US will continue to cut Iraq troop levels
* Rumsfeld says Iraq and Afghan missions key to containing Iran
WASHINGTON: Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday he expected the United States would be able to continue to cut its troop levels in Iraq, while saying success in Iraq is critical to containing neighboring Iran.
Rumsfeld called the political developments in Iraq in recent days a “thrilling accomplishment”, but said it was reasonable to believe the insurgency will try to prevent the completion of the new permanent Iraqi government.
The United States has 133,000 troops in Iraq, the Pentagon said, down from about 160,000 in place in December during parliamentary elections. Sectarian violence flared in Iraq, already a volatile brew of ethnic and sectarian tensions, after February’s bombing of a key Shia shrine in Samarra, elevating concerns about the outbreak of a civil war.
Rumsfeld indicated the Pentagon intends to stick with plans to reduce the size of the US military presence, but did not give specific numbers or a timetable. He said any decisions would depend on security conditions on the ground. “As we’re able to pass over more responsibility (to US-trained Iraqi security forces), one would think that we would be able to continue reducing down our forces,” Rumsfeld said in an interview with the Pentagon’s television channel.
Rumsfeld linked success in Iraq and Afghanistan to containing Iran amid concern over its nuclear ambitions. “It seems to me that we need to put Iraq and Afghanistan in that context so that those people in our country who are deeply concerned about Iran, which is understandable, recognise that success in Afghanistan and success in Iraq is critical to containing the extreme impulses that we see emanating from Iran,” Rumsfeld said. reuters