- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld waded yesterday into the debate over benchmarks for political progress in Iraq, saying the goals laid out this week in Baghdad by U.S. officials are not firm deadlines as asserted by the Iraqi prime minister.

In a combative press conference at the Pentagon during which he urged reporters to “back off,” he noted the intense atmosphere in Washington by saying, “It’s a political season, and everyone’s trying to make a little mischief out of this.”

He said his top commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, have been in continuing discussions to set markers for accelerating the takeover by Iraqi security forces and reaching peace between ruling Shi’ites and minority Sunnis.

“They then discuss, ‘well, when might something happen?’,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “And it isn’t a date and it isn’t a penalty if it doesn’t. I mean, you’re trying to add a degree of formality and finality and punishment to something. My goodness.”

Last week, Mr. Rumsfeld said Iraq had to assume more security missions “sooner rather than later.”

Mr. Rumsfeld admonished the press for what he says is an attempt to create division between the administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, even while the Iraqi himself has rebuked Washington.

“This is complicated stuff,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “No one can predict the future with absolute certainty. So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax.”

President Bush on Wednesday, and Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday, took pains to explain the benchmark process announced in Baghdad in the face of strident criticism from Mr. al-Maliki.

Earlier this week, Gen. Casey announced a timeline for having Iraqi security forces take control of all 18 provinces in 18 months. They have been put in control of two. Mr. Khalilzad said he wanted a political compact in place within a year that divided up Iraqi oil wealth and brought militias under government control. This would include the Mahdi Army controlled by radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a political ally of Mr. al-Maliki’s

Asked how the United States will deal with Sheik al-Sadr, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “It is something that the sovereign Iraqi government is wrestling with.”

When a reporter asserted that “Every time a benchmark has been laid down in terms of security forces and the like the Iraqis have been unable to meet them,” Mr. Rumsfeld became testy.

“That is just false,” he shot back, before listing missions they had accomplished.

Defense sources have told The Washington Times that Sheik al-Sadr lost control of a large number of militiamen, who formed autonomous death squads that hunt down Sunni civilians around Baghdad.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the press was trying to corner the administration into setting firm deadlines. “And then of course you can point with alarm and say, ‘Oh my goodness, you didn’t make it.’ And you can have a front-page article and everyone will have a good time,” he said. “And then the ones that we make earlier than we thought, we’ll never see it on the front page.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide