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Rumsfeld in Iraq After Prison Scandal, Fighting Continues - 2004-05-13

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Baghdad Thursday, as fighting intensified in southern Iraq. Shortly after arriving in the Iraqi capital Thursday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld met with senior U.S. military officers and then traveled to the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, where some Iraqi prisoners were mistreated by U.S. soldiers.

Speaking to reporters on his plane en route to Baghdad, Mr. Rumsfeld said he and the senior U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, were not on an inspection tour, but wanted to meet personally with key people involved in the day-to-day operations of U.S.-run detention centers in Iraq. ?General Myers and I decided we thought it would be a useful thing for us to go to Iraq and to meet with some people who have been involved in various aspects of things that are important to us,? he said.

The defense secretary said that he cares about detainees being treated right, soldiers behaving right and command systems working.

He also said that he is committed to finding and punishing those responsible for mistreating the prisoners and indicated it will take some time to assess the damage that conduct has done to the U.S. effort in Iraq.

?I think the way to gauge this is not today and not yesterday and not tomorrow, but over time,? he added. ?I mean, we'll know more. More bad things will come out, unquestionably. And, time will settle over this and we'll be able to make an assessment of what the effect has been. It clearly has not been helpful. It's been unhelpful.?

The secretary's unannounced visit to Baghdad came less than a day after members of the U.S. Congress were shown unpublished photographs and video clips of American soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners. Secretary Rumsfeld said he has not yet determined whether incidents of abuse were isolated or more widespread.

?I'm waiting for the results of the inspectors and assessments and the studies to make a judgment as to whether or not it was an aberration,? he said.

Meanwhile, south of Baghdad Thursday, in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, heavy fighting, gunfire and explosions continued.

Forces loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr intensified their fighting against coalition troops. On Wednesday, the 31-year-old clergyman called for members of the Shi'ite Mehdi militia to resist U.S. forces in southern Iraq.