- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

BAGHDAD — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, with only days left in office, told U.S. troops during a surprise farewell visit yesterday that the consequences of a failure to win the war there would be “unacceptable.”

The indirect criticism of recommendations in the Iraq Study Group report came as President Jalal Talabani rejected it outright, calling it an “insult” to the Iraqi people. Shi’ite militias meanwhile stepped up efforts to drive Sunnis from their homes in mixed Baghdad neighborhoods.

Mr. Rumsfeld, casually dressed in a gray jacket and an open-collar shirt during his final days in office, traveled to several U.S. bases in the country, shaking hands and joking with troops.

“For the past six years, I have had the opportunity and, I would say, the privilege, to serve with the greatest military on the face of the earth,” said Mr. Rumsfeld, 74. He was speaking to more than 1,200 soldiers and Marines at al-Asad, a sprawling air base in western Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to discuss Mr. Rumsfeld’s itinerary or schedule, other than to say he was traveling around Iraq.

“He wants to keep the focus on the troops” and has not scheduled official meetings with U.S. commanders, although he is seeing them during his stops, Mr. Whitman said.

His visit came just days after a U.S. bipartisan commission said President Bush’s policy in Iraq “is not working,” and called for urgent policies to shift the focus to training Iraqi troops and withdrawing most U.S. combat troops by 2008.

In an apparent response, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “We feel great urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or a 9/11 times two or three. At the same time, we need to have the patience to see this task through to success. The consequences of failure are unacceptable,” he said.

Mr. Talabani yesterday described the commission’s recommendations as dangerous, saying they would undermine his country’s sovereignty and were “an insult to the people of Iraq.”

The Kurdish leader was the most senior government official to take a stand against the recommendations, which has also come under criticism from leaders of the governing Shi’ite and Kurdish parties.

He said the report “is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution.”

Mr. Talabani singled out the report’s call for the approval of a law that could allow thousands of officials from Saddam Hussein’s ousted Ba’ath Party to return to their jobs.

He said the Iraqi government planned to send a letter to Mr. Bush “expressing our views about the main issues” in the report. He would not elaborate.

Rising tensions between Iraq’s Sunni and Shi’ite communities played out yesterday in a fresh outburst of retaliatory attacks and clashes. At least 83 persons were killed or found dead throughout the country, including 59 bullet-riddled bodies that turned up in different parts of the capital.

A roadside bomb also killed one U.S. soldier and wounded another west of Baghdad, the military said. That raised the U.S. death toll to 43 during the first 10 days of this month.

On Saturday, witnesses said, Shi’ite militiamen entered a Sunni enclave in Hurriyah — a predominantly Shi’ite neighborhood — after Sunnis warned the few Shi’ites living there to leave or be killed. Heavy machine-gun fire was heard, and witnesses reported seeing three columns of black smoke.

Baghdad has been suffering from a series of attacks aimed at driving Sunnis or Shi’ites out of neighborhoods of the capital where they form a minority.

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