WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Wednesday played down recent deadly attacks on Americans in Iraq, equating those losses with everyday violence in large U.S. cities.
Attacks and accidents have killed about 50 American troops -- including about a dozen from hostile fire -- since major combat was officially declared over on May 1. Between March 20, when the war started, and May 1, 138 Americans died from accidents or hostile fire.
Asked at Pentagon press conference about the Iraqi resistance, Rumsfeld described it as "small elements" of 10 to 20 people, not large military formations or networks of attackers. He said there "is a little debate" in the administration over whether there is any central control to the resistance, which officials say is coming from Saddam's former Baath Party (search), Fedayeen (search) paramilitary, and other loyalists.
"In those regions where pockets of dead-enders are trying to reconstitute, Gen. [Tommy] Franks and his team are rooting them out," Rumsfeld said, referring to the U.S. commander in Iraq. "In short, the coalition is making good progress."
While the deaths of U.S. troops generate "a deep sorrow," Rumsfeld said, he believes the American people feel the sacrifices are worthwhile.
"They recognize the difficulty of the task," Rumsfeld said. "You got to remember that if Washington, D.C., were the size of Baghdad, we would be having something like 215 murders a month. There's going to be violence in a big city." Rumsfeld noted that Baghdad has nearly six million residents.
Still, Rumsfeld added, "It tends not to be, at this stage, random killings. ... What you're seeing instead is what we believe is purposeful attacks against coalition forces, as opposed to simply crime and that type of thing."
On Capitol Hill, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, "We are still in a phase where we need some significant combat power to take on these remnants of the old regime."
"I think these people are the last remnants of a dying cause," he told the House Armed Services Committee. He said U.S. forces "have the sympathy of the population, not the surviving elements of the Baathist regime."
Some lawmakers are increasingly uneasy about the daily killings of soldiers, the stretching thin of troop forces, excessive demands on reservists and the costs of the war.
Wolfowitz and Marine Corps. Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they believed the burden on U.S. forces would ease as more coalition forces enter Iraq. Pace said two additional divisions should be added in August or September to the 12,000 non-U.S. forces now in Iraq.
In Iraq, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno said raids begun Sunday had resulted in the capture of a number of senior Iraqi figures and the seizure of millions of dollars they were using to finance continued fighting.
At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld defended as "imperfect but good" the intelligence the Bush administration used to build its case for a war to disarm Saddam of weapons of mass destruction.
"I think the intelligence was correct in general," he said. "And you will always find out precisely what it was once you get on the ground and have a chance to talk to people and explore it."
Failure of troops to find any chemical or biological weapons in three months of trying has led critics to suggest the administration exaggerated intelligence findings in order to win support for the war.
The House Intelligence Committee held its first closed-door hearing Wednesday as part of its review of the weapons intelligence. Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., said the committee heard from agencies that had analyzed Iraqi weapons programs over the past decade and their information will be helpful.
Officials from the Justice Department and CIA are considering a British proposal to offer leniency to captured Iraqi officials in exchange for information about weapons of mass destruction or Saddam's whereabouts, Rumsfeld said.
Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, said that troops are pressing forward with patrols and raids to defeat resistance forces and capture former leaders of Saddam's toppled government.
"Although major combat operations have concluded, our soldiers are involved in almost daily contact with noncompliant forces, former regime members and common criminals," said Odierno, whose troops operate north of Baghdad to Kirkuk and east to the Iranian border. The area includes Tikrit, Saddam's former hometown.
"We are seeing military activity throughout our zone, but I really qualify it as militarily insignificant," Odierno told Pentagon reporters in a video conference from Tikrit. He added that the attacks are "having no impact on the way we conduct business on a day-to-day basis."
The commander spoke on the fourth day of Operation Desert Scorpion. Officials had announced Tuesday the capture of 412 people in 69 raids in Baghdad and northern Iraq.
He said 50 more people detained at raids Wednesday were tied to Saddam security or paramilitary groups and included a former Saddam bodyguard.