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British Official: No Shift in Iraq Plan

November 9, 2006

LONDON (AP) _ Iraq is at a critical juncture and faces a real risk that violence will escalate even further, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Thursday, warning against a precipitous withdrawal by the U.S.-led coalition. Beckett said the electoral wins by Democrats and the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would prompt a reassessment of strategy in Iraq, but were unlikely to lead to a major shift in policy.

The recommendations of an independent U.S. commission led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton would be key to determining America and Britain’s next moves, she said.

``What is really important is the development of the Baker-Hamilton report, the discussions, the conversations that are taking place on that,″ Beckett said. ``I am not myself anticipating some major upheaval in policy. What I do think we will see is a reassessment ... of how the international community can best move forward.″

Rumsfeld’s resignation cheered critics around the world who saw him as the architect of the failed war in Iraq, while U.S. allies in the military mission pledged to work closely with his successor.

Rumsfeld resigned Wednesday after Democrats won a narrow majority in the Senate and regained total control of Congress, dealing a powerful blow to Bush administration.

Robert McGeehan, an expert on U.S. foreign relations at the London-based Chatham House think-tank, said Rumsfeld’s departure would not bring immediate change to the U.S. strategy in Iraq.

``Eventually there will be a new direction in Iraq, but nothing will happen in the immediate future,″ he said. ``The Democrats don’t have a policy or a coherent plan. Nothing will happen until they figure our their policies.″

Rumsfeld was both reviled and grudgingly respected around the world for his stance on Iraq and support for controversial Bush administration policies like the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Critics on the streets of Baghdad blamed Rumsfeld for mounting bloodshed.

``Rumsfeld’s resignation is not enough,″ said Osama Ahmed, 50, a Higher Education Ministry employee. ``He should be put under investigation for his responsibility in the ... killings and rapes carried out by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi citizens.″

But Staff Sgt. Magda Khalifa of Rutherford, N.J., at Forward Operating Base O’Ryan, a few miles from Camp Anaconda north of Baghdad, said she admired how Rumsfeld ``stayed the course and did not yield to political interests.″

``Even when we hit inevitable low points, he steered his ship forward,″ she said.

Sgt. Wes Thompson, a National Guard soldier from St. Paul Minn., said Rumsfeld ``cannot completely take blame″ in Iraq.

``I feel that things here will continue on as they have the last few months. No one over here is under the delusion that just one guy can solve our problems here overnight,″ Thompson said.

Reaction was triumphant in other parts of the Middle East. In Lebanon, the English-language The Daily Star newspaper called Rumsfeld ``a casualty of the war he launched in Iraq.″ The Syrian state-run Tishreen newspaper said he was ``the first of the drowning hawks.″

Iranian state radio called Rumsfeld a ``symbol of stupidity and unilateralism″ and his downfall reflected ``America’s defeat in Iraq, the end of the era of neo-conservatives and the failure of America’s war policy _ of which Rumsfeld was the architect.″

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said the Republicans’ electoral defeat ``might soften the U.S. warmongering policy in the region.″

Outspoken Bush critic President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was giddy as he read aloud a news report of Rumsfeld’s resignation.

``Heads are beginning to roll,″ Chavez said during a news conference Wednesday. ``It was about time he resigned. The president should resign now.″

U.S. allies, meanwhile, pledged to work closely with Robert Gates, who is Bush’s chosen replacement for Rumsfeld. Gates is a former CIA director.

Indonesia expressed hopes of continued military cooperation with the U.S., while Japan and Australia vowed to continue their backing for reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Australia has 1,300 troops in the country; Japan has withdrawn its troop contingent but is still providing air support for reconstruction.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki refused to comment directly on Rumsfeld’s departure, but said Tokyo expected its close security ties with the U.S. to continue under Gates.

``Since he has worked at the CIA and was a member of the National Security Council, I have heard that he is extremely well-versed in security issues,″ Shiozaki said.

In Afghanistan, the government of President Hamid Karzai expressed sadness over Rumsfeld’s abrupt departure.

``We are sad that he has resigned,″ Karzai’s chief of staff, Jawed Ludin, told The Associated Press. ``We in Afghanistan are very pleased and very grateful for (Rumsfeld’s) support for Afghanistan.″

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