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Rumsfeld: Iraq timetable wouldn't 'do any good'

Democratic lawmakers cite lack of progress in 'civil war'

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• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

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Iraq
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Donald H. Rumsfeld

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused Thursday to set a date to begin troop withdrawals from Iraq and said he trusted the American people to do "the right thing" in upcoming congressional elections.

In a wide-ranging interview with CNN's Larry King, the secretary acknowledged he was surprised at the strength of the insurgency in Iraq and that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found there.

"It was more than had been predicted," he said of the insurgency, blaming it on "imperfect intelligence."

"But all intelligence is imperfect," he added. (Watch Rumsfeld respond to critics -- 3:39)

As for a timetable for troop withdrawal, Rumsfeld said that timetables are often wrong.

"Once you start doing that, then you are stuck with a number and a date, and it just doesn't do any good," he said.

"[The decision to withdraw] is based on conditions on the ground. There's no question that it's our desire to reduce the forces, and we intend to, and the Iraqis intend for us to," the defense secretary said.

"The question is at what pace can we continue to go up to the 325,000-Iraqi-force target goal and what's the intensity of the insurgency," Rumsfeld said.

But Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and a decorated retired Marine colonel, said Thursday "there is no progress" in Iraq.

"I would like to hear a timetable for the redeployment of our troops, and a realistic timetable, because the slower it is the more we put our troops in danger," Murtha told CNN.

"Things aren't getting better on the ground," he said. "The economic situation is deplorable. Infrastructure is completely out of control. And look at the money. We're spending $9 billion a month."

At a news conference Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush acknowledged that the war in Iraq hasn't gone as smoothly as they had hoped. As Bush dodged questions about withdrawing troops, Blair said it's "possible" they could be replaced with Iraqi security forces by the end of 2007. (Full story)

A new Iraqi Cabinet was sworn in Saturday, but three posts have yet to be filled -- Defense, Interior and National Security.

Once the new Iraqi government is fully in place, Rumsfeld said, the American general in charge of U.S. troops in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq would begin discussions with Iraqi officials.

"They will discuss the situation and lay out a plan going forward, and ultimately the president of the United States is going to decide" when the troops leave Iraq, he said.

"This is not a security problem only," the secretary added. "It is a governance problem. And as that government gets into place, if they engage in a reconciliation process that is successful and bring people in to support that government, then I think the future will be much brighter."

'Inadequate force'

Rumsfeld said that "history will decide" if the United States went into Iraq with the right troop level. But he defended the number of troops used, saying all the generals in the chain of command -- save one, then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki -- agreed with it.

"If you have too many troops, you run two risks," he said. "You're too heavy-footed, you're too intrusive, you feed the insurgency because you look like an occupying force. The second risk is you create a dependency -- you do all the work for the Iraqis instead of pushing them and having them do all the work.

"If you have too few, then the environment is such that the political process or the economy can't go forward."

More than 130,000 U.S. troops are currently in Iraq, and more than 2,400 American troops have died since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Rumsfeld's interview touched on several other issues, including President Bush's plan to use National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border to combat illegal immigration; Gen. Michael Hayden's nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and the coming congressional elections, of which Rumsfeld said he had "confidence the American people will do the right thing."

Murtha on Thursday was sharply critical of the Bush administration's management of the war.

"They sent inadequate force in to get it under control. It's gotten no better," he said.

Murtha and Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, each said Thursday that Iraq was facing a sectarian "civil war."

"We have no plan to deal with the sectarian violence," Biden said, estimating that half of the Iraqi security forces trained by U.S. troops were part of a militia.

Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered ideas he said would "leave a relatively stable government" in Iraq after a U.S. withdrawal.

"Come up with specifics that each of the parties should and could be doing now. Amend the constitution in a way that will get them all to buy in to the situation," Biden said.

"Insist on their pulling back their militias into their own regions. Give them an incentive to stay together and not be engaged in sectarian violence," he said. "And call a world meeting led by the five major powers to put pressure on all the neighbors to stay out of the game."

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