Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he does not think Iraq will be a "long war" like the global fight against Islamic terrorists.
The day after President Bush referred in his State of the Union speech to a lengthy war against terror, Mr. Rumsfeld was asked by reporters at the Pentagon, "Is Iraq going to be a long war?" Mr. Rumsfeld answered, "No, I don't believe it is."
But he declined to give a timeline or predict what the U.S. troop level will be at the end of the year.
Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, has said the force should drop from a base of 138,000 to 130,000 troops by March. Military officials say further cuts will depend on political trends and how much territory and counterinsurgency missions are turned over to the Iraqi security forces.
Mr. Rumsfeld said that on Jan. 26, the United States turned two huge areas south of Baghdad over to Iraqi control. "We're training up these folks and passing over responsibility every day," he said. "The Iraqi security forces are growing."
Defense sources in recent months have said that the number of U.S. troops could be reduced to 100,000 by the end of 2006.
"The rate at which we're able to do that will be exactly the rate at which we're able to do it, which will be condition-based, and it will be based on, as the president said last night, recommendations from the field," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "And anyone who tries to predict it is foolish."
The secretary shied away from assessing as good or bad a recent decrease in the number of insurgent bombings. He said that the number fell after elections in January and October, and that the trend continued after the Dec. 15 assembly elections.
"What one would want to see is to have that lower level sustained over a period of time," he said. "I think why predict? We'll just wait and see what happens. ... I don't attribute it to anything except maybe a rhythm. Maybe the terrorists were hoping to achieve a great deal more than they did."
Mr. Rumsfeld also confirmed that a soon-to-be-released strategy will include increased efforts by the military to counter the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
"The risk of very powerful, lethal weapons moving into the hands of rogue states and/or terrorist networks is real, and certainly, the capabilities that the special operations force bring in this area are relevant," he said.
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