DOD: Iran tries to derail Iraqi democracy

By PAMELA HESS, Pentagon correspondent  |  April 25, 2003 at 6:35 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 25 (UPI) -- Iran will not be allowed to "hijack" Iraq's political transition, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared Friday.

"This much is certain: A vocal minority clamoring to transform Iraq in Iran's image will not be permitted to do so. We will not allow the Iraqi people's democratic transition to be hijacked ... by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship," Rumsfeld said.

He said the people in Iraq agitating to create an Islamic state like Iran's are agents of Tehran.

"They have organized elements that they send into the country to attempt to assert influence," Rumsfeld said. "My guess is that the Iraqi people will prefer to be governed by Iraqis and not by Persians."

Rumsfeld said Jay Garner, the former general charged with reconstructing Iraq's civil institutions and physical infrastructure, misspoke when he told reporters Thursday the Iraqi interim authority would be created next week.

"What he meant was they're in the second meeting that is pointing towards the establishment of that and is part of the process of the IIA. And he used the phrase 'IIA' to encompass the process, as opposed to the final event," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said he expects the interim authority will be created when representatives from enough of the disparate elements in the country find an acceptable way to draft a constitution and elect a government.

"It takes time," he said.

On another subject, the Pentagon Friday addressed the controversy surrounding the use of cluster bombs.

The U.S. military dropped 26 cluster bombs within 1,500 feet of civilian neighborhoods in Iraq, according to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers. He said he knows of only one confirmed case of "collateral damage" from cluster munitions so far.

The military dropped a total of 1,500 cluster bombs during the war. The bombs contain anywhere from 40 to nearly 200 "bomblets," which spread over a wide area. They are intended for "soft" targets like dispersed troops, unarmored vehicles and radars.

The Pentagon has come under sharp criticism from human rights groups, which object to the use of cluster bombs because they tend to be less precise than other guided munitions, and because they have a dud rate of about 5 percent. That means five of every 100 bomblets fails to explode on impact but remain dangerous to innocent people well after the war.

Myers said Saddam Hussein was to blame for the cluster bombs that were used around civilian neighborhoods because he had arrayed troops and equipment nearby.

"These are tough choices. And it's unfortunate that we had to make those choices about hitting targets in civilian areas, but as we've said before as well, war is not a tidy affair, it's a very ugly affair. And this enemy had no second thoughts about putting its own people at risk," Myers said.

Also, U.S. Central Command has released nearly 1,000 Iraqi foot soldiers from prisoner of war camps, Rumsfeld said. It still holds about 7,500 prisoners in about three camps.

"We're keeping the hard cases separate, for the most part. We are systematically going through the less-hard cases and releasing people," Rumsfeld said. "The first order of business is, in my view, to stop holding the ones we don't need. And that's why we're working through 200 or 300 a day, trying to sort them and get rid of them, let them go back home and live their lives if we don't need them."

Rumsfeld said largely for cost reasons, there are no plans to send any of the Iraqi prisoners -- even the high-profile regime leaders captured over the past two weeks -- to the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"It's a lot more convenient to hold them in Iraqi prisons than it is to build prisons in Guantanamo and transport them down there. So it just seems to me, first of all, it's respectful of the taxpayers' dollars. Why should we build a whole lot more prisons in Guantanamo and then pay to transport these folks down there?" Rumsfeld said.

"Could it change? Possibly. But my preference is not to. And I would guess I'd have a voice in it, and I would discourage doing that."

Rumsfeld and Myers acknowledged that two juvenile prisoners captured in Afghanistan are being held in Guantanamo. They are extremely dangerous and are being treated humanely, as are the other prisoners, they said.

"I think you'll find that the care they are getting and the treatment they are getting reflects the fact that we believe that treating people properly is important, and that the rest of the world ought to know that," Rumsfeld said.

"They may be juveniles, but they're not on a little-league team anywhere, they're on a major league team, and it's a terrorist team. And they're in Guantanamo for a very good reason -- for our safety, for your safety," Myers added.

"And this constant refrain of 'the juveniles,' as though there's a hundred children in there -- these are not children ... There are plenty of people who have been killed by people who were still in their teens," Rumsfeld complained.

He said the United States wants to hand over many of the prisoners to their home governments, but only on the condition that they continue to be held for future interrogation.

"We would like to have arrangements with other countries that they would take their nationals on a basis where we could get future access to them, in the event additional intelligence comes up, and where we have reason to have confidence that they would not simply release people that are a danger to the lives of American men, women and children," he said.

Rumsfeld also said there are 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq along with some 23,000 British and Australian fighters. He declined to discuss his specific plan for the size of the force as the operation moves from combat to stabilization or peacekeeping.

"The plan is to increase the number of U.S. forces, if they're necessary, and to decrease them if they're not necessary, to get as many other countries participating -- coalition forces -- in there as I possibly can, and to the extent I can, have fewer U.S. forces, and to the extent I ... cannot, have more U.S. force. That is the plan!" he said.

Fighting continues sporadically in Iraq. Myers said a 20- to 30-man paramilitary force attacked a coalition patrol near the northern city of Mosul. Coalition forces killed several of the attackers and destroyed two trucks that had machine guns on them. South of Baghdad, one paramilitary fighter was killed and one was captured in a separate engagement, Myers said.

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