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Rumsfeld Meets Top Officials, U.S. Troops In Iraq


Iraqi Prime Minister al-Ja'fari and U.S. Defense Minister Rumsfeld in Baghdad 12 April 2005 -- In Baghdad today on an unannounced visit, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with U.S. generals and top Iraqi officials, saying the U.S.-led coalition hopes to cut troop numbers in the country as soon as Iraqi forces are up to speed. He also warned Iraqi officials against delaying the formation of a government and the writing of a new constitution.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld met in Baghdad with Iraq's new Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari and with President Jalal Talabani.

Rumsfeld said he was worried about possible purges in Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries when the winning Shi’ite coalition forms a new government.

He said after meeting al-Ja’fari that political developments in Iraq were being carefully monitored by the international community. "We had a good discussion about the political process that is taking place," he said. "It is, I know, something that is being watched not just in this country, not just in this region, but is having an effect in the region and the world."

Al-Ja’fari’s Shi’ite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, has the largest share of parliament seats and has been calling for a purge of some sections of the security forces. Al-Ja’fari has said that some parts of the security apparatus are overrun with former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba’ath Party.

But al-Ja’fari said today he has assured Rumsfeld that new ministry workers will be effective "technocrats" from "different backgrounds.”

Rumsfeld, who was on his ninth visit to the country since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, also warned against any delay in the political timetable. In particular, he expressed concern about the drafting of a new constitution, which is due before December elections.

"We are pleased to see what's taken place and certainly wish them well in their further considerations of the development of this important Iraqi transitional government and then moving toward the development of a constitution and then the election under that constitution, under a fully developed Iraqi government," Rumsfeld said.

After meeting Rumsfeld, President Talabani said that he hoped a government would be formed before the end of the week. Talabani, a former Kurdish guerrilla leader, said the democratization process in Iraq was at the beginning.

The issue of U.S.-led coalition troops in Iraq was also on the agenda. Rumsfeld said after meeting al-Ja’fari that any pullout of coalition troops depends on the readiness of Iraqi forces to ensure security.

"Our goal is to be able to transfer full responsibility to the Iraqi security forces as soon as they are capable of taking over that responsibility -- at which point obviously the coalition forces would be able to reduce their presence in the country -- which is the goal of the coalition countries," Rumsfeld said.

Al-Ja’fari said in turn that Iraqi officials are working to improve the capabilities of Iraq’s fledgling security forces to allow for a quick withdrawal of foreign troops.

"In fact, America and the multinational forces are looking forward to withdrawing after ensuring security in the Iraqi arena," al-Ja'fari said. "I do not think that the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi territory is in the interest of anyone. We will also intensify our efforts to schedule the expansion of Iraqi forces and Iraqi security capabilities, which means in consequence a schedule for the withdrawal of the multinational forces."

Asked if the United States plans to have permanent bases in Iraq, Rumsfeld said the issue would have to be discussed with the government that emerges after a permanent constitution is in place and new elections are held in December.

Rumsfeld also met with U.S. Army General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Army Lieutenant General John Vines, commander of multinational forces.

Rumsfeld is due to meet Kurdish leader Mas'ud Barzani in northern Iraq later today.

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