San Diego Union Tribune

February 12, 2005

Security units must shoulder their burden, Rumsfeld says
Performance to be big factor in when U.S. forces can leave

By Otto Kreisher

BAGHDAD – On a quick surprise tour of Iraq yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld inspected a wide array of the Iraqi security forces he said must assume the responsibility for the protection of their nation. He said their performance will be a major factor determining when U.S. forces can come home.

Although many of the newly formed Iraqi police and army units "should not be expected to act like hardened veterans, one day they will have to," Rumsfeld told a group of U.S. service members. "It's their country. It's their responsibility, and they are the ones that have that obligation."

The training and equipping effort being led by the U.S. military will give the Iraqis the confidence to assume the security burden, he told the troops. Once they have that confidence, "our forces and the coalition can go home with the honor you have earned, and with the gratitude of your country."

Rumsfeld flew overnight into Iraq after a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting in Nice, France. During 11 hours in Iraq, he made a dozen stops, most of them with Iraqi security units being trained or supported by U.S. forces.

"I feel good about the progress that has been made," he said.

Rumsfeld said he sensed that the Iraqi security units "are well-organized, focused, and the professionalism is improving."

His first stop of the day was in Mosul, where he visited a wounded soldier at the U.S. field hospital. The soldier, Sgt. Sean Ferguson of Visalia, with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, had been shot in the hand by a sniper the day before. It was his second wound in four months in Iraq.

Rumsfeld praised the courage of the millions of Iraqis who defied insurgents' threats to vote in the national assembly elections 13 days ago and thanked the U.S. troops who helped provide the security for that event.

Marine Capt. Tyler Fetheringill, an adviser to an Iraqi unit, said he could not predict when the Iraqis would be able to handle the security challenges alone.

But Fetheringill said that on election day, Iraqi security personnel dealt with the terrorist attacks, while "we were in the background."

"It was a very positive day," he said. "The best day of my life."

Rumsfeld visited the training facilities of two elite Iraqi security units, one with the police and one with the Iraqi army.

He then visited the combined military advisory training team at Taji, northwest of Baghdad, where U.S. troops are helping form an Iraqi tank and armored personnel carrier division, a transportation regiment and the Iraqi Intervention Force.

Rumsfeld flew from Baghdad late yesterday to Munich, Germany, to attend an international security conference that he had once planned to skip because of the threat that German prosecutors would pursue war-crime charges against him.

He decided to attend the session after German authorities said they would not act on the complaint filed by a U.S. anti-war group.

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