WASHINGTON, DC—Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday that escalating violence in Iraq demonstrates that the Iraqi population is now capable of waging the Iraq war without outside military aid, and pronounced the American mission there "a complete success."
"Over the last month, the Iraqis have been fighting like you wouldn't believe," said Rumsfeld in a press conference at the Pentagon. "New Iraqis are joining the war every day—so many, in fact, that we don't know where they all came from. It's almost as if they came out of nowhere."
"The scope and intensity of the combat in Iraq is such that I believe the presence of American forces in the country will no longer be required to help the Iraqi people plummet into meaningless violence," Rumsfeld added.
Rumsfeld had harsh words for what he called the "cowardly and small-minded opposition" to American involvement in the region.
"Critics of this war who said we couldn't inspire the Iraqi people to stand up and fight for themselves have been proven wrong," Rumsfeld said, gesturing toward a map displaying conflict across the entire nation. "There was the stubborn perception that after greeting us as liberators, the Iraqis had no fight in them, and couldn't effectively defend their interests. Without our presence on their soil, I doubt most Iraqis would ever have lifted a finger or picked up a gun at all. Now, there's almost no stopping them."
A Department of Defense analysis released Monday gave the Iraqi combatants high marks for morale, tenacity, and unit cohesiveness, and noted "outstanding improvement" in the following areas: improvised explosive manufacturing, roadside-bomb concealment, sniping, checkpoint attacking, civilian massacres, mosque destruction, and guerrilla-style ambush.
"The average Iraqi fighter has made remarkable progress and we are very proud," said Lt. Col. Bailey Whitman, a spokesman for coalition forces stationed in Baghdad. "In the past several weeks, people across Iraq have, in a systematic way unthinkable just three years ago, overrun both Shi'a and Sunni neighborhoods with devastating results. This is an out-and-out success by the standards of the modern American military."
The lieutenant colonel's remarks were cut short when a rocket-propelled grenade detonated outside his briefing room, spraying him with dust and pulverized glass. Brushing off his jacket, Whitman gestured to the jagged gash in the wall and smiled. "The Iraqis are doing just fine on their own."
According to Commanding General George W. Casey, the Iraqi people are filling their role as models for independence in the Middle East. "We helped them get rid of a dictator, they held successful elections, they're writing a constitution, and, just like in our Civil War, brother has taken up arms against brother," Casey said. "After five to 10 years of unspeakable brutality and bloodshed, they'll be well on their way to a full-fledged democracy."
Rumsfeld, however, sought to reassure the Iraqi people that despite their rapid improvement, the U.S. would not abandon them.
"We've accomplished a lot," Rumsfeld said. "But there's still so much to take from the people of this rich country, and we're not going to pack up and leave just because they're doing so well on their own. We look forward to working very, very closely with Iraq, once there's a friendly government in place that we can do business with."
Added Rumsfeld: "We plan to be around for a long, long time."