Rumsfeld and Rice hail Iraqi prime minister-designate
US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday arrived in Iraq for a daylong series of meetings with top U.S. commanders and the newly selected Iraqi leaders. He was later joined by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The joint visit was a strong show of support for Jawad al-Maliki, the Shiite politician selected to be prime minister.
"I came away most encouraged," Rumsfeld said after a private meeting with al-Maliki. Rice offered praise as well, saying "I found him to be very focused. It's very clear that he understood his role and the role of the new government to really demonstrate that there's a government of national unity."
Meanwhile, after meeting with Rumsfeld, the top American commander in Iraq stated that the selection of top government leaders marked a major move toward creating conditions that could allow a substantial number of American forces to leave in the months ahead.
"I'm still on my general timeline," Army Gen. George Casey told reporters, according to the AP.
On his part, Rumsfeld said one of the topics discussed was engaging the emerging Iraqi government in talks on the future of military bases and the division of security responsibilities between American and Iraqi troops. "There is no question but that as the new government is formed and the ministers are in place, that it's appropriate for us to begin discussions with the new government about the conditions on the ground and the pace at which we'll be able to turn over responsiblity in the provinces," Rumsfeld said. This is Rumsfeld's 12th visit to Iraq since the invasion and his first in 2006.
Rice said Iraq was at a "turning point" and that a focus of meetings she and Rumsfeld planned would be pressing for a new cabinet free of divisive "sectarian" figures. Rice was in Baghdad on April 2 and 3 with her British counterpart.