28 April 2003

Rumsfeld Greets Allies, Troops on Persian Gulf Tour

Itinerary includes a stop in Afghanistan

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer

Washington — Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has been meeting with key friends and allies during a trip to the Persian Gulf to thank coalition members and U.S. troops for their contributions to "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

He met with Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, in Doha April 28 as well as Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill, whose troops are serving in Iraq as part of the coalition that has liberated the country from Saddam Hussein's regime.

During a stop in the United Arab Emirates April 27, Rumsfeld thanked UAE leaders "for their wonderful assistance with respect to the campaign to liberate Iraq." After meeting with Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Minister of Defense Muhammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Muhammed bi Zayed al-Nahyran, the secretary said the UAE has been "a leader in delivering humanitarian assistance in a variety of places around the world, but they were the first nation to send a relief ship into Iraq filled with ... 700 tons of needed food, water and medical supplies."

The U.S. and UAE officials discussed the future of Iraq and Afghanistan, another country Rumsfeld plans to visit as part of his trip. With its coalition partners, the United States plans to do all that is necessary to bring about a permissive security environment in Iraq "that allows the Iraqi people to begin that important process of developing an Iraqi Interim Authority," he told them, "and then, ultimately, a free Iraqi government."

During an April 28 Doha press conference, Rumsfeld and the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), General Tommy Franks, were asked about U.S. tolerance for Iranian influence in Iraq. "The United States and the coalition forces are not going to allow neighboring forces to attempt to influence the outcomes in Iraq," Rumsfeld responded. He indicated that the Iraqi people will want to find their own political solution to future government rather than an Iranian one. "And certainly we would not want to see a government like Iran has," he added, "imposed on the people of Iraq."

In another media availability the same day on the same subject, Rumsfeld pointed out that the Iraqis "didn't fight a long war with Iran because they'd like Iran to come and run their country." In Iran, he said, there is a small group of clerics running the country "in a way that is not democratic, that is repressive of the people." The idea of having that kind of government imposed on Iraq "would be inconsistent with what we hope we'll see happen," he added.

Addressing the military situation in Iraq, Franks said that while decisive combat operations were wrapped up quickly, a declaration that war is over must be made by President Bush. He said the United States believes that, within its capabilities, it has an obligation to provide for the security and the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Rumsfeld told Abu Dhabi television in an interview April 27 that pockets of resistance in Iraq and individuals "attempting to blow up things, who are leftovers from the Fedayeen Saddam crowd (and)...paramilitaries," still constitute "combat activity" in Iraq. But most of the country "is reasonably permissive," he said, noting that nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian workers are going in.

On the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld told his interviewer that U.S. and British military forces are designed to fight but not to conduct "manhunts." He then asked and answered a couple of his own questions by asking, "Is the former Iraqi leader "running Iraq? No. He is not running Iraq. Is the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein running Iraq? Not on your life, they're not running Iraq."

Every day additional members "are being scooped up," he said as CENTCOM announced that Husam Muhammad al-Yasin, is now in coalition custody. The Iraqi National Monitoring Director, who had knowledge about Iraqi weapons and was a confidant of Saddam Hussein's sons, is the 13th of 55 high regime officials now in coalition hands

Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone in Iraq, Franks said U.S. and British overflights — in the form of Operations Northern and Southern Watch — are no longer necessary. In the near future, he said, there would "likely be a rearrangement" of the U.S. footprint, or presence, in the region.

Rumsfeld is expected to make additional stops during his trip to the Gulf and South Asia that may include Bahrain and Iraq. Now that Afghanistan is in what he described as a stabilization operation mode, the secretary said the U.S. is encouraged by the work of provincial reconstruction teams. The teams include representatives from different nations and agencies, he said, with the task of "demonstrating an ability to make life better for the Afghan people in those ... provinces."

Meanwhile, as Rumsfeld and Franks traveled across the Gulf, Franks said the U.S. administrator in Baghdad, Jay Garner, hosted another in a series of "big tent" meetings with a broad representation of Iraqis to discuss their future government. "Iraqis are allowed to raise their voice in debate without fear of torture or death," Franks said.

More than 300 delegates met in Baghdad as part of an ongoing process in what Franks called their transition to independence. Delegate Zainab al-Suwaij, of the American Islamic Congress, was quoted as telling Reuters: "We are here, hopefully, to put down the structure or agree on the skeleton of a government."

The heavily-guarded meeting, on what would have been marked — pre-liberation — as Saddam Hussein's 66th birthday, found delegates such as Hussein Sadr, dean of the Islamic Council in London, saying: "People want real participation."

Many expressed their continuing concerns, however, about security in Iraq. Former exile politician Saadoun Dulaimi said: "The lack of security threatens our new born democracy. Security must be restored for this experience to survive." This led to a decision to organize another town meeting April 29 devoted to that subject.

On the outskirts of Baghdad, the newly elected city council of Abu Gharyib was moving forward with its agenda. U.S. Special Forces helped them establish an election process that could be used as a template elsewhere in Iraq, according to an April 28 news release issued by CENTCOM.

"We told them if they led, we would support them," according to the team leader of the Special Forces who worked with members of the Abu Gharyib community. It is understandable, the American officer said, that after 36 years of Ba'ath Party leadership they might be afraid of stepping forward or that they would not be necessarily knowledgeable about how democracy works, but "for the first time they have an assembly elected through a democratic process."

On another front, Iraqis have been responding to coalition entreaties to citizens in Baghdad to return antiquities that have been stolen from a variety of Iraqi museums. An April 28 CENTCOM release reported that more than 100 looted items, including a 7000-year-old vase and ancient manuscripts, have been returned. Coalition forces plan to continue working with the community and investigating tips that could lead to the recovery of additional antiquities.

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