Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld charged yesterday that Iran is fueling the deadly insurgency in Iraq with money and fighters.
But, in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times, Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledged that the United States has limited options because other nations are “not willing” to join in pressuring Iran, which has shown behavior that Mr. Rumsfeld said is “not part of the civilized world.”
The defense secretary, a main architect of President Bush’s strategy of attacking Islamic terrorists worldwide, declared of the insurgency in Iraq, “They’re losing.”
His assessment came on a day when the military death toll in Iraq reached 1,000 Americans since the invasion in May 2003.
“I feel generally quite good about how things are going there,” he said. “Needless to say, you can’t feel good about it when you’ve lost over a thousand people.”
He gave the administration and the coalition a “B-plus” for managing Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in terms of interaction between the new government and U.S. forces.
“If I had to grade it so far, I’d probably give it a B-plus, pretty good, and maybe an A in interaction and maybe a B in outcome,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “But it’s a tough business.”
His remarks came after American troops suffered some of their highest casualty rates in recent weeks in Iraq, including the loss of seven Marines in a car bombing on Monday.
On the critical question of whether the far-flung insurgency is weaker or stronger today than when it began in earnest one year ago, Mr. Rumsfeld was noncommittal.
Asked whether the enemy is weaker, he said, “It’s hard to say that when you’ve just gone through a week or two where you’ve peaked in terms of the number of incidents. And my guess is they see they’re losing. Does that mean that the pain is going to go down? Not necessarily. It may mean that it’ll go up. It may mean between now and an Iraqi election and Iraqi constitution that they will be even more desperate.”
He added, “There are people opposing the coalition, and they’re getting pounded. And they have been getting pounded. The solution to that of course, if they don’t want to get killed, is to stop terrorizing the Iraqi people.”
Mr. Rumsfeld repeatedly has accused Iran of “meddling” in Iraqi affairs, but has offered few details.
Military sources have told The Times that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard helped fund Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr. The radical cleric’s ragtag Mahdi’s Army has staged a series of deadly insurrections in southern Iraq and in the Shi’ite slums of Baghdad.
A U.S. military intelligence report obtained last week by The Times states that most of his foot soldiers are criminals who were freed by Saddam weeks before the allied invasion.
Asked for details yesterday on Iranian meddling, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “They have put people in there. They have put money in there.
“By ‘they,’ I’m not going to say which element of the government or whether it’s even known to the government. But money has come in from Iran. People have come in from Iran. And it’s a very difficult thing to stop,” he said. “Iran is a country that is not part of the civilized world in terms of its behavior.”
Asked whether Iran is funding Sheik al-Sadr, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “There’s a lot of speculation to that effect.”
Run by radical clerics who imposed their rule through the Revolutionary Guard, Iran is one of the world’s top sponsors of international terrorism, according to the U.S. State Department, and, along with Saddam-run Iraq and North Korea, it was dubbed part of an “axis of evil” by Mr. Bush.
Some military intelligence sources say Iran is working to impose the same type of Shi’ite rule in Iraq, as it also seeks nuclear weapons.
Mr. Rumsfeld said to date, countries are not willing to band together to force Tehran to change.
“The problem of proliferation and the problem of terror and the problem of dealing with a country that’s separated itself from the civilized community is that those are the kind of things that require the cooperation of a lot of countries,” he said.
“And when you have countries of the world that are not willing to participate in an organized effort to try to persuade a country to behave in a civilized way, it encourages them simply to continue on its merry way. And that’s a problem,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
On Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld said he cannot say whether the war has reached a “tipping point” in favor of the coalition, which includes about 140,000 U.S. troops.
Still, he contended, “I think the country is vastly better off than it was a year ago.”
He cited statistics on reopened schools and hospitals, the transition to Iraqi sovereignty and the creation of about 100,000 Iraqi security forces toward a total force of 200,000.
After the September 11 attacks, Mr. Rumsfeld transformed the military to better position it to conduct manhunts to kill or capture terrorists. Three years after the attacks, the defense secretary still thinks conducting manhunts is a key to winning the global war.
“We’re going to have to wear them down,” he said. “We’re going to go after them where they are. If anything, the world should understand that going on the defense won’t do it. It simply won’t do. The only way you can deal with this problem is to be on the offense, is to find them where they are.”