Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top general in Iraq said yesterday that U.S. military attempts to initiate discussions with Iraqi leaders who claim to hold sway within the insurgency are in the early stages and have not yet yielded much progress.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said that his forces have been working to speak with Iraqis from several ethnic and political groups, largely aiming to reach those who say they are connected to the Iraqi insurgency. Casey said there have been no discussions with foreign fighters, including those linked to insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi.
"They're discussions, and they're discussions primarily aimed at bringing these Sunni leaders and the people they represent into the political process," Casey said at a Pentagon news conference. "But to characterize them as negotiations with insurgents about stopping the insurgency, we're not quite there yet."
Speaking the day before President Bush is scheduled to deliver a speech about the war in Iraq, Rumsfeld reiterated his belief that the war is on track toward success. He cautioned again that the insurgency could last for years and declined to put a timetable on a possible U.S. withdrawal.
Rumsfeld also responded to critics on Capitol Hill who confronted him during hearings last week, arguing that the war is getting worse and that the United States is stuck.
"The suggestion of those who say we are losing, or that we're in a quagmire, seems to be that, as long as there's violence in Iraq, that the conclusion must be that the insurgents are winning," Rumsfeld said. "Not so."
Instead, Rumsfeld said the goal in Iraq is to support an Iraqi political system and military, suggesting that the Iraqis could be left to handle their own domestic problems. Neither he nor Casey specified what criteria would be used to decide when to bring troops home, but Rumsfeld said a perfectly peaceful Iraq is not what will define success. Setbacks are inevitable, he added.
"Success for the coalition should not be defined as domestic tranquility in Iraq," Rumsfeld said. "Other democracies have had to contend with terrorism and insurgencies for a number of years, but they've been able to function and eventually succeed."
Casey said insurgents have not been able to derail the political and economic development in Iraq nor have they been able to secure a wide base of support among the population. But over the past seven weeks, there has been a consistent level of 450 to 500 insurgent attacks each week, Casey said, noting a shift from strategic attacks to suicide car bombs that are "strictly a weapon of terror."
Though staying away from specific estimates, Casey said the Iraqi insurgency includes less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the Iraqi population, aided by foreign fighters who continue to slip across the border with Syria.