Senior U.S. officials say violence will continue in Iraq after Sunday's election, and that there will be a period of political uncertainty as the results are certified and the new interim government takes shape.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the general in charge of all U.S. military operations in the Middle East, John Abizaid, went to the U.S. congress Wednesday and warned members to expect continuing violence in Iraq in the weeks and months ahead. After they spoke at a closed hearing of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, the committee chairman, Senator John Warner, publicly urged the two men to make parts of their secret testimony public.
Senator Warner said the defense officials made clear that the post-election period in Iraq will be, in his words, fraught with uncertainty. "Very clearly the secretary and the general explained to us we could anticipate a level of increased insurgency in this period of time, and increased difficulty in trying to continue the good work that's been done to train all segments of the (Iraqi) security forces," he said.
Standing with the senator, Secretary Rumsfeld said after the voting on Sunday Iraq will enter a period of turbulence that could last until March or April. "One has to expect that the level of violence will either stay where it is, or go up or down modestly, during this period, as they attempt to prevent from happening that which is going to happen," he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld said Iraq's new interim government will get itself organized, but that will take time. He explained the lengthy process in which the election results must be certified, the new national assembly must meet, choose a president and two deputies, and then they must choose a prime minister. The assembly will then confirm the prime minister, who will need to choose a cabinet, which will also have to be confirmed by the assembly. Only then will the new government ministers be able to begin to organize their ministries and get to work.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the insurgents will likely take advantage of that period to continue their attacks and challenge the fledgling government.
General Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, said U.S. forces will be there to help provide security throughout that period. He said the changes in Iraq are profound, and no one should expect those who oppose democracy to stop fighting after Election Day. "We all need to understand that in Iraq today what is happening is revolutionary in political terms. We also need to understand that the thing the enemy fears the most are free elections, elections that are the result of a fair process where a new government is chosen and a new future is taken," he said.
General Abizaid also confirmed that there will be an increased effort to train the new Iraqi security forces after the election. But he said it is not clear how many of the more than 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq will move out of direct operations and into training and advisory roles.