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Rumsfeld Cites Progress, Opportunity for Iraqi People

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2004 – Acknowledging that the road to a free and sovereign Iraq is "bumpy," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld pointed to a year of progress and said the Iraqi people have a "wonderful opportunity."

Appearing on the MSNBC program "Hardball" April 29, Rumsfeld told host Chris Matthews that "amazing things" have happened in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was driven from power.

"They've got a new currency," the secretary said. "They've got the schools open. They've got the hospitals open. They've got the clinics open. There was not a humanitarian crisis. Food is there and available to the people. The people are able to form a part of an Olympic team. They've got a symphony that's started."

Though no one can know what the future holds, he added, the Iraqi people have a chance to flourish now that they're free of Saddam. "Certainly there's that opportunity for 25 million human beings. Men, women, and children who lived in a repressive, vicious dictatorship have an opportunity to get on a path towards a freer, more civilized system, and that's a wonderful opportunity."

Rumsfeld said that although the past several weeks have been "a difficult time," the Iraqi people are intelligent and have the building blocks in place for a free post-Saddam society "if that country is able to navigate through this difficult period and end up as a single country that's respectful of the different religious groups in the country and not a threat to its neighbors."

"They've got water. They've got oil. The economic circumstance in that part of the world for the neighboring countries in Turkey and Jordan and Saudi Arabia will be so beneficial," Rumsfeld said. "Women are in school. The mass graves are not being filled. The people aren't being murdered. (Saddam is) not using chemicals against his own people or against his neighbors."

Resistance to the coalition in Iraq, the secretary said, seems to be coming mostly from former regime elements, with some extremists and foreign terrorists in the mix. He acknowledged that some people without any particularly deep conviction have been involved in acts against the coalition.

"There are always people in any organization any cluster of people that are on the fence," he said, "and to the extent it looks like it's going to go that way, well, they tip that way or vice versa."

Rumsfeld said the situation in Fallujah could end in any of several ways, but it does need to be resolved. "There's no question but that for success in Iraq, you can't have a city taken over by a bunch of terrorists and former-regime elements and have that persist over a sustained period of time," he said.

"That means it has to end at some point. How it ends, I guess, is an open question. It could end by the Marines having to go in and go through the place and root out the terrorists. They're trained to do that. They know how to do it. They're capable of doing it," he said. "I don't think people doubt the military power of these folks. They're outstanding soldiers, and courageous.

"It also is possible it could end differently," the secretary continued. "It could end with this conclave of some 50 to 80 tribal sheiks and former Iraq military people actually taking over the city and getting the terrorists out of there and turning over the names of the people who killed the Blackwater folks and rounding up the weapons." Rumsfeld was referring to the murder and mutilation of four American contractors in Fallujah on March 31.

"The Marines on the ground are the ones that are making those judgments," he said, "and thus far they've calculated that it's in our interest to do it the way they're doing it and to have these discussions with the Sunni tribal leaders."

The Sunnis, despite being a minority, benefited from Saddam's regime more than other groups in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, and they recognize that in a new Iraq they would not have the same kind of power.

"They're not going to be running the country," he said. "They're not going to be able to deal from a position of strength." The Shiia and the Kurds are going to have a big role in the new Iraq, he added, but the Sunnis "have to have a stake."

Rumsfeld said that although sovereignty will turn over to an interim Iraqi government by June 30, the United States and its coalition partners will continue to help with security until Iraqi security forces are able to take over that responsibility.

"And it isn't an easy road," Rumsfeld said, "but if you look back, it's never been an easy road to go from a dictatorship to a free system. It's bumpy. It's hard, and it isn't going to be a straight path." He added that as progress continues, circumstances will sometimes result in setbacks, "and then we have to keep moving."

Biography: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

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