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Rumsfeld Rues Rising U.S. Losses in Iraq

Secretary of defense, lecturing at the Reagan library, is surprised at continued terrorism months after the war was declared over.

October 11, 2003|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that he was surprised by the continued ability of Saddam Hussein-backed terrorists to wreak havoc on the people of Iraq five months after the war was declared over.

In a lecture at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley, Rumsfeld said it was unfortunate that American soldiers, as well as those from Iraq and other countries, were continuing to die during reconstruction of the nation.

"The situation is very serious," Rumsfeld told the partisan gathering of 525 people, who packed an auditorium. "It's a low-intensity conflict, what we're left with now."

Rumsfeld, a former special envoy to the Middle East for President Reagan, made no mention of possible friction within the Bush administration over Iraq policy as public concern rises over American deaths.

Rumsfeld said fear among the people of Iraq was intense as supporters of Hussein's Baath Party tried to throw the nation into chaos by striking "targets of success," such as members of Iraq's governing council and graduates of the police academy.

Despite the fear, Rumsfeld said, the Iraqi people are "bold enough to participate fully" in the rebuilding effort. In spite of what people might believe from media reports, he said, attacks by pro-Hussein insurgents affect only about "one-tenth of 1 percent" of troops in Iraq.

"When somebody is killed that is news, and it's heartbreaking," Rumsfeld said, adding that what is transpiring in Iraq "isn't a simple, clear picture." He called on "sensible American people to figure it out."

He said President Bush was committed to reconstruction and would not be dissuaded by the attacks.

"President Bush is just solid as a rock," Rumsfeld said to applause and cheers from the audience, which included former First Lady Nancy Reagan and former Gov. Pete Wilson, who serves on one of Rumsfeld's advisory committees.

Rumsfeld said Reagan's presidency sowed the seeds of Iraq's liberation and laid the groundwork for countries around the world to become democracies. Reagan also provided a blueprint for Rumsfeld's decision to use fewer but more-mobile troops in Iraq than once thought possible in a war, a strategy for which Rumsfeld is still being criticized, especially as American deaths mount.

One of Reagan's "important strategic innovations was the idea [that] to roll back communist expansion, America need not send half a million U.S. troops to every trouble spot where freedom was threatened," Rumsfeld said.

"In many cases, there were people in those countries who were willing to fight and die for their own liberation. It was Ronald Reagan's genius to make common cause with those freedom fighters -- providing them with arms, training, intelligence and other support."

He said Bush built on that notion in Afghanistan and Iraq, and noted that military forces from 32 countries are members of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. He rattled off some of the names, including Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

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