U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the delay in forming a new Iraqi government is contributing to the ongoing violence in the country.
At a news conference, Secretary Rumsfeld declined to agree with a reporter's suggestion that the political wrangling in Iraq is resulting in more violence. But he said he thinks there might be less if a government is formed.
"The favorable effect that should come from establishment of a government is being delayed, and the inevitable effect of that is that some of the violence and incidents that are occurring might have ended earlier," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld said the Iraqi leaders need to settle their differences and begin serving the millions of people who risked their lives to vote them into office.
"A good government, a competent government, a government that's seen as inclusive, and seen as governing from the center, that gets about the task of serving the Iraqi people, I believe that that would be a good thing for the country and would reduce the level of violence," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "So, to the extent that isn't happening obviously the level of violence continues and people are being killed, and that's unfortunate. And they need to get about the task."
At the wide-ranging news conference, Secretary Rumsfeld would not predict future U.S. troop levels in Iraq, although he said he expects the level to decline as the competence of Iraqi forces increases and a new government takes control. On Wednesday, President Bush said there will still be some U.S. troops in Iraq after he leaves office in January of 2009.
Secretary Rumsfeld also declined to agree with a reporter's suggestion that lower U.S. casualties in recent months could be a trend. He said casualty counts have gone up and down in the past.
Standing with the secretary, the number two U.S. military officer, Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, also declined to agree with a suggestion that a recent increase in insurgent attacks on Iraqi police stations could be a trend. The admiral said two attacks, even on consecutive days, do not amount to a trend. And he said there is no indication that insurgents are mounting any larger or better-planned attacks.
Secretary Rumsfeld also responded to a recent increase in calls for his resignation. In addition to some Democrats in Congress, who have long made such calls, a retired general wrote an opinion article this week calling the secretary "not competent" to lead the U.S. armed forces. And Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that he and other officials should resign, and that Secretary Rumsfeld is losing influence at the White House. The secretary laughed off the criticism and said he has no plans to resign.
"I'm hard at the job, working hard and getting up every day and thinking what we can do for the troops and the wonderful people who serve our country," he added.
The secretary said anyone who believes everything they read in Maureen Dowd's columns should, in his words, "get a life."
At a news conference earlier this week, President Bush re-affirmed his confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld, saying he is doing "a fine job."