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Rumsfeld on looting in Iraq: 'Stuff happens'

Administration asking countries for help with security

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, left, makes a point as Gen. Richard Myers looks at his notes.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, left, makes a point as Gen. Richard Myers looks at his notes.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Declaring that freedom is "untidy," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday the looting in Iraq was a result of "pent-up feelings" of oppression and that it would subside as Iraqis adjusted to life without Saddam Hussein.

He also asserted the looting was not as bad as some television and newspaper reports have indicated and said there was no major crisis in Baghdad, the capital city, which lacks a central governing authority. The looting, he suggested, was "part of the price" for what the United States and Britain have called the liberation of Iraq.

"Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Rumsfeld said. "They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that's what's going to happen here."

Looting, he added, was not uncommon for countries that experience significant social upheaval. "Stuff happens," Rumsfeld said.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed. "This is a transition period between war and what we hope will be a much more peaceful time," Myers said.

Sources told CNN that the Bush administration was reaching out to other countries, asking them to provide police-type forces to help provide security in Iraqi cities.

Rumsfeld appeared irritated by questions about the looting, asserting that repeated images of Iraqi citizens ransacking buildings represented "a fundamental misunderstanding" of what was happening in Iraq.

"Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Baath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression," Rumsfeld said. "And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who've had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime."

Both men said coalition forces were working to stop the looting and maintain a sense of order.

The fate of Saddam remained the focus of some speculation. Rumsfeld said he had not seen any conclusive reports on whether Saddam was dead, in hiding or had successfully fled to another country.

"I do not personally have ... enough intelligence from reliable sources ... that would enable me to walk up and say that I have conviction that he's dead. I also lack conviction that he's alive," Rumsfeld said.

Responding to a question, Rumsfeld repeated anew the administration's frustration with Iraq's neighbor, Syria. The administration has accused Syria of allowing fighters and military equipment to flow into Iraq and of allowing senior members of the Iraqi leadership to flee to Syria.

"None of these things are helpful," Rumsfeld said. A senior administration official told CNN Friday that Syria has sealed its border with Iraq, stopping the flow of volunteers wishing to fight for Saddam's regime.

But Rumsfeld said people were still fleeing Iraq into Syria.

At the briefing, Rumsfeld gave a progress report on the war in Iraq. Fighting continued, he said, both in the city and other parts of Iraq, but efforts were also moving ahead on forming an interim authority to govern the country.

That authority, he said, would "help pave the way for a new Iraqi government, a government that will be chosen by the Iraqi people, not by anyone else."

Asked about weapons of mass destruction -- which the United States, Britain and other nations accused Saddam of harboring and developing -- Rumsfeld said he did not expect coalition forces to find the actual weapons on their own.

"We are not going to find them in my view -- just as I never believed the inspectors would -- by running around seeing if they can open a door and surprise somebody and find something," Rumsfeld said, adding that the focus was on "finding the people" who could help in that effort.

--CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.

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