Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the U.S. ambassador to Iraq has told him the country's rival political leaders are talking more directly to each other, and relying less on the ambassador to act as an intermediary. Secretary Rumsfeld says that is a good sign for the future, amid continuing violence and talk about civil war.
As sectarian violence continued in Iraq on Tuesday, Secretary Rumsfeld said Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told him in a telephone conversation it was a good day on the political front.
"I guess the one thing I could say is that he felt that today in Iraq, in large measure, they were dealing with each other, which he found encouraging, as opposed to more leaning on him to talk to somebody else," he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld said Iraq's political leaders are beginning to work together to do what they need to do - form an inclusive national government. And he says that is a good sign.
With the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion just a few days away, the secretary also praised the progress of the Iraqi people through a series of elections, and the progress of the new Iraqi security forces, which are taking responsibility for more operations and more territory every week. Still, he acknowledged the situation in Iraq remains difficult with ongoing violence and a political system he said is sometimes frustratingly slow. He said he understands when people question whether the United States should stick with its mission in Iraq, but he said the effort will prove to have been worthwhile.
Secretary Rumsfeld was asked whether he agrees with many commentators who say Iraq is on the verge of, or already in the midst of a civil war.
"You know, it's a good question, and we've been trying to look for a way to characterize what are the ingredients of a civil war and how would you know if there was one and what would it look like and what might be its progression either up to increased violence or down to less violence," he said.
The secretary says U.S. forces have not done any actual exercises based on a possible Iraqi civil war, but he said officials have been thinking about what might happen if a full scale civil war breaks out.
"Is it true that people in the intelligence community are thinking about this and analyzing it, and doing A-team-B-team type looks at, sure they are," Rumsfeld said.
But Secretary Rumsfeld said he does not expect the sectarian violence to worsen into a civil war.
"I think once people get comfortable with the constitution and with the government reflecting that constitution, that that should have a beneficial effect," he said. "Can I prove it? No. Will we know soon? You bet. And is that soon enough for me? Yes."
Secretary Rumsfeld said another positive indicator is the change in the attitude of Sunni leaders toward the coalition. He says eight months ago, Sunni leaders didn't want anything to do with the coalition. Now, he says, they have realized that their minority status makes it important for the coalition to play a stabilizing role in Iraq.
Appearing with Secretary Rumsfeld, the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, offered his own assessment of the situation in Iraq.
"The paths are both there, the path to civil war is available to the Iraqi people, and the path toward freedom and representative government is available to them," he said. "And they are standing at the crossroads right now, and they are looking down both paths. And right now, it appears to me that for sure the Iraqi people want to go down the path toward prosperity and freedom, and the vast majority of their leaders, both elected and religious, are espousing calm and unity."
A week ago, General Pace said things are 'going very, very well' in Iraq. But on Monday, and again at Tuesday's news conference, he sought to clarify that comment, saying there are many good indications, but there is also the danger of further violence. He said he believes Iraqis will take the road of democracy and stability.
General Pace and Secretary Rumsfeld also acknowledged they do not have any proof that the Iranian government is involved in sending weapons or specially trained soldiers into Iraq. But Secretary Rumsfeld said the material and people have been found in Iraq, and it is 'reasonable' to conclude that could not be true without official support from Tehran.
Last week, the secretary accused Iran of sending members of an elite unit of its Republican Guard force into Iran to support the insurgency. And on Monday President Bush accused Iran of helping the insurgents with technology to make more effective roadside bombs - the biggest single killer of U.S. forces in Iraq.