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Rumsfeld: U.S. forces on the offense

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CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports that despite rising violence and mounting U.S. casualties, the Pentagon insists that Iraq is not spinning out of control.
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(CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described the U.S. coalition in Iraq as engaged and determined despite a week of violence.

"This much is certain. Those that oppose the Iraqi people's transition to freedom and self-rule will not be permitted to derail it. U.S. forces are on the offense," Rumsfeld said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

The upsurge in fighting had been predicted by the U.S. military as the June 30 handover date nears.

"This is an important moment in Iraqi history," Rumsfeld said.

During the news conference, Rumsfeld confirmed that U.S. troops scheduled to leave soon may stay longer because of the recent violence. He said additional troops could be sent to Iraq if U.S. commanders request it.

Sources told CNN that the top U.S. commander for the U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, assured President Bush in a video-teleconference that the U.S. plan to aggressively attack anti-U.S. forces will work.

However, while Abizaid had not asked for additional troops to be sent to Iraq, he is planning to delay the departure of units that had been scheduled to leave after one year, according to Pentagon officials.

Those units, officials say, are expected to be elements from the 1st Armored Division.

Those units are being shifted to hot-spots in Iraq instead of preparing to re-deploy to the United States, Pentagon officials said.

Rumsfeld said he would provide commanders on the ground in Iraq what they need.

"You can be certain that if they want more troops, we will sign deployment orders so that they'll have the troops they need," he told reporters. "When we have something more detailed to announce, we'll probably first announce it to the troops and then to you."

Before the news conference, the military's approach to the worsening situation in Iraq was criticized by Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd.

"After a year of continued strife in Iraq, comes word that the commander of forces in the region is seeking options to increase the number of U.S. troops on the ground if necessary," Byrd said. "Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, defended the current policy.

"Right now, at this moment, we need to send a message ... that we are there to stay," McCain said. "Perhaps we need more troops -- I have said for a long time that we needed more troops of certain types. But we've got to see this thing through. If we fail, if we cut and run, the results can be disastrous."

Rumsfeld brushed aside criticism, instead focusing on the details of what's happening on the ground in Iraq.

The city of Najaf, he said, is not under control of the coalition. And, he said, there may be increased violence during the upcoming pilgrimage to Iraq's holy cities, including Najaf.

"We've made a conscious decision, at the request of the Iraqis, to stand back during this pilgrimage period," Rumsfeld said.

He said that fugitive terrorist suspect Abu Musab Zarqawi has called for the killing of Shiites during the pilgrimages.

In addition to Zarqawi, the United States is concerned with Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers.

There has been strong resistance since al-Sadr's hostile anti-U.S. sermon during Friday prayers and the shutdown of a Baghdad paper, run by his supporters, that the coalition said incited violence.

Rumsfeld said the U.S. military anticipated a violent reaction after the paper was shut down and the recent arrest of his deputy.

He also said al-Sadr won't "get away with murder."

Rumsfeld cited the success of systematic raids by U.S. Marines in Fallujah. The raids include door-to-door inspections in a hunt for insurgents.

"They have engaged in a number of such raids and have been successful in at least nine that I know of," Rumsfeld said. "They intend to proceed in an orderly way."

Some of the enemy combatants taken into custody Wednesday in Fallujah are believed to have been involved in last week's killing and mutilation of four American contractors there.

Rumsfeld said the insurgents in Fallujah are believed to be former regime elements, which may include former Baathists, Iraqi extremists or members of the Zarqawi network.

But not all Iraqis are fighting the coalition, he said, noting that the insurgents represent a small percentage of the population.

Since September 1, Rumsfeld said, more Iraqi security forces have been killed than coalition forces.

"Which suggests that the Iraqi security forces are engaged and doing things and not sitting back in their barracks," he said.

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