Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Rumsfeld makes surprise journey to Iraq

AP , BAGHDAD

Outgoing US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise trip to Iraq, just days after a bipartisan commission called the situation there "grave and deteriorating" and said the administration's policy wasn't working.

"For the past six years, I have had the opportunity and, I would say the privilege, to serve with the greatest military on the face of the Earth," Rumsfeld, 74, said in a speech on Saturday to more than 1,200 soldiers and Marines stationed al-Assad, an air base in Anbar Province, the large area of western Iraq that is an insurgent stronghold.

"I leave understanding that the true strength of the United States military is not in Washington, it's not in the Pentagon, it's not in the weapons. It's in the hearts of the men and women who serve. It's your patriotism, it's your professionalism and indeed your determination," he was quoted by the US Department of Defense as saying.

"We feel great urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or a 9/11 times two or three. At the same time, we need to have the patience to see this task through to success. The consequences of failure are unaccepta-ble," Rumsfeld said. "The enemy must be defeated."

He also met with US forces in Balad, 80km north of Baghdad, the defense department said.

In Baghdad, the US military said yesterday that it couldn't confirm Rumsfeld's visit or say how long he would remain in the country. The US embassy in Baghdad said it had no information since the military had handled the trip. The Pentagon refused to say whether Rumsfeld was still in Iraq or where he planned to travel next.

It was Rumsfeld's 15th trip to Iraq since the war began.

Rumsfeld's trip follows an emotional farewell on Friday at the Pentagon, where he defended his record on Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the worst day of his nearly six years as secretary of defense occurred when he learned of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

Rumsfeld's Pentagon appearance and his trip to Iraq on Saturday were among the few public appearances he has made since US President George W. Bush announced on Nov. 8 that he was replacing the defense secretary. His last full day will be on Sunday.

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