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Prague, 8 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has acknowledged that U.S. troops face a "serious problem" with unrest in Iraq, but he says the United States remains in control of the situation and that American-led forces are on the offensive against the insurgents.
Rumsfeld spoke after U.S.-led forces yesterday battled insurgents in towns in both Sunni Muslim and Shi'ite Muslim-dominated areas of Iraq. The violence so far this week has killed upwards of 200 Iraqis, 35 U.S. soldiers, as well as one Ukrainian and a Salvadoran.
Japan today said its troops in Samawa in southern Iraq had temporarily halted reconstruction work due to the security situation.
Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington that the violence was being caused by a small band of thugs and assassins and that he did not believe a popular uprising against the U.S.-led occupation was underway.
"The United States will stay the course, we will stay until the task is complete," he said. "As President Bush has said, we did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties to liberate 25 million people, only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins."
Rumsfeld said some U.S. troops scheduled to leave Iraq soon might stay in the country longer to help respond to the surge in fighting. Some 135,000 U.S. troops are currently in Iraq.