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Rumsfeld Cautions Against Rapid Iraq Withdrawal


U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has cautioned against moving too fast to remove U.S. troops from Iraq, responding to the Iraq Study Group report this week that recommends removing most U.S. combat forces from the country by early 2008. Secretary Rumsfeld, who has made few public comments since his departure from office was announced a month ago, spoke at a Town Hall meeting with several hundred Pentagon staff members. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Answering a question from a civilian staff member, Secretary Rumsfeld indicated he did not find anything particularly new in the report that senior commanders have not already considered.

He said, "I can't think of a thing that anyone's thought of that General Pace and General Abizaid and those folks have not been working on and analyzing and studying and adjusting to over time."

The secretary said it is understandable that Americans would want to do something quickly to end the loss of life in Iraq, but he cautioned against moving too fast to withdraw U.S. troops.

He said, "The other thing we have to think about, though, is the dire consequences were we to fail there. It is not just an Iraq problem. It is a regional problem."

"There is a major divide between the Shia and the Sunni community in that part of the world, and the risks to its stability are significant," he added.

Rumsfeld said the military has done all it can in Iraq, but that the conflict there cannot be won militarily.

He said it is up to Iraqi officials to move toward national reconciliation and economic development. But he said the United States must continue to help both there and in Afghanistan.

"We have every chance in the world of succeeding in both those countries but only if we have the patience and only if we have the staying powe," the secretary said.

In what was one of his last public appearances as secretary of defense, Rumsfeld also reflected on the last often tumultuous six years, his second time as defense secretary.

Rumsfeld said, "I wish I could say that everything we've done here has gone perfectly. But that's not how life works, regrettably."

"The hope has to be not perfection but that most decisions, with the perspective of time, will turn out to be the right ones, and that the perspective of history will judge the overwhelmingly majority of those decisions favorably," he continued.

One soldier asked the secretary what his worst day in office had been, and to the surprise of some, he did not refer to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.

He said, "Clearly, the worst day was Abu Ghraib, and seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened."

The secretary was referring to the day the abuses at the prison in Baghdad became public. He has previously said he offered to resign at that time, but President Bush asked him to stay on.

The same soldier asked what the secretary's best day has been.

"I guess my best day, I don't know, maybe a week from Monday," he said.

A week from Monday will be Secretary Rumsfeld's last day in office. He will fall just 11 days short of becoming the longest-serving defense secretary in U.S. history.

The longest-serving secretary was Robert McNamara, who served in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.

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