Idea of Iraqi Elections 'Breathtaking,' Rumsfeld Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2004 The idea that Iraq is discussing elections in January "is breathtaking," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today.
Rumsfeld spoke to the press following meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in the Pentagon.
The secretary said the path to liberty in Iraq is not smooth. But, he reminded, 18 months ago Iraq was the only country on Earth that was routinely firing on American pilots in complete disregard to U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Now Iraq has a new government committed to defeating terrorism that is working to hold free elections in January 2005. "Every Iraqi deserves the right to vote," Rumsfeld said. "We and the government of Iraq intend to see the elections are held, are held on time and to do everything possible to see that that happens."
Violence continues in Iraq, but notwithstanding the violence and threats of violence, tens of thousands of Iraqis are volunteering to serve the nation. Rumsfeld said 722 Iraqi security force personnel have been killed. "They are demonstrating courage, and that's impressive," he said.
A free and peaceful Iraq is a blow to extremists worldwide, and elections in Iraq would be a large step forward, he said.
Rumsfeld did not minimize the barriers in the way of elections. Terrorist attacks continue. Terrorists have kidnapped Western workers and recently beheaded two of them. The security situation in Iraq is "uneven" across the country, the secretary said. Allawi mentioned this Sept. 23 in his speech to Congress. He said that elections could happen tomorrow in 15 out of 18 provinces.
Security will be important for the elections. Rumsfeld said that if U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. John Abizaid needs more troops, then he will get them. There are 138,000 U.S. servicemembers in Iraq now. There are also 100,000 fully trained and fully equipped Iraqi security forces in country now. That number is set to increase to 150,000 by January 2005.
Iraq is not going to be "perfect and peaceful," Rumsfeld said, noting that American cities aren't perfect and peaceful either. "Any implication that that place needs to be peaceful and perfect before we can reduce coalition and U.S. forces would be unwise," Rumsfeld said. "Our goal is to invest the time and money and effort to help them train up Iraqis to take over those responsibilities."
Rumsfeld said it is important to look at the full scope of activities worldwide. The United States is involved in a serious war against people who are trying to hijack a religion, kill and maim innocent people and desecrate bodies, he said. "The type of world they want is a dark world. It is an ugly world, and no one with an ounce of sense would want to live in it," he said.