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U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Troops In Iraq


24 December 2004 -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today made surprise visit to Iraq today to raise the morale of U.S. troops on the day before Christmas. The trip comes three days after what appears to be a suicide bombing at a U.S. base in Mosul that killed 22.

The defense secretary traveled to Mosul, Tikrit, and Al-Fallujah under great secrecy and intense security. His first stop was in Mosul, near the location of the devastating bombing in the dining hall tent at Camp Marez.

Rumsfeld acknowledged that the situation in Iraq might look bleak to some and that there have been setbacks. But, he said, he believes that the U.S. mission will be successful in the end.

"When you see an attack like we saw here so recently [in Mosul], and we think it is tough and difficult and one has to ask the question, 'What is going to happen here in this country of Iraq, of 25 million people who have been liberated?' And yet, we see this insurgency pressing on and on, month after month. There is no doubt in my mind but that [success] is achievable," Rumsfeld said.

The defense secretary pointed to the example of Afghanistan, saying that after the United States invaded that country, many doubted the United States could quickly defeat the Taliban and achieve its goals to transform the country.

"Three years later [after the U.S. invasion], Afghanistan is not a quagmire. Afghanistan is a country of 25 million people, liberated, that has had its first free and fair election in 500 years, in the history of the country," he said.

Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit was the second stop of Rumsfeld's tour. U.S. troops were allowed to ask Rumsfeld a number of questions. One soldier wanted to know the mood of the American people regarding their efforts in Iraq.

"Are the American people ready to stand and contribute as long as we are so that this country [Iraq] will be able to stand on its own and act as an example of democracy for not only itself but for the entire Middle East?" the soldier asked.

Rumsfeld replied that the coalition forces are engaged in a battle of wills as well as a military confrontation. Rumsfeld told the soldiers that the stakes are high.

"If you are successful here, if we are successful here, if the coalition is successful here, think what will have been lost to the extremists. If the extremists are able to take this country back and turn it back to darkness, something will have been lost, an opportunity will have been lost that was historic," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld later met with U.S. officers and troops in the battered city of Al-Fallujah. The city had been a safe haven for insurgents until coalition forces drove them out last month.

The visit to Iraq comes after a more than week of criticism of the defense secretary from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington. Rumsfeld caused anger after it was revealed that he had a machine that signed his name on letters sent to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq.

And during his last trip to the region, his answer to a soldier's question in Kuwait also caused a controversy. The soldier asked the secretary why their vehicles did not have proper armor and he answered, "You go to war with the army you have."

Rumsfeld said that this trip to Iraq was only to thank the troops and wish them a Merry Christmas. He said it was planned long before the bombing of the dining tent in Mosul.

(Reuters/AP/AFP)

[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]
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