Sasa Kralj  /  AP
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld speaks during a press conference with Kurdish Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani after their meeting in Salahedin, near Irbil, Iraq on Tuesday. Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq Tuesday, urging the country's new leaders to stay on track in forming a new government.
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/12/2005 1:17:26 PM ET 2005-04-12T17:17:26

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq on Tuesday. NBC News’ Charles Sabine reports from Baghdad on the message Rumsfeld brought to Iraqi leaders, mainly stressing the need to quickly establish a new government.

What was Secretary Rumsfeld’s main message?
Rumsfeld’s message was made extremely loudly and clearly in his indomitable style when he told the interim Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari about Washington’s frustration with the fact that 10 weeks after the historic elections here in Iraq, the government has still yet to be formed.

The defense secretary made the Iraqi officials fully aware of his belief that this delay is having damaging effects on Iraq’s future. It not only undermines the faith of the Iraqi people in democracy. But, every day the formation of the government is delayed is yet another day that U.S. troops are going to have to remain in this country. In addition, the power vacuum only feeds the insurgency that is making the daily lives of regular Iraqis so miserable. 

There were numerous vivid illustrations that the insurgency is still alive on Tuesday. As Rumsfeld was meeting with both Iraqi politicians and later with U.S. military commanders there was an incident in Mosul, to the north of Baghdad, where five civilians were killed after a car bomb attack on a U.S. convoy there.   

With violence continuing, how was Rumsfeld’s message regarding political expediency and need to be vigilant against corruption taken?
The defense secretary was assured by the fledgling political leaders that they are doing everything that they can to move this process along.

The Iraqis say that they understand the concerns of the Washington administration. They also said that they do not intend to put off the creation of a constitution here until the middle of August.

Although, they do have a legal window of opportunity that would allow them a delay of six months, they understand the message from Rumsfeld and the U.S. administration is that they should not use that six-month delay. They say that they will be doing everything they can in the coming days to create the government so that they can put the constitution into place.

Do the Iraqis have a timeline for when they plan to have the government in place? 
The Iraqis have said that they will have a government in place within two weeks. The key issues that are still outstanding are the defense and oil ministries. They say that they will have those two powerful ministers appointed within the next 10 to 14 days. By that time the government should be fully in place and it can start working on the constitution.    

Did Rumsfeld hear of any positive developments?
The Iraqis also pointed out that they believe that there are successes now to be reported from coalition troops — the Iraqi and U.S. forces — and that it is not all bad news here.

This is the same message that Rumsfeld got from American military commanders. There is now a growing belief among the coalition forces that they are turning the tide against the insurgency and making more effective arrests.

There was an example of that on Tuesday. Security forces announced that they captured a former senior Baath member and colleague of Saddam Hussein’s who is believed to be an active supporter of the terrorism that has been de-stabilizing the rebuilding and security of Iraq. They arrested a man named Fadhil Ibrahim Mahmud al-Mashadani who was the leader of the military bureau in Baghdad during the Saddam regime. He was apparently apprehended by security forces in an operation in a farmhouse northeast of Baghdad.

This is just the latest in a series of proactive sweeps by coalition forces, both American and Iraqi, and successes that they believe are showing that they are now starting to win this battle. But, there is clearly a long way to go. 

Rumsfeld has made comments that he intends to continue to reduce U.S. troop numbers in Iraq, as well as reduce the length of tours for soldiers. What has been the response from troops on the ground?
That was another key positive point for Secretary Rumsfeld today — the issue of reducing troops numbers.

On the plane over to Iraq, he told reporters that he did not intend to have U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. He said that plans are now being considered to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from its current level of approximately 140,000.

The U.S. soldiers that we have spoken have also been particularly encouraged by the news that in addition to reducing troop numbers, the length of their tours may also be reduced from the current period of about one year, down to six months.

Many of the troops we have spoken to say that a reduction in the length of tours would provide a real morale boast, particularly since many say they reach a point of burnout around six months into their tours, especially in the difficult summer months.

Charles Sabine is an NBC News' Correspondent on assignment in Baghdad.


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