Rumsfeld: Iraqis Would Deal With Civil War
By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer 1 hour, 9 minutes
WASHINGTON - Dealing with a civil war in Iraq would be
the responsibility of Iraq's own security forces, at
least initially, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
told Congress on Thursday.
Testifying alongside senior military leaders and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfeld said he
did not believe Iraq would descend into all-out civil
war, though he acknowledged that sectarian strife had
Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the
Middle East, said the situation in Iraq had evolved to
the point where Sunni-Shiite violence was more of a
threat to U.S. success there than the insurgency,
which continues taking a deadly toll on Iraqi and
American troops, and to impede efforts to stabilize
Rumsfeld previously had been reluctant to say what the
U.S. military would do in the event of civil war, but
in an appearance before the Senate Appropriations
Committee he was pressed on the matter by Sen. Robert
Byrd (news, bio, voting record), D-W.Va.
"The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent
one were to occur, to have the from a security
standpoint have the Iraqi security forces deal with
it, to the extent they are able to," Rumsfeld told the
He did not elaborate on the implication of his remark:
that at some point the Iraqi security forces might be
overwhelmed by a civil conflict and ask the Americans
to get involved militarily.
One of Rumsfeld's chief critics in Congress, Sen.
Edward Kennedy (news, bio, voting record), D-Mass.,
issued a statement after the hearing urging the
administration to explain more fully what it would do
in case of a civil war.
"Obviously, it's not realistic to depend on the Iraqi
security forces, which are not yet able to fight on
their own," Kennedy said. "So, Secretary Rumsfeld is
basically saying that if the prevention strategy fails
and Iraq plunges into civil war, U.S. troops will
inevitably be deeply involved."
Rumsfeld said the key to avoiding civil war is for
Iraq's political leaders to form a government of
Both Abizaid and Rumsfeld cited progress in the
training of Iraqi security forces. Abizaid said more
than 100 Iraqi battalions are now conducting
counterinsurgency operations, compared with only five
in 2004. He did not mention that the number of Iraqi
battalions rated as capable of operating without U.S.
military assistance had recently dropped from one to
During an extensive question-and-answer session with
committee members, some Democrats including Byrd and
Sen. Herbert Kohl (news, bio, voting record) of
Wisconsin sharply criticized the war but the overall
tone of the hearing was not hostile.
Rice's opening statement to the committee was
interrupted by a man in the audience who stood and
shouted, "How many of you have children in this
illegal and immoral war? The blood is on your hands
and you cannot wash it away." As he was escorted from
the room by security officers, the man also shouted,
An AP-Ipsos poll released Thursday shows 77 percent of
Americans think civil war is likely to break out in
Iraq. They're evenly divided on whether a stable
democratic government can survive in Iraq.
More than half of Americans continue to disapprove of
President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.
Abizaid, who frequently visits Iraq and has overall
responsibility for U.S. military operations there,
cited the dangers of rising sectarian violence.
"There's no doubt that the sectarian tensions are
higher than we've seen, and it is of great concern to
all of us," he said, adding that he was pleased with
the professionalism that Iraq's own security forces
have demonstrated in responding to the surge in civil
strife since the late-February bombing of a Shiite
shrine in Samarra.
Abizaid described the situation in Iraq as "changing
in its nature from insurgency toward sectarian
violence." Asked about that comment after the hearing,
Abizaid told a reporter, "The sectarian violence is a
greater concern for us security-wise right now than
At a later news conference in the Capitol, Abizaid was
asked if Iraqi troops would be expected to handle any
outbreak of civil war.
"It's my impression that Iraq is not moving toward
civil war," he said, adding that the plan is for Iraqi
security forces to "take the lead on most military
operations, like they're currently doing, and we'll be
The hearing was called primarily to hear the
administration's defense of its request for $91
billion in emergency funds mainly to pay for the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rice and Rumsfeld said the
money was vital to continuing U.S. efforts on the
military, political and economic fronts to establish a
Asked about the prospects for a U.S. troop withdrawal
from Iraq, Rumsfeld said it would be counterproductive
to set a timetable, stressing that he's confident the
Iraqis realize the enormity of the stakes at this
stage of the process.
"They have everything to lose," he said. "If they are
not able to put together a government in a relatively
short period of time, they are facing a very difficult
situation for all of the people involved in governance
in that country."
There are now about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. The
U.S. death toll since the start of the war in March
2003 exceeds 2,300, in addition to more than 17,000
On the Net:
State Department at http://www.state.gov
Defense Department at http://www.defenselink.mil
Central Command at http://www.centcom.mil