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Rumsfeld: Iraqis Must Handle Security
At the Pentagon news briefing with the visiting South Korean defense minister, Rumsfeld sought to play down the attempted takeover of the southern Iraqi city of Amarah by the Mahdi Army, a Shiite Muslim militia headed by an anti-American firebrand cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. As many as 25 people, including 10 Iraqi policemen, were killed in fighting in the city southeast of Baghdad before the militiamen withdrew today.
Rumsfeld was asked whether the takeover of Amarah, from which British troops pulled out two months ago after coming under repeated attack from Shiite militiamen, meant that the U.S. strategy of "clear, hold and build" was failing. He said Iraqi forces "for the most part" have been able to handle the security responsibilities that are gradually being passed to them. "But there've been other instances where they have not, in which case we've had to go back in and assist them and then pass it back to them at a later date," he said.
"It is never going to be a straight, smooth, steady path. And this may happen in the future," Rumsfeld said.
Casey and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, "are currently working with the Iraqi government to develop a set of projections as to when they think they can cast off various pieces of responsibility," he said.
"And there's no doubt in my mind but that some of those projections we won't make," he said. "It'll be later or even earlier in some instances. And in some cases, once we meet the projection, we may have to go back and do it again if it doesn't work."
But that does not amount to a "strategic error," Rumsfeld said. And it may not even be a "misjudgment," because the enemy may simply have focused on a particular place to make a point.
"The biggest mistake would be to not pass things over to the Iraqis, create a dependency on their part, instead of developing strength and capacity and competence," Rumsfeld said. "And it's critically important that it's their country. They're going to have to govern it. They're going to have to provide security for it. And they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later. And that means they've got to take pieces of it as we go along, even though someone may inaccurately characterize it as a strategic mistake, which it wouldn't be at all."
In an interview with the Associated Press today, Bush acknowledged that "it's tough" in Iraq, but he declined to say whether he thought a change in tactics was necessary.
"We are constantly adjusting our tactics so we can achieve the objectives and right now, it's tough," Bush told the AP. "It's tough on the families who've lost a loved one. It's tough for our citizens who look at it on TV. It's hard on the Iraqis. They've lost a lot of life."
Later, in his Washington speech at the downtown Mayflower Hotel, Bush said: "I talk to our generals who are in charge of these operations, and my message to them is: 'Whatever you need we'll give you. And whatever tactics you think work on the ground, you put in place.' "
The Democratic lawmakers urged Bush in their letter to convene an international conference to "support a political settlement" in Iraq.
"Iraq continues a rapid descent into full-scale civil war, with our troops increasingly caught in the middle," the letter said. " . . . The steadily mounting sectarian violence, growing insurgency, and escalating casualty figures in Iraq are unacceptable and unsustainable."
The letter went on to urge Bush to "change course, level with the American people, and join with us to develop a policy that will work, before the situation in Iraq is irretrievable."
In his speech to a cheering, partisan crowd, Bush outlined some of the differences he saw between the Republican and Democratic parties.
Bush called the Democrats "the party of cut and run."
"We have a difference of opinion," he said, later adding: "It's a difference of opinion, but it's a fundamental issue in this [political] campaign. The voters out there need to ask the question: Which political party will support the brave men and women who wear our uniform when they do their job of protecting America?"