Rumsfeld: Coalition Will Win 'Test of Will' in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 7, 2004 The coalition is facing a "test of will" in Iraq, and it will meet that test, Defense Department leaders said at a press briefing today.
"We will certainly not allow fugitives from Iraqi justice to stop progress toward a better life for 25 million people," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said. "We will not allow Sadr to get away with murder. We will not allow Zarqawi and others to block the path to a free Iraq."
He was referring to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is fighting coalition forces, and fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al- Zarqawi, believed to be behind terrorist activities in Iraq.
Rumsfeld also said troop levels in Iraq are higher than normal because of the deployment and redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq. Officials stressed that no decisions have been made yet, but some units may extend past their one-year tour if conditions dictate that.
"We have military plans to systematically address the situations we are currently facing," Rumsfeld said. "Those plans are now being implemented. Because we're in the midst of a major troop rotation, we have a planned increase in the number of U.S. troops in the (U.S. Central Command) area of responsibility, and indeed in Iraq.
"We're taking advantage of that increase," he said, "and we will likely be managing the pace of the redeployments to allow those seasoned troops with experience and relationships with the local populations to see the current situation through."
Extending troops past their year is just one option Army Gen. John Abizaid, CENTCOM commander, is looking at, officials said. Other options include earlier-than-planned deployment of troops scheduled to go to Iraq, and shifting coalition troops within the country.
"We've said it every week, every month from the very beginning that the commanders on the ground make a continuing assessment as to the number of troops they believe they need and the kinds of troops they need," Rumsfeld said. "They make recommendations, and I sign deployment orders. You can be certain that if they want more troops, we will sign deployment orders so that they'll have the troops they need."
Rumsfeld said the vast majority of the Iraqi people want freedom for their country. "Nonetheless, as the date for Iraq's transition to self-government approaches, those opposed to a free Iraq will grow increasingly desperate. And indeed they are," he said.
Rumsfeld said the combat in Iraq is "a power play between those who favor terrorism and a return to oppression, and those determined to have freedom and self-government.
He said the Iraqi people would reject the terrorists and former Baathists. "The overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people oppose them, and given a free choice, the Iraqi people will choose the rule of law, not rule by murderers," Rumsfeld said. "This much is certain: those who oppose the Iraqis people transition to freedom and self-rule will not be permitted to derail it."
Coalition forces are taking the battle to the enemy. Two types of enemy are attacking coalition forces in Iraq now, said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is taking on one type of enemy in Fallujah and Ramadi, consisting of Baathist remnants, Iraqi extremists, foreign terrorists and members of the Zarqawi network, he said.
The second enemy consists of "thugs and gangs that would associate themselves with Sadr," the chairman said. This group is small between 1,000 and 6,000 through all of Iraq but it is active in Baghdad, Amarah, Nasiriyah, Kut, Basra, Karbala and especially in Najaf, he added.
Myers said the two enemies have only one thing in common: "a desire to keep Iraq from progressing towards peace and freedom and self-rule."
Myers also spoke about the performance of Iraqi security forces in the recent fighting. He said they are a part of Operation Vigilant Resolve in Fallujah. "They're part of the outer cordon, and perhaps some operations inside," Myers said. "There are other Iraqi forces that are actually conducting operations in Fallujah, with our forces. I'm told that's going very well.
"There are other instances where Iraqi forces have not been as aggressive," he acknowledged. He said a priority has to be to properly equip and train Iraqi forces.
Rumsfeld said the Iraqi forces would be more effective once the U.S. military is freed from some of the constraints on U.S. ability to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. "There's just too many rules and regulations and laws and procedures that are based on peacetime constraints that impede and slow the progress towards getting Iraqi forces trained and equipped and deployed in ways that are effective," he said.