Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld charged yesterday that Iran is fueling the deadly insurgency in Iraq with money and fighters.
But, in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged that the United States has limited options because other nations are “not willing” to join in pressuring Iran, which has shown behavior that Mr. Rumsfeld said is “not part of the civilized world.”
The defense secretary, a main architect of President Bush’s strategy of attacking Islamic terrorists worldwide, declared of the insurgency in Iraq, “They’re losing.”
His assessment came on a day when the military death toll in Iraq reached 1,000 Americans since the invasion in May 2003.
“I feel generally quite good about how things are going there,” he said. “Needless to say, you can’t feel good about it when you’ve lost over a thousand people.”
He gave the administration and the coalition a “B-plus” for managing Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in terms of interaction between the new government and U.S. forces.
“If I had to grade it so far, I’d probably give it a B-plus, pretty good, and maybe an A in interaction and maybe a B in outcome,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “But it’s a tough business.”
His remarks came after American troops suffered some of their highest casualty rates in recent weeks in Iraq, including the loss of seven Marines in a car bombing on Monday.
On the critical question of whether the far-flung insurgency is weaker or stronger today than when it began in earnest one year ago, Mr. Rumsfeld was noncommittal.
Asked whether the enemy is weaker, he said, “It’s hard to say that when you’ve just gone through a week or two where you’ve peaked in terms of the number of incidents. And my guess is they see they’re losing. Does that mean that the pain is going to go down? Not necessarily. It may mean that it’ll go up. It may mean between now and an Iraqi election and Iraqi constitution that they will be even more desperate.”
He added, “There are people opposing the coalition, and they’re getting pounded. And they have been getting pounded. The solution to that of course, if they don’t want to get killed, is to stop terrorizing the Iraqi people.”
Mr. Rumsfeld repeatedly has accused Iran of “meddling” in Iraqi affairs, but has offered few details.
Military sources have told The Times that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard helped fund Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr. The radical cleric’s ragtag Mahdi’s Army has staged a series of deadly insurrections in southern Iraq and in the Shi’ite slums of Baghdad.
A U.S. military intelligence report obtained last week by The Times states that most of his foot soldiers are criminals who were freed by Saddam weeks before the allied invasion.
Asked for details yesterday on Iranian meddling, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “They have put people in there. They have put money in there.