Rumsfeld Visits Iraq to Thank Troops
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Iraq on Wednesday to thank U.S.-led coalition troops for toppling the government of Saddam Hussein, becoming the first top U.S. civilian official to visit the country since the regime change.
After a stopover in the southern city of Basra, he flew to Baghdad to spend more time with troops, have meetings and lunch with their commanders and confer with Jay Garner, the retired Army general serving as civilian administrator of the country until a new government is up and running.
After arriving at the Basra airport, Rumsfeld quickly went into a marble-lined terminal for a briefing with British Maj. Gen. Robin Brim after the two made brief remarks.
``A number of human beings have been liberated and they are out from under the heel of a vicious, brutal regime,″ Rumsfeld said. ``I’m very pleased that the United States and the United Kingdom worked so well together.″
Brim said he, too, was delighted at how well U.S. and British forces worked together.
``There are exceptional capabilities that your military bring that we are very envious of,″ Brim said.
Rumsfeld and Brim had tea and sat on a low couch as British officials prepared to brief Rumsfeld on operations in the Basra area of southern Iraq.
The defense secretary’s visit to Iraq came the day after he announced that U.S. troops in neighboring Saudi Arabia will leave that country by the end of the summer, marking a major shift in the American military presence in the Persian Gulf.
The United States will all but abandon Price Sultan air base at a remote desert base south of the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Only about 400 U.S. troops will remain in the Muslim kingdom, most of them based near Riyadh to train Saudi forces, American officials said Tuesday.
Rumsfeld and Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan said the pullout is because, with the war won in Iraq, forces are no longer needed to patrol the old no-fly zone over southern Iraq.
About 100 U.S. planes now remain at the Saudi base, down from about 200 during the height of the Iraq war. All will be gone by the end of August.
Part of Rumsfeld’s mission in the Persian Gulf region this week is to talk to American allies about rearranging U.S. military forces in the area after the Iraq war.
The United States also has troops in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait, which Rumsfeld also visited this week, as well as Bahrain and Oman.
The defense secretary has said he wants to have fewer troops in the Persian Gulf after all operations in Iraq are complete. That process could take years, however. Rumsfeld also has said the United States does not want permanent access to bases inside Iraq.