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Rumsfeld sees potential for Iraq civil war

Will Dunham / Reuters | March 8 2006

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday there has always been a risk Iraq could plunge into civil war but he accused the news media of exaggerating the gravity of the current situation.

Rumsfeld, during a Pentagon briefing, also accused Iran of sending Revolutionary Guards forces into Iraq, his latest accusation of Iranian meddling in the war, adding, "I don't think we could consider them religious pilgrims."

"I do not believe they're in a civil war today," Rumsfeld said of Iraq, but added "terrorists" want to foment one. "There's always been a potential for a civil war. That country was held together through a repressive regime that put hundreds of thousands of human beings into mass graves."

Hundreds of people were killed in sectarian violence that flared after the February 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of Iraq's four holiest Shi'ite shrines, and some experts said Iraq appeared to be on a verge of civil war.

The top U.S. envoy to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday saying the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that ousted President Saddam Hussein opened a "Pandora's box" of ethnic and sectarian tensions. Khalilzad said the "potential is there" for an all-out Iraqi civil war.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 80 percent of Americans believe that recent sectarian violence makes civil war in Iraq "likely" and more than a third thought it was "very likely."

Asked whether a civil war was possible, Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters on Friday it was unlikely but, "Anything can happen."

Rumsfeld said the recent violence had delayed efforts to form a "unity government" distributing power among Iraq's Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds.

'EXAGGERATIONS'

Rumsfeld, citing information from Casey, said the news media has exaggerated the number of attacks on mosques and the number of Iraqi deaths, and has mischaracterized the actions of government security forces.

"From what I've seen thus far, much of the reporting in the U.S. and abroad has exaggerated the situation," Rumsfeld said.

"The steady stream of errors all seem to be of the nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq," he added. Asked whether these "exaggerations" were intentional, he added, "Oh, I can't go into people's minds."
Rumsfeld and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were not specific on the number of Revolutionary Guards they said were sent by Iran.

"They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq. And we know it. And it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said "of course" Iran's central government was responsible. "The Revolutionary Guard doesn't go milling around willy-nilly, one would think."

Pace reiterated previous accusations about Iran funneling roadside bombs and other weapons across the border.

Experts have said tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The United States has 132,000 troops in Iraq. There have been more than 2,300 U.S. military deaths in the war, with about 17,000 troops wounded in action.

Shi'ite Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the population, are ascending to political power after being oppressed under Saddam. Minority Sunni Muslims find themselves losing power after dominating the nation for decades, and Sunnis are driving the insurgency. Minority Kurds are also accruing power.

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