- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gently nudged constitution writers in Iraq to reach agreement, but cautioned yesterday that a final document, if approved by voters in October, would not, in itself, stop the violence.

In a wide-ranging press conference, Mr. Rumsfeld sent some long-range advice to Iraqi leaders trying this week to craft a constitution that addresses religious and ethnic concerns. He said perfection may not be attainable the first time.

“The constitution, to be successful, has to take into account the legitimate interests and fashion a balance in the federalism aspect of it and in the other key things that they’re worried about so that they’ll all nod and say, ‘Well, I really don’t like it, it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough, and by golly, if we have to amend it, lots of other countries have amended their constitution,’” the defense secretary said.

Mr. Rumsfeld reiterated that the Pentagon will increase troop levels by several thousand, from the current 138,000, for the Oct. 15 referendum on the constitution. That vote will lead to elections in January of a permanent parliament.

Iraqi leaders presented a draft constitution Monday, but postponed a vote in the interim parliament, as majority Shi’ites sought support from Sunni Muslim leaders.



Even with an agreement, Mr. Rumsfeld warned, “The constitution is not likely to end all the violence in Iraq or solve all the country’s problems.”

The Bush administration hopes the votes in October and January, plus the training of nearly 200,000 Iraqi security forces, will go a long way toward reducing terror attacks. This, in turn, will allow U.S. troop levels to drop by tens of thousands.

U.S. polls show slipping support for the war as the death toll for American troops exceeds 1,800.

Mr. Rumsfeld, though, predicted the American people will not abandon the war effort.

“I think it will have the support of the American people and it will be sustained and we will be successful,” he said. “And the alternative would be to turn that country and 25 million people over to terrorists and the kinds of people who have used chemicals on their own people and chemicals on their neighbors. That’s not a happy prospect. That would be to turn to darkness.”

Asked about Sen. Chuck Hagel’s assessment that Iraq is comparable to the Vietnam War, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “The differences are so notable that it would take too long to list them.”

Mr. Hagel, a Nebraska Republican and Vietnam War veteran, has said that the United States is “losing” the war in Iraq.

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