June 27, 2005

Iraqis put on brave face after Rumsfeld remarks

By Peter Graff

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi leaders put on a brave face onMonday after Washington acknowledged that it would be up tothem -- not American forces -- to defeat an insurgency thatcould last a decade or more.

Asked to respond to comments by Defense Secretary DonaldRumsfeld that the Sunni insurgency in Iraq would last years,Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said it was impossible topredict how long it would take to defeat it.

"Politics is not mathematics," he told a conference inLondon.

Violence, which has worsened sharply in the two monthssince Jaafari's Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government tookoffice, continued unabated, with U.S. forces reporting ahelicopter crash and at least one U.S. soldier gunned down.

Rumsfeld's remarks appeared to signal a change in U.S.rhetoric ahead of President Bush's keynote Iraq speech plannedfor Tuesday. Just a few weeks ago Vice President Dick Cheneysaid the insurgency was in its "last throes."

But Rumsfeld said in a U.S. television interview: "Thatinsurgency can go on for any number of years ... Insurgenciestend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years."

Although he did not say whether or when the United Stateswould pull some or all of its 140,000 troops out of Iraq, hemade clear Washington does not plan to go on leading the fightuntil Iraq is at peace.

"Foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency,"Rumsfeld said. "We're going to create an environment that theIraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against thatinsurgency."

Many in the U.S. Congress, including some in Bush'sRepublican Party, have begun calling for a timetable forwithdrawal as polls show the war becoming increasinglyunpopular at home. The Bush administration says there is notimetable for bringing the troops home, and setting one wouldbe dangerous.

A complete or partial U.S. withdrawal would put pressure onJaafari's government and its hastily assembled forces to defeatthe mainly Sunni Arab insurgents or make peace with them.

U.S. forces and their allies have begun to train an Iraqiarmy and say they have built up more than 100 battalions ofIraqi troops.

But, in a country that once had the world's third biggestarmy, the insurgents are very heavily armed and includeforeigners linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, sworn to killShi'ites and Westerners alike to establish a Sunni Caliphate.


Jaafari's supporters said they did not expect the Americansto leave.

"I don't think the U.S. will leave Iraq. It has its owninterests in Iraq and in the region," said Ali Dabagh, a memberof parliament from the ruling Shi'ite-led alliance.

The U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, saidAmericans had the wrong impression of the strength of theinsurgency.

"This insurgency is not nearly as capable as everyonethinks it is. In fact, the insurgents want you to think theyare more powerful than they are," he told ABC television.

"What I will tell you is that on the ground in Iraq, Iraqismake progress every day. On the ground in Iraq, the momentum isvery much more in favor of democracy than it is in favor ofterror," he said, adding that the insurgency would ultimatelybe defeated by negotiations, not on the battlefield.

Attacks by insurgents are no more frequent than last year,but they are far more deadly, he said.

More U.S. troops have died in bomb attacks in each of thelast two months than in any month since the 2003 invasion. SixAmericans were killed in a single blast last week.

On Sunday, suicide bombers killed more than 30 people inthree attacks in and around the northern city of Mosul,striking a police station, an Iraqi army checkpoint and apolice post in a hospital where wounded from the other attackswere being treated.

Attacks on that scale, once rare, now occur almost daily inIraq, where hundreds of people are killed and wounded insuicide bombings each week.

On Monday a U.S. military Apache attack helicopter crashednorth of Baghdad and witnesses said it may have been shot down.

A U.S. soldier was shot dead inspecting a burning car inBaghdad, and a roadside bomb apparently aimed at a policeconvoy killed two civilians. A mortar round landed in arestaurant near a Baghdad bus station, injuring seven people.Overnight, gunmen opened fire at a Baghdad barbershop, killingthree people before blowing it up with explosives and escaping.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Lutfi Abu Aun andFaris al-Mehdawi)