U.S. troops will stay in Iraq and Afghanistan until stable, democratic governments have taken control, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Saturday.
Rumsfeld said he was traveling to the Persian Gulf and South Asia to thank forces "deeply involved in the successes we've achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan."
He also plans to talk to allies in the Gulf about how U.S. military "arrangements and partnerships and cooperation" with those countries will change after the war in Iraq. Rumsfeld has said that significant changes to the Pentagon's "footprint" in the region could be in store now that Saddam Hussein's military threat has been removed.
The defense secretary has denied reports that the United States is considering an arrangement to have permanent access to some bases in Iraq.
Long, dangerous and difficult work remains in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld told reporters aboard his plane, which stopped in Ireland to refuel. The flight was delayed several hours as workers fixed brake pads on the landing gear that broke during the landing.
That problem was expected to delay Rumsfeld's trip by eight or more hours and put the timing of his scheduled stops into question.
"One ought not to think of this as a victory tour," Rumsfeld said, noting that coalition forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan still are coming under sporadic attacks. "The task before us in Iraq will take a lot of focused attention over a period of time."
"Our intent is to stay there and work with the international community to help them transition from where they are to where they're going," Rumsfeld said.
In Iraq, where about 135,000 American troops are, coalition forces are rounding up former government officials nearly every day, Rumsfeld said.
Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister who turned himself in to U.S. forces in Baghdad on Thursday, is being questioned, Rumsfeld said. "I've seen one debrief of Tariq Aziz, and it's too early to know" if he will be helpful, Rumsfeld said.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times, quoting files it had found in the wreckage of the Iraqi foreign ministry, reported that France gave Saddam Hussein's regime regular reports on its dealings with US officials.
The British weekly said the information kept Saddam abreast of every development in US planning and may have helped him to prepare for war.
One report warned of a US "attempt to involve Iraq with terrorism" as "cover for an attack on Iraq", according to The Sunday Times.
Another, dated September 25, 2001, from Naji Sabri, the Iraqi foreign minister, to Saddam's palace, was based on a briefing from the French ambassador in Baghdad and covered talks between presidents Jacques Chirac and US President George W Bush.
Chirac was said to have been told that the US was "100 per cent certain Osama bin Laden was behind the September 11 attacks and that the answer of the United States would be decisive". (Albawaba.com)
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