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Iraq: Military Briefing

April 7, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: This afternoon, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers briefed reporters at the Pentagon. Here are some excerpts.

DONALD RUMSFELD: This is an important moment in Iraq’s history. The future of the Iraqi people is certainly at stake. So the stakes are high. They’re high for Iraq, they’re high for the region, and indeed, they’re high for the world. The United States will stand resolute with the Iraqi people and those brave Iraqis who have stepped forward to defend and also the officials who represent them.

We have military plans to systematically address the situations we are currently facing. Those plans are now being implemented. Because we’re in the midst of a major troop rotation, we have a planned increase in the number of U.S. troops in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, and, indeed, in Iraq. We’re taking advantage of that increase, and we will likely be managing the pace of the redeployments to allow those seasoned troops with experience and relationships with the local populations to see the current situation through.

REPORTER: Mr. Secretary, despite what you and the general said about thugs and gangs, the facts appear to be that you are fighting pitched — U.S. forces are fighting pitched battles with both Sunni and Shia in many cities in Iraq today. More than 30 U.S. troops have been killed since the weekend. The Kazakhs said today that they will not send troops back to Iraq after July. The Bulgarians called in ambassadors to say they demanded protection for their 450 troops in Iraq. Are things out of control there now?

DONALD RUMSFELD: We’ve spent a good deal of time on the phone with General Abizaid and General Sanchez and with Paul Bremer, Ambassador Bremer, and the answer is no. You say “pitched battles.” These are — the number of people that are involved in those battles are relatively small. And there’s nothing like an army or a major, large elements of hundreds of people trying to overthrow or to change the situation. You have a mixture of a small number of terrorists, a small number of militias, coupled with some demonstrations and some lawlessness. And it’s a serious problem, and the problem’s being worked, and General Abizaid and General Sanchez and his team have high confidence.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: Can I just add one thing to that, about this issue of “out of control”? You got to bear in mind that, at least in the case of Sadr, that he’s wanted by the Iraqi government, and that what contributed to this was our offensive action. We shut down of the newspaper, then went after one of his lieutenants, Yacoubi. And it was not unanticipated or unexpected that we would see some resistance to that.

REPORTER: Numbers for Sadr’s followers have been all over the map. Can you give us some numbers on the estimate of his militia, his followers, and some numbers also of the anti-coalition forces overall that you think you’re facing?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I know there’s 25 million people in the country. And the estimates I’ve heard for this fellow are, depending on who you talk to, somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000, out of 25 million.

REPORTER: I wanted to follow up. Both of you made the point — but you especially, General Myers — that this violence, this unrest, was not unexpected, not unanticipated during this time frame. You also, my question is, if that is the case, why were U.S. troops not better positioned to deal with it if you knew it was coming?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS: You cannot predict where the tactical fight’s going to take place with certainty. And so when we say it’s not unexpected, that’s at sort of the operational level; we know there will probably be violence because of a certain action that we take. We know that. To say exactly where it’s going to take place and the characteristics of that, that’s probably — in many cases we can do that, but in many cases we cannot do that. So I think that’s what you’re seeing.

REPORTER: Has General Abizaid asked for more troops? I think that’s the question we’re trying to get to.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The answer to the question is — the general already gave it. We’ve said it every week, every month, from the very beginning, that the commanders on the ground make a continuing assessment as to the number of troops they believe they need and the kinds of troops they need. They make recommendations and I sign deployment orders. You can be certain that if they want more troops, we will sign deployment orders so that they’ll have the troops they need. And he made a statement and I made a statement that we are looking at the overlap to take advantage of it. When we have something more detailed to announce, we’ll probably first announce it to the troops and then to you.