Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid a surprise visit to Iraq over the weekend and said American forces should not quit the war until the enemy is defeated.
Just days after a U.S. bipartisan commission called the situation here "grave and deteriorating" and called for a major shift in U.S. government policy, Rumsfeld showed no sign on Saturday of backing down from his long-standing position that insurgent groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq must be crushed.
"We feel great urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or a 9/11 times two or three. At the same time, we need to have the patience to see this task through to success. The consequences of failure are unacceptable," Rumsfeld told more than 1,200 soldiers and Marines at Al-Asad, a sprawling air base in Anbar province, the large area of western Iraq that is an insurgent stronghold. "The enemy must be defeated."
Rumsfeld, whose tenure at the Pentagon came under criticism in the Iraq Study Group report, was continuing to meet with U.S. troops in Iraq on Sunday, the military said.
At least 2,930 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, many in and around Baghdad, and in hard-hit Anbar cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the Iraq Study Group report offered dangerous recommendations that would undermine his country’s sovereignty and were "an insult to the people of Iraq." He was the most senior government official to take a stand against the Iraq Study Group report, which has come under criticism from leaders of the governing Shiite and Kurdish parties.
He said the report "is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution."
Talabani said Iraqis were not intimidated by the report’s threat to reduce political, military or economic support if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress.
He said setting conditions was "an insult to the people of Iraq."
Meanwhile, gunmen attacked two Shiite homes in western Baghdad, killing 10 people, police said Sunday, while seven others died in clashes elsewhere in the capital. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred late Saturday in the mostly Sunni Arab al-Jihad neighborhood, two policemen said. The attack appeared to have been conducted by Sunni Arabs in retaliation for earlier attacks on Sunnis in the capital.
The policemen spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for their own safety.
Baghdad has been suffering from a series of attacks aimed at driving Sunnis or Shiites out of neighborhoods of the capital where they form a minority.
On Sunday morning, clashes erupted between Sunni and Shiite militants in Baghdad’s mixed western Amil district, a policeman said. One Shiite militiaman was killed and six people — five Sunnis and one Shiite — were wounded, the officer said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media. The fighting ended with U.S. and Iraqi forces rushed to the area to contain it, he said.
Witnesses said Shiite militiamen entered a Sunni enclave in Hurriyah — a predominantly Shiite neighborhood — after Sunnis warned the few Shiites living there to leave or be killed. Heavy machine gun fire was heard on Saturday and three columns of black smoke rose into the sky, the witnesses said on condition of anonymity, also out of concern for their own safety.
Omar Abdul-Sattar, a member of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, said Sunday that an organized effort was under way in Hurriyah to force Sunnis out, and he accused Iraq’s Shiite-led government of doing little to stop the violence.
Speaking at a news conference shown on Iraqi TV, Abdul-Sattar read a party statement claiming that during the past five months more than 300 Sunni families have been displaced from Hurriyah, more than 100 Sunnis killed and 200 wounded, and at least five Sunni mosques burned, along with houses and shops.
He said the party rejected sectarian violence of all kinds, but he accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government of protecting Shiite areas of the capital while ignoring the needs of mostly Sunni ones.
Rumsfeld’s farewell tour to Iraq followed a grim picture of the war that was presented last week by a bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. The Iraq Study Group said its prescription for change is needed quickly to turn around a "grave and deteriorating" situation.