BAGHDAD — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld lashed out at Iraqi critics of the U.S.-led occupation yesterday, demanding that they take more responsibility for their own security and give American forces more information about saboteurs and terrorists.
“Instead of pointing fingers at the security forces of the coalition, … it’s important for the Iraqi people to step up and provide information,” Mr. Rumsfeld said at a news conference.
His remarks came as President Bush prepared to make an unusual televised address to the nation amid mounting criticism of U.S. postwar policy in Iraq.
In a 15-minute address from the Oval Office at 8:15 p.m. tonight, the president is to emphasize that the effort in Iraq is crucial to the global war on terrorism.
Many Iraqis, as well as some members of Congress, have said they are frustrated that security remains a problem in Iraq four months after Mr. Bush declared that major combat operations had ended.
Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged Iraq is not as safe as it should be, but said the fault does not lie with American forces.
Accompanying Mr. Rumsfeld during the secretary’s three-day visit to the occupying American forces, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, held to his position that more American troops are not needed.
“There is no risk at the tactical, operational or strategic level,” Gen. Sanchez said at the same news conference. “The only way we will fail in this country is if we decide to walk away in Iraq and fight the next battle on the war on terrorism in America.
“A platoon out of any one of my battalions could defeat the threat, readily. I don’t need any more forces. We need the Iraqi people to help us and give us the intelligence we need.”
Earlier, Mr. Rumsfeld visited a mass grave site and a Saddam Hussein execution chamber, paying grim homage to atrocities of the deposed Iraqi president’s rule.
Mr. Rumsfeld stood atop a mound of powdery dirt overlooking the graves of about 900 people summarily executed during a Shi’ite Muslim uprising after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
They were the unidentified among more than 3,000 massacre victims unearthed in Al Hillah, a 1,000-year-old city near the site of ancient Babylon, shortly after American forces moved through last spring on the way to Baghdad.
Dr. Rafid al-Hussuni, a physician who lost two uncles and two close friends in the massacre, stood beside a somber Mr. Rumsfeld and explained his efforts to safeguard mass graves around the country.
Dr. al-Hussuni was involved in the Al Hillah exhumations and started a volunteer group to counsel patience among Iraqis desperate to open the mass graves to find the remains of loved ones. Hasty and haphazard searches could destroy evidence in possible criminal prosecution of those responsible.
“If you can arrest all those people and put them on trial, the hearts of the Iraqi people will be satisfied,” said Dr. al-Hussuni, who still has not found the remains of his uncles or his friends.
The visit was part of Mr. Rumsfeld’s third day of a tour of Iraq to see results of the invasion he helped direct from the Pentagon. The defense secretary also has met with American military commanders and troops, as well as with L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S.-led civilian administration in Iraq.
Later yesterday, Mr. Rumsfeld toured the cinderblock death house at the notorious Abu Ghuraib prison outside Baghdad. He stood in the stifling concrete room where condemned prisoners went to their deaths.
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the U.S. Army military police brigade now in charge of the prison, demonstrated how prisoners were hanged from ropes tied to metal bars in the ceiling. She pushed a lever and doors in the floor opened with a deafening metallic clang.
“I can tell it was designed to impose fear on all Iraqis,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Saddam emptied Abu Ghuraib and most other prisons in Iraq in October as the United States prepared to invade. Guards and looters stripped the prisons of most useable equipment, and officials systematically burned prison records, Gen. Karpinski said.
In Najaf, meanwhile, armed fighters patrolled the streets wearing black armbands of a once-outlawed Islamic group now led by a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a member of the Governing Council, took over the leadership of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) in Iraq after his brother, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, was killed by an Aug. 29 car bomb outside the Imam Ali shrine. About 100 others also died in the blast.
Mr. Bremer said the armed fighters in Najaf have the blessing of the American occupation force.
The brigade — the armed wing of SCIRI — had been ordered to disarm and disband by U.S. forces shortly after the fall of Baghdad five months ago.