Rumsfeld: Insurgency slows progress
Two years later, secretary rues inability to invade from Turkey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday that the Iraq insurgency has been "successful in slowing" economic and political progress, but he maintained that the fighters won't derail the establishment of a new society.
"They haven't stopped it and they're not going to win," Rumsfeld said. "The thought of their prevailing in this conflict is a terrible thought."
The secretary, reflecting on the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of the country, appeared on ABC's "This Week" and on "Fox News Sunday." (War Tracker)
President Bush marked the second anniversary Saturday with a speech defending the war, which ousted Saddam Hussein and led to democratic national elections in January.
"Now, because we acted, Iraq's government is no longer a threat to the world or its own people," Bush said in his weekly radio address. (Full story)
Demonstrators, meanwhile, held anti-war protests throughout the United States and Europe. (Full story)
But Rumsfeld said, "We have 25 million Iraqis that are free. The economy is coming back. The dinar is strong. The schools are open. The hospitals are open."
He spoke optimistically about the deployment of U.S. forces and the development of an Iraqi security force.
The war effort now faces U.S. recruiting lags, polls showing significant American displeasure with the war effort and mixed performances by Iraqi forces.
Rumsfeld said he expects the numbers of Iraqi security forces to grow to nearly 200,000, from what he said was a current level of 145,000.
"And they'll take on more and more responsibility," he predicted.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that some Iraqi security forces lack sufficient training.
Rumsfeld said there could be a temporary increase in U.S. forces at the end of the year, when elections are slated to be held again, but they won't reach the current level of 152,000.
"We're planning to bring the 152,000 down to about 135,000 or 137,000 or 140,000 over the coming weeks, now that the election is behind us," Rumsfeld said.
While there have been "some shortfalls in recruiting in Guard and reserves" lately, the volunteer army "is vastly better than a conscript force," he said.
"We have the ability to go out and attract and retain the people we're going to need in the United States armed forces," Rumsfeld said.
Asked what the biggest mistake of the war effort had been, Rumsfeld said if "we had been successful in getting the 4th Infantry Division to come in through Turkey in the north when our forces were coming up from the south, out of Kuwait, I believe that a considerably smaller number of the Baathists and the regime elements would have escaped.
"As a result, the insurgency would have been at a lesser intensity than it is today," he said.
Turkey denied the United States permission to use the country to invade Iraq from the north.
Rumsfeld was asked that whether it would have been wiser to deploy 300,000 troops in Iraq rather than the smaller number that was used. He said that Gen. Tommy Franks, head of Central Command at the time of the invasion, "had a plan that would have gone up above that had it been necessary."
"They had forces in flow that would have been able to increase a substantial number above the ultimate 150,000 that went into Iraq."
Rumsfeld said he supported Franks' judgment call that more troops were not needed -- and would have reinforced the perception of an "occupation" rather than a liberation.
Since the election of a transitional national assembly January 30, wrangling has continued among Iraqi legislators over selection of a new government.
Although there is some frustration, Rumsfeld said, such tasks in democracies take time. He urged that the move to a transitional government be done with efficiency, so the fight against the insurgency won't lose ground.
Rumsfeld lauded the Shiite and Kurdish coalitions, victors in the election, for reaching out to Sunni Arabs in government-formation talks. The Sunnis failed to turn out in great numbers for the elections.
"All of the debate and discussion and politics has been basically a healthy thing," he said.