civil War in 1864. Opponents attacked Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration for its conduct of World War II. "We survived all that," he said.
"It's a tribute to the American people that they have a great center of gravity," the secretary said. "They are able to hear all of this and they are able to sift it and sort it and synthesize it and make judgments and not get blown off course because of the extreme language that was used.
"But I must confess that a lot of it really hurt for me to think of those folks affected," he continued. "I was out at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) yesterday, visiting those folks that were wounded and have amputated limbs. You can't help but feel sick hearing someone saying something that diminishes what they did, because what they did ought to be praised, and the country is deeply in their debt."
Rumsfeld said some of the denigration of coalition allies was hurtful, also.
The secretary said that in the weeks and months to come, DoD will concentrate on the war on terror, but also the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Base Realignment and Closure process.