WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declined yesterday to say when the United States might declare victory in the Iraq war, likening that country's precarious security to Afghanistan's and saying that other nations were sending people to help the United States stabilize Iraq.
Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, also flatly denied a news report that the United States envisions a long-term military role in Iraq, with perhaps four bases inside the country. Any decision on the long-term positioning of U.S. forces, Rumsfeld said, has yet to be made and would follow talks between U.S. officials and governments in the region.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spoke alongside Rumsfeld, noted that skirmishes involving U.S. forces have continued in Iraq, notably in the northern city of Mosul. A firefight there yesterday left one Marine wounded.
In addition, Myers said, U.S. Special Forces found a "very large weapons cache" south of Kirkuk. Included were 50 SA-7s, handheld surface-to-air missiles.
Rumsfeld indicated that the United States was not ready to declare an end to the war, even though major combat operations were declared over a week ago and Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign affairs minister, said Sunday that a formal victory proclamation would be forthcoming.
The defense secretary said that "at some point" after consulting with the allied forces, he and other officials would meet with President Bush and decide what parts of Iraq "can move toward a stabilization effort."
"Ultimately, at some point, it will be over," Rumsfeld said. "But is it over now? No."
Iraq, he said, will likely be pacified in a piecemeal fashion.
"You then can go into a period where you have a move toward a stabilization period in some portions of the country and not the whole country, or you may continue to have hostilities," Rumsfeld said. "If you think of where we are in Afghanistan, that's where we are. We have a reasonably stable environment in much of the country, and we have something other than that along the Pakistan border."
At the same time, the United States has yet to find any banned weapons of mass destruction, which were the Bush administration's chief justification for invading Iraq.
With 125,000 U.S. forces in the country and more flowing in, the defense secretary said it was uncertain how long U.S. forces would be patrolling the Iraqi cities and countryside.
Besides the 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Ga., the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif., that formed the spearhead for the war, the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, has now rolled into the country. It is being followed by the 1st Armored Division, which is based in Germany and Fort Riley, Kan.
The arrival of the two most recent Army divisions would allow some of the other units to be relieved and return home.
Rumsfeld said, meanwhile, that other countries were beginning to commit forces to stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq, the so-called Phase Four of the military mission.
He said that Italy has offered 300 police officers for security duties and that Albania has provided an undetermined number of military forces. Lithuanian cargo handlers are in the country helping with the delivery of humanitarian supplies.
In addition, a Czech field hospital began to deploy last week into Iraq, Rumsfeld said, while Spain has sent a ship with a medical unit on board and Lithuania provided a medical team.
A Rumsfeld denial
Rumsfeld flatly denied a report Sunday by The New York Times that the United States foresees a long-term defense relationship with the emerging government of Iraq.
As part of that effort, the newspaper reported, Pentagon officials were looking at four bases in Iraq that could be used: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriyah in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip in the western desert; and the last at the Bashur airfield in the north.
The defense secretary rejected that notion.
"There are four bases that the U.S. is using in that country to help bring in humanitarian assistance, to help provide for stability operations," Rumsfeld said. "And are they doing that? Sure. But does that have anything to do with the long-term footprint? Not a whit."
He said no decisions have been made about a U.S. military presence in Iraq, which has yet to form a new government, or other countries in the region.
"We'll announce it when we're ready," he said.
No comment on arms
Rumsfeld would not comment on a Times report yesterday that a U.S. military team had found an Iraqi scientist who produced information about President Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons programs. The scientist reported that some chemical weapons and biological agents had been destroyed and others sent to Syria.
The scientist also led U.S. forces to buried items later found to be precursor chemicals for a toxic agent banned by chemical weapons treaties, the newspaper reported.
The defense secretary would say only that teams of chemical and biological experts, staffed from the Pentagon and other government agencies, are searching sites that were known to the U.S. military, along with others that Iraqis have pointed out. The teams have mobile labs at their disposal to quickly test any suspected chemical or biological agents.
Samples from sites in Iraq have been sent for more sophisticated tests to a lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, home of the Army's Soldier and Biological Chemical Command. So far, those results have been negative, officials said.