The Washington Times

Rumsfeld denies plan for permanent U.S. bases in Iraq

April 22, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A09


Caption: "The impression that's left around the world is that we plan to occupy the country," the defense secretary said of a story he called "flat false." [Photo by AP]

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday the military has no plans to set up long-term bases in Iraq for U.S. forces.

Mr. Rumsfeld said four bases are being used by the military for "stability operations" and for supplying humanitarian aid.

He said the Pentagon is starting to pull forces out of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, which includes Iraq.

As for how U.S. forces will be deployed in the Middle East in the future, Mr. Rumsfeld said he has some ideas but no concrete plans or anything to announce now.

U.S. military forces attacked Iraq to change a regime, he said.

"We went in there to find weapons of mass destruction," he said. "We went in there to stop them from threatening their neighbors."

In Iraq yesterday, Marines fought a battle near Mosul against unidentified gunmen, said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In northern Iraq, Special Forces troops found a large cache of weapons south of Kirkuk. The arms in 40 bunkers included rockets for multiple launchers, artillery rounds and other munitions, including 50 SA-7 hand-held surface-to-air missiles, Gen. Myers said.

"There's still a lot of dangerous work to do in terms of continued security and stability, as well as the search for weapons of mass destruction and support to humanitarian operations," Gen. Myers said.

As for Iraq's hidden weapons, Mr. Rumsfeld said U.S. forces are not likely to uncover chemical, biological or nuclear-related arms and equipment by accident.

"What's going to happen, ultimately, is we'll find people, and the people will decide that they want to look forward instead of back, and they will come to us, as they are, and offer up suggestions as to where one might look and how one might approach it, and testimony on their personal involvements," Mr. Rumsfeld said, noting that "we will obviously look with favor on people that do that."

An Iraqi scientist who worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program disclosed to an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical and biological arms equipment days before the war began.

The scientist led military weapons specialists to a stockpile of chemicals used in making illegal weapons, defense officials said.

The scientist also said Iraq moved some of its weapons of mass destruction to Syria. Officials confirmed the scientist's cooperation with Army teams after it was first reported in the New York Times.

Defense planners are considering how U.S. forces will be arranged in the future, Mr. Rumsfeld said. The issue will be discussed with other governments, including those in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Also, there are no plans for ties to a post-Saddam Iraqi government because "there isn't even an emerging government to plan it with at the present time," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

He acknowledged that the ouster of Saddam's regime and its replacement with a government friendly toward the United States could lead to a cut in forces in the region.

The four Iraqi air bases being used by U.S. forces are: the international airport, west of the city; the H-1 airfield in western Iraq; Tallil airfield near Nasiriya in the south; and Bashur airfield in northern Iraq.

"We are using those bases, properly so, to help with stabilization forces and humanitarian assistance," he said.

The secretary made the comments to counter what he said was an inaccurate report in Sunday's New York Times. The report quoted unidentified Bush administration officials as saying the United States wanted to keep four permanent military bases in Iraq.

The report was "unhelpful," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "The impression that's left around the world is that we plan to occupy the country, we plan to use their bases over the long period of time, and it's flat false," he said.

U.S. military forces will be in Iraq as long as they are needed to assist the new government and "not one day longer," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld also defended the military's failure to provide security at key sites in Baghdad to prevent looting immediately after the fall of the Iraqi capital.

Military planners had a large number of things to do before they could focus on protecting places like museums or banks, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Hospitals and enemy headquarters that had valuable documents were protected against looters, Mr. Rumsfeld said, but not everything could be secured.