Iraqis on Thursday cheered the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, blaming him for policy failures and scandals they say helped spawn the daily sectarian carnage wracking their nation.
“Rumsfeld’s resignation shows the scale of the mess the U.S. has made in Iraq,” said Ibrahim Ali, 44, who works at the Oil Ministry. “The efforts by American politicians to hide their failure are no longer working.”
Iraq’s government has yet to comment on Rumsfeld’s resignation, announced Wednesday after the Democratic Party won a sweeping victory in midterm elections in which voter discontent over the war in Iraq played a major role.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has in recent weeks grown increasingly critical of U.S. policies and pushed for his government to assume more responsibility for security from U.S.-led coalition forces.
Many in Baghdad said they expect changes in the U.S. approach under Rumsfeld’s expected replacement, former CIA director Robert Gates.
“I think that there will a shift in the U.S. policy in Iraq after his resignation,” said Osama Ahmed, 50, a civil servant.
What changes could be in store aren’t yet clear, although ideas for a new strategy are being studied by an independent U.S. commission led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana. The White House says it is opposed to two prominent options — the partitioning of Iraq or a phased withdrawal of troops.
Whatever suggestions are put forward, however, Iraqis said Rumsfeld’s departure was a positive move.
“Rumsfeld’s resignation is a good step because he failed to keep security in Iraq,” said Saad Jawad, 45, a former army officer who also works at the Oil Ministry.
Many Iraqis blamed Rumsfeld for spurring the emergence of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias by disbanding the former Iraqi army following the April 2003 toppling of the former government of Saddam Hussein.
Although that order was actually issued by former top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, such sentiments show how widely Rumsfeld is identified with failed policies in Iraq.
“I am happy with Rumsfeld’s resignation because he played a major role in disbanding the former Iraqi army. He participated in building the new army on a sectarian basis,” said Louai Abdel-Hussein, 48, a Shiite who owns a small grocery in Baghdad.
Ahmed, the civil servant, said Rumsfeld should also be held responsible for crimes by American forces in Iraq, particularly the abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison that became known in 2004.
“Rumsfeld’s resignation is not enough,” Ahmed said. “He should be put under investigation for his responsibility in the crimes committed in Abu Ghraib and the killings and rapes carried out by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi citizens, he said.
Rumsfeld had twice previously offered his resignation to Bush — once during the Abu Ghraib scandal and again shortly after that. Both times the president refused to let him leave.
Sentiments toward the resignation among the roughly 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq weren’t widely known, although Col. Al Kelly, commander of 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, said he didn’t see it as “either positive or negative at this point.”
“There are a lot of decisions that he’s made that people aren’t happy with,” Kelly told Associated Press Television News in Taji, just north of Baghdad.
“But he made some hard decisions and when you’re in that kind of position, you’re not always going to be ... liked by everybody,” Kelly said.