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US Troops Cheer Rumsfeld During Surprise Visit to Iraq - 2004-05-13


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made a surprise visit to Iraq, meeting with American troops and touring the prison where Iraqis were abused by American soldiers.

With no advance word, Secretary Rumsfeld flew nonstop for 14 hours to Kuwait and then immediately headed into Iraq, meeting with American troops and making a visit to the Abu Ghraib prison, where American soldiers were photographed abusing Iraqi prisoners.

To a warm welcome from the troops, the defense secretary sought to boost their morale in the wake of the abuse scandal, which he said was "a body blow to all of us." In Congressional testimony last week Mr. Rumsfeld accepted full responsibility for the actions of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, but Thursday offered the clearest indication yet that he has no intention of resigning, as many Democrats in Washington have demanded.

"It's a fact. I'm a survivor," said Donald Rumsfeld.

On the ground in Iraq for just over seven hours, the defense secretary faced questions about the future of the U.S. mission there, at a time when American soldiers continue to be killed in near daily attacks and less than two months before political power is set to be handed back to Iraqis.

"It's going to be a tough road ahead," he said. "We know that. It's not going to be an easy path from a repressive dictatorship to a stable, prosperous, successful country."

The on-going violence in Iraq has been largely overshadowed over the past two weeks by the outrage caused by the photos of Iraqi prisoners being forced to strip naked and simulate sex. Members of Congress say additional, unreleased photos of mistreatment that they have been allowed to see are even more graphic, with many worried that outrage in the Arab world will lead to more acts of retaliation.

The CIA now says the brutal videotaped execution in Iraq of American civilian Nick Berg was probably carried out by wanted Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and that it is his voice on the tape declaring the beheading in retaliation for Iraqi prisoners being abused.

The U.S. government has a $10-million reward for information leading to the capture of the suspected terrorist, who has been implicated in other attacks in Iraq and is suspected of involvement in the murder two years ago of an American diplomat in Jordan.

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