U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called the naming of Iraq's new top officials a 'thrilling' and 'enormous accomplishment' that could set the stage for further progress toward establishing security in the country. He also linked the U.S. presence in Iraq to the need to prevent Iran from carrying out policies that he called "dangerous to the world." The secretary spoke in an interview with the Pentagon's own television channel.

Secretary Rumsfeld says the insurgents in Iraq have failed to stop three elections, and now have failed to prevent the formation of a new four-year government.

"The Iraqi leadership has gone ahead and selected the top seven political leaders for the period ahead, for the coming government, which is an enormous accomplishment," said Donald Rumsfeld. "They had a governing council, they had an interim government, they had a transition government. This is the government of Iraq. It's their government in a sovereign nation, and it's a thrilling accomplishment."

Secretary Rumsfeld says violence will continue, as the insurgents try to prevent the new government from consolidating its position. But he predicted that if competent ministers are selected, particularly for the ministries of interior and defense, and if they work together and act based on the best interests of the country rather than any one group, Iraqi forces will continue to improve and help establish security in the country.

Rumsfeld and other top U.S. officials have said that the four-month delay in forming the new Iraqi government contributed to the continuing violence by adding to the support for the insurgents and making it difficult for local governments to establish their authority.

In his interview on Monday, Secretary Rumsfeld also linked the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to what he sees as the need to prevent Iran from pursuing what he called its "extreme impulses." At a time of increasing criticism of his leadership from retired generals, and sagging public support for the war in Iraq, the secretary indicated those who do not like the administration's policy should try to see the conflict in a broader context.

"Those people who suggest that the cost is too great, or it's taking too long and we should not stay the course, it seems to me have to think what it would do for Iran and how it would advance their cause," he said. "And their cause is a cause that's dangerous to the world."

Also on Monday, the Defense Department announced that a 2,500-member Iraqi army brigade took control of nearly 29,000 square kilometers of Najaf Province. Iraqi forces now have primary responsibility for security in nearly all of that province, south of Baghdad. According to a Pentagon map, the Iraqis have responsibility for about one third of the country, including part of the capital, with U.S. and other coalition forces in a supporting role. That is a sharp increase from six months ago, when Iraqi forces controlled only a few small areas.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman would not say whether the increased responsibility given to Iraqi forces will result in a reduction in U.S. troops in Iraq. Top U.S. generals are expected to make recommendations on future troop levels within the next couple of months. Officials say the development of the Iraqi forces and progress toward establishing the new government, particularly the leadership of the ministries of defense and interior, will play important roles in that decision.