- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2003

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, architect of the war to oust Saddam Hussein, said yesterday he wanted to accelerate the deployment of Iraqi security forces, and he defended the Pentagon’s handling of Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld quizzed commanders on offensives to crush die-hard Ba’athists as he rode in mud-spattered convoys of Humvees through the northern city of Kirkuk and swooped over Baghdad in a Black Hawk helicopter during a frenetic one-day visit.

“What I’ve seen firsthand is the approach that we’ve taken, the attempt to develop the Iraqi security forces, is the right approach,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at an army base on the southern edge of Baghdad.

During his third visit to Iraq since the fall of Saddam’s regime in April, senior generals gave Mr. Rumsfeld an upbeat assessment of aggressive military operations against insurgents they say are led by Saddam loyalists.

“There have been a lot of people who have said, ‘Oh my goodness, you ought to have more troops, you ought to do this, and something else ought to be done,’” Mr. Rumsfeld said, “but I am convinced that the direction that we set from the outset is the right one, and that is being executed exceedingly well, and that the security circumstances in the country will be passed over time to Iraqi security forces of various types, and that they will be able to do it.”

Mr. Rumsfeld has been criticized for postwar planning for Iraq, as insurgents mount daring attacks against U.S. forces and allies. During his visit, gunmen killed a police rookie in the latest attack on Iraqis seen as collaborating with the U.S. forces.

Mourners in Samarra, burying two men killed last week in running battles with U.S. forces, yesterday clashed with civil defense forces, killing one officer and setting his pickup truck ablaze.

However, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said attacks were down to fewer than 20 a day after surging to nearly 40 a day two weeks ago.

“I think it’s too early to say it’s a trend. It’s a good sign they’ve dropped off,” Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters.

He said he would like to expedite the recruitment, training and deployment of Iraqis.

More than 145,000 Iraqis have been put on duty with the police, the civil defense corps, the border guards, a guard service to protect critical infrastructure such as electric power facilities, and a new Iraqi army.

The U.S. goal is to field more than 220,000 Iraqis by the time sovereignty is handed to a new government in June.

Meanwhile, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on the Army, but the soldiers who are due home in the spring are fit to return to a war zone if needed, Mr. Rumsfeld said today.

Military officials have said only two of the Army’s 10 active-duty divisions will be at full strength for any new conflict next year. Mr. Rumsfeld, however, said the Army’s rating system for combat readiness may be outdated and inappropriate during a period when the nation is at war.

In an interview aboard his plane during the flight from Iraq to a refueling stop in Ireland today, Mr. Rumsfeld said he intended to discuss the matter soon with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker.

“Our force today is as trained, equipped, experienced, combat-hardened” as in any recent time, Mr. Rumsfeld said. Though their vehicles and aircraft need refurbishing or replacement and the troops need rest and fresh training, that does not mean they are not ready for further combat, he added.

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