Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he told Iraqi officials during his recent visit to Baghdad earlier this month they should avoid unnecessary changes in the country's armed forces and the ministries that control them based on political considerations. The secretary held a news conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Secretary Rumsfeld says some changes are inevitable, and that political considerations are legitimate as Iraq makes the transition to an elected government. But he says he urged Iraq's new leaders not to make unnecessary changes in key military positions, and in the ministries of Defense and Interior that supervise the security forces.
"To have success in the security forces, you have to have several things," he said. "And these are the words I used, 'You need to have competent people.'"
Secretary Rumsfeld did not directly refer to the dispute between Shi'ite and Sunni factions in Iraq. The election victory of parties representing the country's Shi'ite majority has raised concerns that the new leaders may oust experienced Sunni military officers and civilian officials, because of their work for the former regime.
But Secretary Rumsfeld says even changing too often from one competent official or military officer to another would have a detrimental effect on the crucial effort to defeat the country's insurgency.
"We talked about trying to avoid undue turbulence," he said. "In other words, you can have equally competent people, but if you keep changing them, there's slippage. There just inevitably is slippage. And we can't afford slippage. If they want to reduce the level of the insurgency, having competent people and avoiding unnecessary turbulence is a high priority."
At the same news conference, the top U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, acknowledged it is taking longer for Iraq's new leaders to form a government than U.S. officials had hoped. He said political progress in Iraq is important in fighting the insurgency for more than just military reasons.
"For things to work in Iraq, you've got to work against, what we said, all these lines of operation, of which good governance is one, which means the political process must go forward," he said. "We must have a cabinet appointed here very quickly. People must focus on two things - developing a constitution and developing their ministries into functioning ministries that continue to help. And that's what will give the disenfranchised and the various sects hope. And that's got to be part of the strategy."
General Myers said economic improvements are also essential to give Iraqis more confidence in the future under the planned political process, and convince more of them to help fight the insurgents by providing information about it to the coalition and the new Iraqi security forces.
He says the capture of 10 men suspected of involvement in the shooting down of a civilian helicopter near Baghdad last week came from information provided by a concerned citizen. And he says that is only one example of such cooperation, which he says has been growing, and he predicts will grow more as the political process proceeds.