Rumsfeld Cites Progress in Iraq Despite Security Difficulties
By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2004 Although the security situation in Iraq has been difficult, U.S. and coalition forces have made much progress since Operation Iraqi Freedom began one year ago, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.
"They're tracking down and finding the terrorists," he said in an interview with American Forces Radio and Television Service.
In 12 months, Iraq has gone from a dictatorship defeated in war to a country with an interim constitution, he added.
"The schools are open, hospitals are open, and there are something like 1,200 clinics functioning," said Rumsfeld. "New textbooks have been issued. There's a new currency. There's a central bank. Oil and electricity are back. Iraqi security forces have gone from basically zero to more than 200,000."
The secretary said it's been interesting to watch the Iraqi security forces mature.
"They've been out on the front line taking the brunt of the violence," he said. "That shows that they're stepping up and taking responsibility for their country."
Helping Iraq become a democracy is a "tough business," said Rumsfeld. "(You) can't go from being in a repressed society to a free society in five minutes or five months or even a year or two. It takes time. There's so much to do.
"The president has said he believes the U.S. and the coalition need to stay as long as needed, but not a day longer, and I think that's right," he continued. "And then the question of how long is that, of course that's unknown. We know they're making very good progress, and we know they're taking over more and more responsibility."
The secretary compared the impossibility to pinpoint an end date for troops in Iraq to that of teaching a youngster how to ride a bicycle.
"They're learning, and you're running down the street holding onto the back of the bike seat," he said. "You know that if you take your hand off, they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you're just barely touching it. (Leaving Iraq) will be like that. You can't know when you're running down the street how many steps you're going to have to take. We can't know that, but we're off to a good start."
The reason for the progress in Iraq is people, said the secretary.
"The men and women in the military, in the Coalition Provisional Authority and coalition countries that have hundreds of people advising the ministries are doing everything possible to help put Iraq on an upward path towards a reasonably democratic system," he said.
Rumsfeld said he marvels at the compassion, creativity and dedication of the young men and women in uniform. "I've traveled all over, and met with so many of them," he continued. "I come away each time thinking how lucky we are that we have these wonderful volunteers."