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Donald Rumsfeld Holds Press Conference on Reconstruction of Iraq.

Aired September 6, 2003 - 10:01   ET


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And I've now been here for the past two days and had meetings with Ambassador Brewer, General Sanchez and the American forces throughout the country. I met with the new leader of the Polish addition and must say that I've noticed a good many changes since April.
For one thing, I'd say that I've noticed a good many changes since April. For one thing, there's a free Iraqi press. Another thing is that Iraq schools, universities and hospitals are open for business. As we flew over the country, we saw a lot of satellite dishes on buildings and homes and businesses.

The meeting with the Governing Council certainly was an indication of the progress on the political side. Dozens and dozens of city councils have been formed. The Governing Council exists, which it did not in April. The Governing Council has selected an interim cabinet.

I say those simply and easily, but they're not simple or easy things. They're difficult things. And they are significant accomplishments for the Iraqi people.

The selection of ministers, and that's interim cabinet that are working with the coalition to restore basic services and approve a budget to help pave the way for a new constitution for the country, an Iraqi constitution by the Iraqi people. And free elections, where the Iraqi people will select a government to -- whose leaders will answer to them, instead of the other way around.

This morning, we visited a mass grave, one of the many mass graves in this country, where the regime of Saddam Hussein had murdered and tortured people and piled them up in fields. We toured a prison. And one thing that's clear to me is that for all the difficulties we see in Iraq -- and there are difficulties -- the security situation still needs to be improved, more people need to find employment. As I flew over the country, it was clear to me that one of the great resources of this country, the water, needs to be better managed and to the advantage of the Iraqi people. But for all the difficulties, and there are certainly challenges, the Iraqi people are so much better off today than they were four or five months ago.

The once privileged elites of the brutal regime are now, in many cases, common prisoners. Some 42 of the 55 most wanted have been captured. As confidence grows, more and more Iraqis are coming forward and working with General Sanchez and his people to find weapon caches, to provide information about people that are being sought for crimes, and to assist the coalition.

The international presence, in my view, is impressive. Today, I met with the Polish commander, as I mentioned, and there are some 17 countries in that element, with four others in support. This is a good thing, I believe, to engage additional countries in Iraq's future.

The other thing that I found impressive was the fact that so many Iraqis are now a part of providing security here in Iraq. To have gone from zero, when I was here in April, to something like 55,000 Iraqis involved in providing security, whether in the border patrol or the site protection groups, the police, the army, civil defense, all of these are being increased at a good rate and I believe will create a circumstance over a period of time where we can have high confidence that the responsibility for this security in this important country will be in the hands of the Iraqi people rather than in the hands of coalition forces, which is a good thing.

I would have to say that I did also express my appreciation to the American forces, to the British forces, to all of the coalition forces that I met with and the appreciation of the American people for the contributions they're making here to try to help the Iraqi people navigate along that path towards a free representative system and a better life for the Iraqi people. Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez and I would be happy to respond to questions.

Nice to see you. Should we start with you or should we start with an Iraqi from the Iraqi free press and then come back to you? Oh, yes?

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for Arabia channel.

RUMSFELD: One second. I'm a little slow on the trigger here. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary of Defense, you make no mention about the weapons of mass destruction, your search. Would you tell us, please, if there is any -- if there is anything.

RUMSFELD: You faked me out. You've got me going from here to here to here. I'd be happy to.

This afternoon, I met with Dr. David Kaye and with General Dayton (ph). They are the leaders of a multinational group called the Iraqi Survey Group that are -- have the responsibility for meeting with people, Iraqis, who have been involved in programs and developing the information that is now being accumulated. And at that point where they have a report to make or announcements to make, they will do so.

But they have a large team of people. They're working diligently and professionally. And we all look forward to hearing what they have to say -- Pam (ph). QUESTION: Thanks. Pam Hess (ph) with UPI. You all have now had almost six months of this experience. I'm wondering if you could go back six months and change some things that you did, what are those areas? What would you have liked to have known before you came in? What would you have liked to have brought with you?

RUMSFELD: You know, when I think back six months, we spent a great deal of time thinking through and planning for a host of things that -- terrible things that could have happened that did not happen, and preparing to help cope with them. There always is a risk in a war of a humanitarian disaster. In the case of this conflict, there was not one.

Ten years ago, 12 years ago, there was a serious problem with internally displaced persons and refugees. We were preparing for that. That did not occur in large numbers.

The risks that the dams could have been broken and areas flooded was a concern. And we had preparations to try to deal with that. The experience in the Gulf War and 12 years ago, I guess, 11 years ago, of oil wells burning, being set afire by the -- Saddam Hussein and his troops, was something that concerned us greatly. And as everyone here knows, the environmental disaster in that instance was just terrible.

In this conflict, the number of wells was, I believe, if I recollect correctly, something that would fit in two hands, that were actually destroyed or burned or damaged with bulldozers. What one does is plan for the things that could be serious, serious problems, and then as you go forward, you have to deal with the world as you find it.

One of the things that took place in this country that is, I think, contributing to the circumstance we're in today, the security circumstance we're in today, is that the war really was never finished in terms of a of a series of battles. Most of the battles that took place were south. As Baghdad was approached, the Iraqi forces between north of Baghdad fought for a period, but in -- at some point melded into the countryside. And as a result, there are still Ba'athist elements that are there that are causing and contributing to the security problem.

I must say, we did not anticipate that Saddam Hussein in October, I believe it was, and his forces would open up the prisons and let out some large number in excess of 100,000 criminals and people to be turn turned loose on the Iraqi people. We're now having to deal with those people.

I'm trying to think what else. What would you add? What would you change?

QUESTION: Hindsight, 20-20 vision, what would you -- say do this again? I don't think there's time. But if you were to do this again, what would you bring with you?

RUMSFELD: We'd prefer not. Yes? In the back there. I don't know you names, so if you'll put your hand up, everyone will know who's going to talk. Right there.


RUMSFELD: Well, I'm not hearing you. Thanks.



RUMSFELD: Do you want to answer that? I missed the first part of it. I apologize.

PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVIL ADMINISTRATOR: As the secretary said in his opening statement, we are anxious to move as quickly as we can in a responsible fashion towards a sovereign and independent Iraqi government. The path that we have already come along is already very clear: the appointment of the Governing Council, the Governing Council having established a constitutional preparatory committee, and finally the appointment of the cabinet this week.

There are four steps left in the path to sovereignty, after taking those three. The next step will be the report of the preparatory committee and the convening of a constitutional conference, to write the constitution. The step after that will be writing the constitution. This will be done by Iraqis.

The third step on the path towards sovereignty will be the ratification of that constitution by the Iraqi people. For the first time in Iraq's history, the Iraqi people will be asked to write a constitution and to approve it. And then the final step towards a fully sovereign and independent government will be holding elections based on that constitution.

That is a clear path of seven steps, three of which we've already taken, four of which are to go, that will lead from where we are today to the Iraqi people having their own government for the first time, freely elected.


QUESTION: Since the car bombing in Najaf, armed militias have appeared on the streets of the city. Is this something that you're going to tolerate until you have your own security presence in there, or are you going to disarm them? How are you going to manage that?

BREMER: I saw a story to that effect this morning. The militias that were referred to and that were on the streets in Najaf yesterday, and they're still there today, were there with the full authority of the Coalition Provisional Authority and in full cooperation with the coalition forces. That is to say, they were licensed in accordance with our existing programs. They are there temporarily to assist in the security of the holy sites, at the request of both the secular and clerical authorities in Najaf.

QUESTION: Just for the record (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


RUMSFELD: Just one minute. He...

BREMER: I'm sorry, I didn't hear your question.

QUESTION: If you could just for the record say which of the militias that are...

BREMER: They were not militias. They were members of various groups. There was no one militia. They were from several different groups.

QUESTION: OK. Mohammed Kabani (ph) from LDC (ph). To what extent will the elections impact or influence U.S. policy in Iraq. And vice versa, how U.S. policy in Iraq may affect or impact...

RUMSFELD: Wait. No one's translating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: : He's speaking in English.


RUMSFELD: Why did I put these on? Go ahead.

QUESTION: To what extent will the elections impact or influence U.S. policy in Iraq. And vice versa, how U.S. policy in Iraq may affect or impact President Bush's campaign?

RUMSFELD: Oh goodness. The Department of Defense doesn't get into politics, and it is not something that I'm in a position to respond to, nor is General Sanchez or Mr. -- Ambassador Bremer. Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Rick Niddle (ph) "The Dallas Morning News." I got an e-mail from a reader today who said, "Now that Rumsfeld has gone all over Iraq for photo opportunities, what has he accomplished that he couldn't have done from his Washington office?" And I wonder if you would tell us what you've accomplished here and if you found anything that surprises you and changes your mind about anything that you knew before.

RUMSFELD: Well, you know, it's a -- I get criticized for not traveling enough by some people in some countries, but the reason I felt a need to be here and to visit this region is because of the importance of what's being done, the fact that there is something in the neighborhood of 130,000 U.S. forces in this country. And it is important that they understand how important what they're doing is to the Iraqi people, to the region, to the United States of America, and to the world.

And I felt an obligation to meet with them, which I did in three or four, five different locations in this country, to thank them for their fine work, to answer their questions, which I did on each occasion. And the second reason I felt it important to come here is I hadn't been here since April, and I am continuously asked questions about what's taking place in Iraq, how well our forces are doing, how well the coalition provisional authority is doing. And to have a chance to meet with Ambassador Bremer and his team in several locations in the country was also a very useful thing.


QUESTION: And were you surprised, sir, by anything?


QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Mr. Secretary, I'm not happy with your answer regarding weapon of mass destruction. Can you please give us at least in one (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what is result as of today?

RUMSFELD: I'm inclined not to. I'll tell you what the situation is. The situation is that it's an important question.

We have a very large team of people from a number of countries working on the problem. They are meeting with Iraqi people continuously. People that are detained and people that are not detained.

They are visiting various sites periodically. And rather than dribbling out pieces of information in a way that, oh, causes confusion or debate or discussion, it strikes me that it's useful to let the leadership of that team, which is basically the Central Intelligence Agency and Dr. Kaye, proceed in an orderly way and at the right moment bring forward the information they have to the people of the world. And they will do so.


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