New York Times
April 25, 2003
The Pentagon will rearrange some of its forces in the Persian Gulf region depending in part on the degree of anti-Americanism in host nations, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in an Associated Press interview.
Rumsfeld mentioned no countries by name but stressed that he did not want American servicemen and women to be stationed in countries where the government and population do not welcome them.
"You want to be someplace that people want us, you really do," he said in the interview Thursday.
"We don't want to be places that we're not wanted. We simply don't."
Other factors to be taken into consideration as forces are rearranged in the Gulf are the amount of money already invested in bases, the geopolitical importance of host nations, and the limitations imposed by host governments on moving U.S. forces across their territory or airspace, he said.
U.S. troop presence in Muslim nations is a sensitive issue in the Gulf, especially in Saudi Arabia, which first allowed a continuous American military presence after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
The United States also has troops in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Rumsfeld offered no specifics, but he said the size of the U.S. military force in the Gulf region likely will shrink, now that the Iraqi military no longer poses a threat to its neighbors.
"With the absence of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the need for a U.S. presence in the region would diminish rather than increase," he said. He noted that U.S. aircraft that were based in Turkey to fly "no fly" zone enforcement missions over northern Iraq have already left.
The United States also has aircraft based in Saudi Arabia that were involved in enforcement of a southern "no fly" zone. Both zones have been abolished with the fall of the Iraqi government, so there may be less need for large numbers of aircraft based in Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand, the United States has invested large sums in a state-of-the-art air command center at Prince Sultan Air Base, south of the Saudi capital. It was completed just before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was used to coordinate the air campaign over Afghanistan. It was used again as headquarters for the Iraq air campaign commander, Gen. Michael Moseley.
The United States also recently completed extensive and expensive additions at Al-Udeid air base in Qatar, and it was used to launch airstrikes against Iraq.
Rumsfeld made clear that he is reviewing U.S. military basing across the globe -- not just in the Gulf. He has hinted previously that some of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, for example, might be withdrawn. In recent years some South Koreans have demonstrated against the U.S. troop presence.
The defense secretary also said in the AP interview that the United States will not allow an Iran-style religious government to take hold in Iraq. And he said Syria and others in the region will not be permitted to influence Iraq's future.
"If you're suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn't going to happen," he said.
Shiites in Iraq are the majority Islamic sect, and they disagree on whether to embrace a secular government or an Iran-style theocracy. Some U.S. officials worry that the Islamic government in Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, may seek to influence Iraq's postwar reshaping.
Interviewed in his Pentagon conference room, Rumsfeld also said that U.S. and British forces are searching for many more former members of the Saddam Hussein government than the 55 on a "most wanted" list.
"In fact we have a list of some 200," he said. "That original list was purposely kept low at the outset because we wanted to separate the worst people from the regime, hoping that others would come forward."
Rumsfeld, who is scheduled to visit Iraq soon, spoke before news broke that former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz had been taken into U.S. custody.
Rumsfeld said the Iraqi people, after decades of political repression, need time to adjust to a new reality and to determine for themselves how to organize a new government and elections.
President Bush made a similar point Thursday in a speech to workers at a tank factory in Ohio.
"One thing is certain: We will not impose a government on Iraq," Bush said.