- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

Terrorists will target Iraqi politicians and U.S. coalition allies in a bid to undermine scheduled national elections in Iraq in January, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld warned yesterday.

In separate major policy addresses on the eve of the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell insisted that the United States under President Bush had made major gains in the global war on terror.

“Our world is safer than it was three years ago, but there is still much more work to be done,” Mr. Powell told a large audience at Georgetown University’s Gaston Hall.

Despite the gains, Mr. Rumsfeld told a National Press Club audience, there is no “doubt in my mind” that insurgents would increase their attacks around the world in the coming months in an effort to derail the U.N.-administered elections.

The Pentagon chief made his remarks a day after a car bomb was detonated outside Australia’s embassy in Indonesia, killing nine persons and wounding more than 170 others.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the country holds elections Oct. 9 that could turn on whether Australia remains in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

“Some countries have elections taking place and there’s a big tug of war over whether or not they should stay [in Iraq],” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “And the terrorists know that. They’re not stupid; they’re smart.”

In his defense of the Bush administration’s record, Mr. Powell cited the ousting of hostile regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, new cooperation from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in rolling up terrorist financing and supply networks, and Libya’s decision to give up its weapons programs.

“All of these achievements have come about because the United States of America was willing to stand firm, because President Bush was willing to stand firm,” Mr. Powell said.

In his address and in an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Powell said that while al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden remains at large, his network has been decimated and he must devote most of his energies just to evading capture.

Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged that U.S. and Iraqi forces will have to deal soon with Iraqi cities like Fallujah, which are now largely in the hands of radical Islamist groups. Critics say the January elections could be jeopardized if the interim Iraqi government cannot establish control in insurgent-controlled areas.

“We know what will take place in Fallujah, and that is that it will be restored under the control of the Iraqi government eventually,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“What we don’t know is whether it will be done peacefully or by force. But one way or another, it will happen.”

He also forcefully rejected a lead editorial in the London-based Financial Times saying U.S. forces had “utterly bungled” the postwar security situation in Iraq and should begin withdrawing.

“The extremists are determined to destroy states, to destroy free systems,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

“They are determined to take their violence and spread it across the globe, and we can’t let them do it. And the Financial Times is wrong.”

Mr. Rumsfeld did not mention Australia by name, but that country’s Oct. 9 vote is being closely watched as a bellwether for the U.S. presidential election less than a month later and British elections expected next spring.

The March 11 train bombings in Madrid, blamed on al Qaeda operatives, played a critical role in the defeat of the party of pro-U.S. President Jose Maria Aznar two days later at the hands of a party that opposed Spain’s mission in Iraq.

In Australia, opposition Labor Party leader Mark Latham has sharply criticized Mr. Howard’s close alliance with Washington and has said he wants to bring home Australia’s 850 troops in the region as quickly as possible.

The two candidates, running neck-and-neck in the polls, suspended campaigning after the Indonesia attack.

Neither would speculate on how the bombing might affect the vote, but Mr. Howard vowed not to be intimidated by threats from militant Islamist groups against Australian targets.

“We will not have our foreign policy or security policy determined by terrorist threats,” he told reporters in Canberra. “Once a country starts doing that, it’s handing over control of its future.”

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