Timeline for Iraq Pullout Would Aid Insurgents, Rumsfeld Says


New York Times

June 23, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today that setting a timeline for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would give a "lifeline for terrorists." And in a spirited defense of the war, he invoked Abraham Lincoln and the American revolution.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Rumsfeld said a scheduled withdrawal, as several Congressional Democrats have pushed for recently, "would be a mistake."

"It would throw a lifeline to terrorists who in recent months have suffered significant losses and casualties, been denied havens and suffered weakened popular support," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Timing in war is never predictable. There are no guarantees. And any who say we've lost this war or that we're losing this war are wrong. We are not."

Mr. Rumsfeld said "less than 140,000" American troops were in Iraq, down from a high of 160,00 during the Iraqi elections in January. He said the priorities of the remaining troops have shifted "from conducting security operations, essentially to a heavier focus on training, equipping and assisting the Iraqi security forces."

Gen. John P. Abizaid, head of the United States Central Command, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who is in charge of multinational forces in Iraq, and Mr. Rumsfeld declined to endorse the position of Vice President Dick Cheney, who said recently that the insurgency in Iraq was in its "last throes."

"Those words, though, I didn't use them, and I might not use them," said Mr. Rumsfeld, who did allow that insurgents might believe they are in their last throes.

Responding to questions from Sen. Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, General Abizaid said he would not criticize the vice president, but added, "there's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency."

But Mr. Rumsfeld gave a relatively positive picture of the war in his testimony.

"Iraqis are building an economy and it's growing," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "The insurgency remains dangerous, particularly in several parts of Iraq, but terrorists no longer can take advantage of sanctuaries like Falluja. And coalition and Iraqi forces are capturing or killing hundreds of violent extremists on a weekly basis and confiscating literally a mountain of weapons."

But he acknowledged that Iraqi forces are not ready to fight the war by themselves, and none of the officials said they could say how many are actually "combat ready."

"A year ago, six Iraqi army battalions were in training," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Today, dozens of trained battalions are capable of conducting armed anti-insurgent operations, albeit with coalition support. Sections of the country are relatively peaceful and essentially under the control of Iraqi security forces at the present time."

Perhaps referring to declining support for the war, Mr. Rumsfeld referred to the dark days of the American revolution in 1776, and also quoted President Lincoln, who told Americans during the Civil War in 1864: "There may be mistakes made sometimes, and things done wrong, while the officers of the government do all they can to prevent mistakes. But I beg of you as citizens of this great republic, not to let your minds be carried off from the great work we have before us."

Mr. Rumsfeld said, "That was good advice."