WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Tuesday he is confident the interim Iraqi government will find a way to retake cities now in the hands of insurgents.
He also expressed sympathy for the rising number of American military deaths in Iraq (search), now more than 1,000 since the start of the war.
"We certainly honor the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in uniform who has served in Iraq and who is currently serving there," he said. "And, needless to say, we mourn with the families of those lost."
Taking a broader view, Rumsfeld cited progress on multiple fronts in the Bush administration's global war on terrorism and said U.S. enemies should not underestimate the willingness of the American people and its coalition allies to suffer casualties in Iraq and elsewhere.
"The progress has prompted a backlash, in effect, from those who hope that at some point we might conclude that the pain and the cost of this fight isn't worth it," Rumsfeld told reporters. "Well, our enemies have underestimated our country, our coalition. They have failed to understand the character of our people. And they certainly misread our commander in chief."
Rumsfeld said the war in Iraq has not created more terrorists there, but he also cautioned that the country needs a more capable security force of its own to eventually defeat the insurgents.
He said interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) understands the threat from continued instability.
"The prime minister and his team fully understand that it is important that there not be areas in that country that are controlled by terrorists," he said. Later he added, "For their country to succeed, they simply cannot over a sustained period of time have areas that are under the control of people who are violently opposed to that government."
He was referring to major cities like Fallujah and Samarra, where neither U.S. forces nor the Iraqi government are in control.
Rumsfeld also condemned the terrorist attack on a Russian school that killed more than 350 people, including children, and said it underscored how the war on terrorism is a global struggle.
"We saw vividly the extremes to which terrorists are willing to go to achieve their ends," Rumsfeld said at his first Pentagon news conference since July 21.
He said the civilized world must stay on the offensive against terrorists.
"There really are no free passes in this struggle, this war," Rumsfeld said. "No free passes for countries, no free passes for individuals."
Turning to Iraq, Rumsfeld said U.S. and Iraqi forces are winning the conflict, despite a recent surge in U.S. and Iraqi casualties and the fact that the struggle has gone on far longer than had been expected.
Appearing with Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged a recent upswing in casualties and said they reflected a more effective Iraqi insurgency.
"The enemy is becoming more sophisticated in its efforts to destabilize the country," Myers said. "And recently, we've seen an increase in the number of suicide attacks." One such attack Monday near the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, killed seven Marines and three Iraqis.
Rumsfeld blamed "a combination of terrorists, former regime elements and criminals" for the continuing violence in Iraq.