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Rumsfeld: Iraqis Free to Form Own Gov't

Rumsfeld: Iraqis Free to Form Own Gov't

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States will not allow an Iran-style religious government to take hold in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. He also said Syria and others in the region will not be permitted to influence Iraq's future.

"If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen," he said.

Shiites in Iraq are the majority Islamic sect, and they disagree on whether to embrace a secular government or an Iran-style theocracy. Some U.S. officials worry that the Islamic government in Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, may seek to influence Iraq's postwar reshaping.

Interviewed in his Pentagon conference room, Rumsfeld also said that U.S. and British forces are searching for many more former members of the Saddam Hussein government than the 55 on a "most wanted" list.

"In fact we have a list of some 200," he said. "That original list was purposely kept low at the outset because we wanted to separate the worst people from the regime, hoping that others would come forward."

Rumsfeld said more of the top 55 have been captured in the past day or so than have been announced. He gave no details and said that once the identities were verified they would be made public.

Rumsfeld said the Iraqi people, after decades of political repression, need time to adjust to a new reality and to determine for themselves how to organize a new government and elections.

President Bush made a similar point Thursday in a speech to workers at a tank factory in Ohio.

"One thing is certain: We will not impose a government on Iraq," Bush said. "We will help that nation build a government of, by and for the Iraqi people."

Rumsfeld, who is scheduled to visit Iraq soon, painted a mostly upbeat picture of progress in stabilizing the country and moving it toward establishing a new government.

As evidence of progress, he said humanitarian aid groups that specialize in emergency care are now leaving Iraq "because there is not an emergency" in terms of food and water supplies.

As for outside countries, he said neither Syria nor Iran should try to meddle in Iraq.

"What you want to try to do is have external influences muted or eliminated to the extent possible," he said. "The Iraqi people I think over time will not want influence from Iran in their country."

He would not predict how long U.S. and allied military forces would remain in Iraq.

Bush said Thursday, "We'll stay as long as it takes to complete our mission, and then all our forces are going to leave Iraq and come home."

The military's work now is a combination of snuffing out pockets of resistance from remnants of the government and providing security so that humanitarian aid can flow, Rumsfeld said.

"The next step is to see that the Iraqi people begin to be involved in their communities and in the development of a national government," he said. He said this is beginning to happen and cited as an example the joint Iraqi-U.S. security patrols carried out in some areas.

He urged caution and patience as Iraq establishes first an "interim authority" in Baghdad, to be followed by a full-fledged government and a mechanism for drafting a national constitution.

Rumsfeld quoted Thomas Jefferson: "You don't go from despotism to freedom on a featherbed."

"There will be the beginning of an interim authority soon," he said. "I don't know quite what `soon' means." He added: "It's a little early to be impatient about it, so I can't be impatient, although the natural thing is to be impatient about it. You want the Iraqis to govern themselves."

On other topics, Rumsfeld said:

-- It's too early to consider whether the U.S. military will have a long-term relationship with the post-Saddam government in Iraq, but he doubts the United States will want to base any forces there. The removal of Saddam makes it likely that the number of American forces stationed in the Persian Gulf area will decline over time; he provided no numbers or other details.

-- There is no evidence yet to bear out prewar assertions by the Bush administration that Iraq possessed a small number of Scud missiles banned by the United Nations. As for Saddam, Rumsfeld said he doesn't know whether he's dead or alive, but Iraqis are better off without him in power.

-- The al-Qaida terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden poses a real but diminished threat. "There's no question but that the intelligence community broadly feels that al-Qaida has been significantly weakened."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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