At the base in the Iraqi desert, Rumsfeld told the U.S. Marines that anticoalition forces in Iraq know they cannot win militarily. But the U.S. defense secretary said they are facing a battle of perceptions.
"This is not a battle against large armies and navies and air forces," Rumsfeld said. "This is a test of wills that we are engaged in. Why else would there be a deliberate massacre of over 30 children in Baghdad recently?"
Rumsfeld said insurgents in Iraq want to convince the coalition that "the pain and ugliness and difficulty of the task is simply too great." He urged the Marines to stand firm in what he called "a battle of morale."
Asked by some Marines when their deployment might end, Rumsfeld said the current level of 138,000 U.S. troops is not expected to change. He said the troops would be needed to deal with an expected increase in violence in the period before Iraq holds elections planned for January.
"Our hope is that as we build up Iraqi forces, we will be able to relieve the stress on our force and see a reduction in coalition forces over some period of time, probably post-Iraqi elections. But again, it is going to depend entirely on the security situation here in this country." -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
But he added that more and more Iraqi police and military forces are being trained to take over security tasks.
"Our hope is that as we build up Iraqi forces, we will be able to relieve the stress on our force and see a reduction in coalition forces over some period of time, probably post-Iraqi elections. But again, it is going to depend entirely on the security situation here in this country," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld also stopped briefly in Baghdad and met with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and top U.S. officials and commanders to discuss the security situation and plans for the January polling.
At least two car bombs went off in the Iraqi capital today, although not while the defense secretary was in the city. The bombs killed at least 10 people and wounded 17 others, including a U.S. soldier. A U.S. Marine was reportedly killed in fighting near Al-Fallujah.
One effort to reduce the violence in Baghdad appears to be showing results. In the city's Al-Sadr City district, leaders of the militia loyal to Shi'a cleric al-Sadr formally agreed yesterday to begin handing in weapons. There have been nightly clashes with U.S. forces there in recent weeks.
On 8 October, a senior aide to al-Sadr, Ali Smeism, said the militia would start turning in medium and heavy weapons at three Baghdad police stations, starting tomorrow.
"This is an initiative by the Al-Sadr movement represented by Said Muqtada al-Sadr," he said. "The initiative aims at achieving peace, bringing together the oppressed Iraqi people, stopping the bloodshed, and sparing lives. This initiative is a gesture of goodwill and peace to Iraq."
Smeism said the militia will disarm but will not disband. And another al-Sadr aide, Sheikh Abd al-Hadi Daraji, said it is still legitimate to resist what he called the American occupation of Iraq.
Iraqi national security adviser Qassim Dawud said yesterday that when the government verifies that the weapons handover is complete, they would compensate people who lost property during the fighting and finance reconstruction projects.
Iraqi police and military forces are expected to take over responsibility for security and Al-Sadr City from the militia as part of the deal.
(compiled from wire reports)