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US Officials Reject Description of Iraq Operation as Vietnam Style 'Quagmire' - 2003-07-01

Despite a continuing rise in casualties among coalition forces in Iraq, top U.S. defense officials are rejecting such descriptions as guerilla war, quagmire or even comparisons to Vietnam to describe the escalating attacks. Defense officials say coalition troops are fighting various armed groups, but insist there is no well-organized opposition in Iraq.

During his most recent briefing at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared the early years of the United States following the American Revolution to the postwar atmosphere in Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld called those years "a period of chaos and confusion," with an economy marred by "rampant inflation and no stable currency."

Mr. Rumsfeld pointed out that discontent in early America led to uprisings "with mobs attacking courthouses and government buildings." He says it took eight years to adopt the Constitution and inaugurate the first president of the United States.

Secretary Rumsfeld used this brief history lesson to make the point that transforming Iraq into a peaceful democracy will be difficult.

"The transition to democracy is never easy. Coalition forces drove Iraq's terrorist leaders from power," he said. "But unlike traditional adversaries that we have faced in wars past, who sign a surrender document, hand over their weapons, the remnants of the Baath regime and the Fedayeen death squads faded into the population and have reverted to a terrorist network. We are dealing with those remnants in a forceful fashion, just as we have had to deal with the remnants of al-Qaida and Taleban in Afghanistan and tribal areas near Pakistan. Those battles will go on for some time."

Secretary Rumsfeld says there are at least five separate groups of armed Iraqis involved in the attacks on coalition soldiers.

He says there is little evidence these attacks are coordinated and rejected suggestions that U.S. and British forces are sinking into a Vietnam-like military "quagmire" in Iraq.

"There are so many cartoons where press people are saying, is it Vietnam yet, hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it is not. It is a different time. It is a different era. It is a different place," he said.

Despite the continuing assaults on coalition forces by loyalists to Saddam Hussein, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, points to what he calls positive trends in Iraq.

General Myers says the U.S. civilian administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, is reporting increasing cooperation between Iraqi civilians and the military.

"The evidence in terms of what we are seeing and what we are being told by Ambassador Bremer and by folks in theater is that more and more Iraqis are helping the coalition find weapons caches and people that were regime officials that we want. I think that is one measure of merit that we can look at that is a very positive trend," he said.

U.S. forces launched three recent military operations designed to crack down on different groups of Iraqis currently targeting coalition forces.

Secretary Rumsfeld says soldiers must continue to root out these groups, while gradually turning civilian control over to the Iraqi people.

"What one has to do is to keep putting pressure on all of those categories and know that no one raid or five raids is going to deal with the entire problem," he said. "The problem is going to be dealt with over time as the Iraqis assume more and more responsibility for their own country and are able to have an Iraqi face on the activities that are taking place in that country, which are for the benefit of the Iraqi people."

By the middle of this month the Pentagon is expected to have finished a study of how many American soldiers need to remain in Iraq.

Defense officials say a total of 24 countries have committed to provide forces in the future, and negotiations are underway with a dozen other nations regarding their potential military support.