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Rumsfeld Rejects Criticism of US Reconstruction Efforts in Iraq - 2003-05-09

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East have rejected criticism that reconstruction efforts in Iraq are moving too slowly.

Army four-star General Tommy Franks says decisive combat operations in Iraq are over. While coalition troops still do face scattered pockets of resistance, the commander of the U.S. Central Command says they are mainly focused on helping the Iraqi people, as they work to build a new country.

In his first appearance at the Pentagon since the war, General Franks told reporters, basic services are being restored throughout the country, just over 50 days since the war began.

"Children in Iraq are beginning to return to school, and basic services, like health care, electricity and water, while not where they need to be, and certainly not where they will be, are improving every day," said General Franks.

The general's comments coincide with news reports that charge the reconstruction effort in Iraq has been plagued by insufficient resources and inadequate preparation, fueling complaints from Iraqis and raising doubts about the Bush administration's promises.

For his part, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says reports on conditions in Iraq are what he terms "slices of truth" that do not fully reflect the overall situation. He told reporters, Pentagon officials are keeping close tabs on developments involving the restoration of basic services in Iraq's 27 major cities, using a color-coded system, in which red reflects situations worse than before the war, green is the same, blue is better.

"The reds have disappeared as of this morning, there are very few blues, but there are some blues, and there are amber, or yellow, for getting better, but not up to the green level," he said. "This is a reflection of the seriousness of purpose of General Franks and his team. And, as he said in his remarks, things are in fact getting better every day in that country."

Mr. Rumsfeld says it is always difficult to make a transition from despotism to a freer system. But he says 50 odd days is not a very long period, and people in Iraq should be realistic. He says they should be patient.

The Defense Secretary says it is not possible to know how long U.S. forces will have to remain in Iraq. But he says they will stay as long as is necessary to create a secure environment. He indicates, however, that some American soldiers may eventually be replaced by international peacekeepers volunteered by other countries.