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Rumsfeld detours on way out

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published December 11, 2006


BAGHDAD - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with only days left in office, paid a surprise farewell visit to U.S. troops in Iraq this weekend, telling them the consequences of the war's failure would be "unacceptable."

Rumsfeld, casually dressed in a gray jacket and an open-collar shirt, traveled to several U.S. bases in the country, shaking hands and joking with troops.

"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," said Rumsfeld, 74. He was speaking to more than 1,200 soldiers and Marines at Asad, a sprawling air base in western Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to discuss Rumsfeld's itinerary or schedule, other than to say he was traveling around Iraq on Sunday as well.

"He wants to keep the focus on the troops" and has not scheduled official meetings with U.S. commanders, although he is seeing them during his stops, Whitman said.

His visit came just days after a U.S. bipartisan commission said President Bush's policy in Iraq "is not working," and called for urgent policies to shift the focus to training Iraqi troops and withdrawing most U.S. combat troops by 2008.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani denounced the report Sunday, saying it offered dangerous recommendations that would undermine his country's sovereignty and were "an insult to the people of Iraq."

The Kurdish leader was the most senior government official to take a stand against the Iraq Study Group report, which has also come under criticism from leaders of the governing Shiite and Kurdish parties.

He said the report "is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles that undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the Constitution."

He singled out the report's call for the approval of a de-Baathification law that could allow thousands of officials from Saddam Hussein's ousted Baath Party to return to their jobs.

Rumsfeld showed no sign on Saturday of backing down from his long-standing position that insurgent groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq must be crushed.

"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 unacceptable," he said.

His replacement at the Pentagon, Robert Gates, is to be sworn in Dec. 18. Rumsfeld returned to Washington on Sunday night.

Violence

Gunmen attacked two Shiite homes in western Baghdad late Saturday, killing 10 people, police said Sunday, while seven others died in clashes elsewhere in the capital.

At least 83 more people were killed or found dead throughout the country, including 59 bullet-riddled bodies in the capital.

A roadside bomb also killed one U.S. soldier and wounded another Sunday west of Baghdad, the military said.

Politics

Major partners in Iraq's governing coalition are in behind-the-scenes talks to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amid discontent over his failure to quell raging violence, according to lawmakers involved. The talks are aimed at forming a parliamentary bloc that would seek to replace the current government and that would likely exclude supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an opponent of the U.S. military presence.

Iraq Study Group

Former GOP Secretary of State James A. Baker III shot back at some Republican critics who had denounced the bipartisan panel's proposals as a "recipe for retreat." "We're not going to win this war militarily; we're going to win it politically," Baker said. "There must be a political reconciliation among the warring factions in Iraq or we're going to continue to have major-league problems. ... It's no answer to say just because it's tough we don't do it." Baker appeared with his co-chairman, former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, on Fox News Sunday, NBC's Meet the Press, CBS's Face the Nation and CNN's Late Edition.