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Rumsfeld Warns Iran to Stay Out of Iraqi Politics - 2003-05-27

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has warned Iran again not to interfere with Iraq's reconstruction. The top defense official made the remark in a speech in New York Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says if Iraq's neigbors want to help rebuild the country, they will be welcomed. But, he warned they should stay out of Iraqi politics.

"Interference in Iraq by its neighbors or their proxies will not be permitted," he said. "Indeed, Iran should be on notice that efforts to try to remake Iraq in Iran's image will be aggressively put down."

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Rumsfeld described Iran's behavior towards Iraq as unhelpful.

The defense secretary portrayed the security problems in the country today as similar to those after America won its independence from Britain in the 18th century. He downplayed the looting and lawlessness that have followed the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, quoting statistics that suggested that Baghdad's crime rate is not out of line with that in some American and European cities.

"We apparently have learned to live with that. And we didn't have a hundred thousand, plus or minus, criminals disgorged out of every prison in our country," the defense secretary said. "And it seems to me we need to put these numbers in context a little bit."

Mr. Rumsfeld did acknowledge that until law and order are restored, reconstruction will be impossible.

The secretary said that because of the speed and precision with which the Iraqi war was fought, a number of problems were avoided. Oil fields were not destroyed, bridges and other infrastructure are intact, and there were no mass movements of refugees. The job of reconstruction will be easier because of this, he said. But he said it will still be difficult, and quoted one of America's founders.

"No nation in memory has made the transition from tyrany to a free society that's been immune to the difficulties and challenges of taking that path, no even our own," he said. "As Thomas Jefferson put it, we are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed."

Secretary Rumsfeld said the coalition will root out elements of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party and will prosecute its leaders for crimes against humanity.

Reconstruction contracts will go to supporters of the war, he said, and will employ Iraqis as much as possible.

Mr. Rumsfeld said United States does not plan to dictate what form Iraq's government will take, but will allow the Iraqi people to decide.

The defense secretary repeated the Bush administration's position that Iraq may serve as a model for the Muslim world if its transition to democracy is successful.