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US Defense Secretary Urges Iraqi Leaders to Hasten Democratic Transition

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, left, and US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has urged Iraq's new leaders to avoid delays in the transition to democracy. Mr. Rumsfeld made the remarks after meeting the Iraqi president and prime minister during a visit to Baghdad.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he was pleased with his separate meetings with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. And he expressed satisfaction with the formation of the new Iraqi government, 10 weeks after the first democratic elections in 50 years.

"We are pleased to see what has taken place and certainly wish them well in their further considerations of the development of this important Iraqi transition government," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld urged the Iraqi leaders to fight corruption, which is slowing reconstruction. He also urged them to avoid drastic changes in the command structure of security forces.

Members of the new parliament have called for the removal of dozens of senior commanders linked to the Saddam Hussein regime, but others caution that the former Baathists are needed to effectively combat the wave of violence in the country.

After their meetings, the Iraqi leaders said they reassured the U.S. secretary that they will work for a smooth, transition and fight corruption.

The parliament is to draft a new constitution by August, leading to a referendum in October and new elections by December of this year. But many political observers believe the process could be delayed because of efforts to include Sunni Arabs. The Sunnis won less than 20 parliamentary seats after boycotting the elections.

Mr. Rumsfeld also met with U.S. soldiers. He told them that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq depends on the ability of Iraqi security forces to assume full responsibility for security in the country.

"We do not really have an exit strategy. We have a victory strategy," he said.

The U.S. official earlier said the U.S. military hopes to cut the number of its troops in Iraq by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy confirmed that militants kidnapped an American contractor Monday in Baghdad, but said no one had claimed responsibility.

U.S. warplanes bombed suspected insurgent positions in western Iraq, near the border with Syria, one day after a suicide bombing killed a dozen Iraqis. And a car bomb in the northern city of Mosul killed five Iraqis and wounded three others.