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Despite Terror, Iraqis Continue to Move Forward

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2004 – The Iraqi people are not being deterred from investing in their country's future, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

Regime remnants and foreign fighters are trying to intimidate Iraqis, but they are not letting that happen. Car bombs have struck civilian targets in Baghdad and other areas of the country. Assassinations of Iraqis working with the interim government seek to halt progress to a free and independent Iraq, Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon news conference.

"The attacks (are) being waged by enemies of freedom who are threatened by the steady advances that are being made in that country," he said. "The extremists' efforts to intimidate the Iraqi people, I believe, will fail."

The secretary pointed to polls taken recently that show some 63 percent of Iraqis believe the new government, which assumes sovereignty June 30, will improve life in the country.

The car bomb that reportedly killed at least 35 people today, most of them young men gathered outside a recruiting office for the Iraqi security forces will not stop the Iraqis from assuming responsibility for their own security, the secretary said. "Thousands of courageous Iraqis have stepped forward to defend their country, and thousands more are volunteering every day," Rumsfeld said.

"The number of recruits standing in line to join the various elements of the Iraqi security forces is impressive. As we have seen, this is something that terrorists and assassins want desperately to prevent."

He said the U.S.-led coalition cannot be defeated militarily. "The only way this effort could fail is if people were to be persuaded that the cause is lost or that it's not worth the pain, or if those who seem to measure progress in Iraq against a more perfect world convince others to throw in the towel," he said. "I'm confident that that will not happen."

The secretary answered questions about an alleged high-ranking member of the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam the U.S. military held without registering him with the International Committee of the Red Cross. He said that then-CIA chief George Tenet requested the prisoner not be registered, and military officials complied. The prisoner was not lost in the system, and he was treated in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention, Rumsfeld said.

The prisoner was brought to the attention of senior DoD officials last month, and the department is now registering the man, he added.

The secretary said the suspected terrorist was not a "ghost prisoner" in the sense Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba criticized in his Abu Ghraib report. "This Ansar al-Islam individual, I think, should be looked at separately from that," Rumsfeld said.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

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