US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, operating out of a palace that once belonged to ousted president Saddam Hussein, assured Iraqis that the US is eager to return the country to their control.
"Iraq belongs to you," Rumsfeld, the highest-ranking US administration official to visit the Iraqi capital, said in a message broadcast over radio and television in the Baghdad area Wednesday.
"The coalition has no intention of owning or running Iraq," he said.
Yesterday, Rumsfeld met briefly in Kuwait City with Kuwaiti Emir Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, telling him he had a good visit to Baghdad.
"The single most vivid impression is that the regime of Saddam Hussein did very poorly for the people of Iraq," Rumsfeld said. "It put the money into the wrong thing. The country is run down."
Rumsfeld told US troops that the administration of President George W. Bush is actively encouraging countries to turn over Iraqi fugitives.
"My impression is some [countries] that were accepting them are no longer, which is a good start," Rumsfeld told a rally at Baghdad airport, formerly called Saddam International.
The defense secretary had previously accused Syria of allowing former members of the regime to cross its borders. He also called on Iraqis to tell allied solders about former Iraqi officials and foreign fighters who might still be in their neighborhoods.
Rumsfeld praised US troops and said they have "unleashed events that will unquestionably shape the course of this country."
"We want the Iraqi people to live in freedom so they can build a future where the Iraqi leaders answer to the Iraqi people rather than killing them," Rumsfeld said.
Retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who is heading the reconstruction effort in Iraq, said the quick victory prevented the humanitarian crisis he had feared.
Americans, Garner said, "ought to be beating our chests every day."
"We ought to look in the mirror, stick out our chests, suck in our bellies, and say, `Damn, we're Americans,' and smile," Garner said.