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Leaders say timetable for troops' return would be mistake

by Army Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON-- Setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal in Iraq would be a mistake, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee here June 23.

"Some in Congress have suggested that deadlines be set," Secretary Rumsfeld said. "That would be a mistake; it would throw a lifeline to terrorists. Timing in war is never predictable -- there are no guarantees. And any who say that we've lost this war or that we are losing this war are wrong. We are not."

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed the secretary's point.

"While we are all eager to see our troops come home, leaving before the task is complete would be catastrophic -- not only for Iraq, but also for the overall struggle against violent extremism and for our national security," the general said.

Secretary Rumsfeld emphasized that any troop withdrawal cannot rely on an arbitrary timetable set up without regard for the situation in the country.

"The timing must be conditions-based," he said

In Iraq, he said, those conditions are based on the extent to which various ethnic factions reconcile; the level of support from the international community; and Iraq's neighbors, whose behavior, he said, "continues to be unhelpful."

Insurgents continue to come into Iraq from Syria and Iran, he said.

"Nations that serve as conduits for mass murderers are not friends of the Iraqi people, they're not friends of the United States, and they are certainly not friends of the civilized world," Secretary Rumsfeld said. Iraq's political and economic stability also must improve, and the country must be able to take responsibility for its own security, he said.

"Let there be no doubt that if the coalition were to leave before the Iraqi security forces are able to assume responsibility, we would one day again have to confront another Iraqi regime, perhaps even more dangerous than the last, in a region plunged into darkness rather than liberated and free," Secretary Rumsfeld said.

Defense leaders testifying June 23 said the political process is key to success in Iraq, and that a new government would go a long way toward ending the insurgency, perhaps making it possible then to begin setting a timetable for withdrawal. But in any event, the secretary reminded the senators that it is not his decision to make.

"I might make recommendations to the president, but it's for him to make those decisions, not me," Secretary Rumsfeld said.

It is "critically important" that Iraqis keep their present timetable for establishing a permanent government, he said. He said he does not favor a six-month delay on the constitution, even though it is permitted under the transitional administrative law.

Any delay in the Iraqi vote would give insurgents and opportunity "to get better organized," said Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command who also testified. "It increases the number of deaths and the tempo of action," he said. "It would be a bad thing, but not fatal."

General Myers told the committee that "significant, positive" steps are being made each day in securing Iraq's freedom and security. "We are on the right course, and we must stay that course," he said.

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who commands multinational forces in Iraq, talked about the progress Iraq has made in the year since the Coalition Provisional Authority turned over sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government. He said Iraqis, supported by the coalition, have established an interim government, neutralized the insurgency and helped eliminate terrorist havens across the country.

"Iraqis are serious about their future," he said. "And they are serious about building a government that respects the human rights of all Iraqis, and they are serious about defeating the terrorists and the insurgents that are doing the utmost to deny them their dreams."

Recent polls show Iraqi citizens are confident in their government and in their security forces, are optimistic about their future and intend to vote in large numbers in the upcoming elections, General Casey said. (Courtesy of Air Force Print News)

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