Saddam no easy catch for US: Rumsfeld
KIRKUK: US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, architect of the war to oust Saddam Hussein, said on Saturday there was no chance American forces would stumble on key Iraqi fugitives including the former dictator.
Rumsfeld flew into the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk on Saturday just one day after a deadly street bombing in Baghdad. He later flew to the Iraqi capital.
A US military commander in the north told Rumsfeld he did not need extra troops, and that recent aggressive US operations aimed at crushing the anti-American resistance have prompted Iraqis to come forward with better intelligence tips. In Tokyo, Japan bade a sad farewell on Saturday to two diplomats shot dead in Iraq last weekend when they stopped at a roadside foodstall near Saddam’s hometown Tikrit.
Rumsfeld, speaking of attempts to track down the highest level of fugitives including Saddam, said: “The chances of us stumbling on one of the top guys are zero.”
US forces have arrested or killed most targets on their so-called deck of cards, a list of 55 most-wanted members of the former regime. After Saddam, the most sought fugitive is the former president’s right-hand man, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. Both remain at large despite intense efforts and huge bounties.
Major General Raymond Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, briefed Rumsfeld on operations in his division’s territory — north of Baghdad up to Kirkuk and including three quarters of the “Sunni triangle” where most attacks happen.
In a response to one question from Rumsfeld, Odierno said he did not need additional American troops, saying: “Over time we will definitely be able to use fewer troops” due to the growing number of Iraqis being trained for the security units.
The meeting was open to the press. Rumsfeld has come under mounting fire over post-war planning for Iraq, as insurgents escalate attacks against US forces and allies as well as Iraqis cooperating with the occupation. Rumsfeld arrived in rainy conditions just after daybreak aboard a US Air Force C-17 cargo plane that flew from Georgia.
He was due to travel to Baghdad later in the day to meet military commanders, US civil administrator Paul Bremer and the head of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Rumsfeld last visited Iraq in September.
Kirkuk is a vital cog in Iraq’s oil industry and has largely escaped the violence in other parts of the troubled country. —Reuters