Image: Peter Pace, Rumsfeld
Yuri Gripas  /  Reuters
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, accidentally used “insurgent” to describe the Iraqi enemy in a news conference Tuesday after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he didn't think it was appropriate.
updated 11/29/2005 7:55:16 PM ET 2005-11-30T00:55:16

More than 2½ years into the Iraq war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has decided the enemy are not insurgents.

“This is a group of people who don’t merit the word ‘insurgency,’ I think,” Rumsfeld said Tuesday at a Pentagon news conference. He said the thought had come to him suddenly over the Thanksgiving weekend.

“It was an epiphany.”

Rumsfeld’s comments drew chuckles but had a serious side.

“I think that you can have a legitimate insurgency in a country that has popular support and has a cohesiveness and has a legitimate gripe,” he said. “These people don’t have a legitimate gripe.” Still, he acknowledged that his point may not be supported by the standard definition of ‘insurgent.’ He promised to look it up.

Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines the term “insurgent” as “rising up against established authority.”

Even Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who stood beside Rumsfeld at the news conference, found it impossible to describe the fighting in Iraq without twice using the term “insurgent.”

After the word slipped out the first time, Pace looked sheepishly at Rumsfeld and quipped apologetically, “I have to use the word ‘insurgent’ because I can’t think of a better word right now.”

Without missing a beat, Rumsfeld replied with a wide grin: “Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government. How’s that?”

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