- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday said that “quitting is not an exit strategy” and listed a number of statistics he said show great progress in Iraq over the past year.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the emerging Iraqi Security Forces, which numbered fewer than 100,000 in July 2004, today comprises 212,000 trained and equipped troops and police.

Some Democrats have cited the maturation as an opening to bring home a sizable number of the 160,000 American troops on the ground. Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, has called for a full withdrawal. And even Senate Republican leaders want an accelerated turnover of security duties to Iraqis.

But Mr. Rumsfeld said the U.S. strategy has come too far after 2 years of struggle in Iraq to pull out now.

“The answer is clear. Quitting is not an exit strategy,” said the defense secretary, whom Democrats have accused of botching post-Saddam Hussein planning. “It would be a formula for putting the American people at still greater risk. It would be an invitation for more terrorist violence. Indeed, the more the enemies make it sound as though the United States is going to quit, the more encouraged they will be and the more successful they will be in recruiting and raising money and in trying to wait us out.”

Military commanders in recent weeks have reported favorable trends leading up to Dec. 15 elections for Iraq’s first permanent parliament in the post-Saddam era. A number of Sunni leaders are abandoning the insurgency and exploring how to join the political process. And al Qaeda leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, who commands a foreign terrorist force of about 1,000, has seen his numbers diminish inside Iraq, according to U.S. intelligence sources.

But Democratic critics point to the rising death toll. More than 2,000 American troops have been killed since the March 2003 invasion. They also say the Pentagon, despite an influx of more than $1 billion, has failed to make inroads in countering the No. 1 killer: insurgent-made improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are placed along roadways and are used by suicide bombers.

However, Mr. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference, “The strategy is working and we should stick to it, and those who do will be proud of the accomplishment that we will see.”

He has said that the U.S. troop count will revert to a base force of 138,000 after the elections. In 2006, commanders expect to be able to drop that number by 20,000 or more if positive trends continue.

“One trend that is really extremely encouraging is the number of tips that are being provided to Iraqi armed forces and coalition forces by Iraqi citizens,” said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs chairman. He said the coalition was able to uncover a large IED factory on Monday based on one of nearly 5,000 tips a month coming from Iraqis.

On charges from some Sunnis Muslims that “death squads” of Shi’ites and Kurds are murdering citizens, Mr. Rumsfeld said the accusations are unverified at this point. He suggested the accusers may be motivated by the upcoming elections.

“There are going to be a lot of charges and countercharges and allegations, and they may very well be timed, as they are in every country in the world that has a free political system … to seek advantage,” he said.

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