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Rumsfeld Meets With Iraqi Leaders

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on another quick visit to Iraq, pressed the country's new leaders Tuesday to avoid delays in developing a constitutional government and defeating the insurgency.

"Anything that would delay that or disrupt that as a result of turbulence or incompetence or corruption in government would be unfortunate," Rumsfeld said before he began a round of talks with Iraqi leaders.

The newly designated prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, told reporters after meeting Rumsfeld at his official residence that he realized the risk of setbacks in the political process.

"I don't deny there are challenges, but I am sure we are going to form very good ministries," he said in English. He predicted that the government bureaucracy would be staffed by "good technocrats" from a variety of backgrounds.

In other developments:

  • Militants ambushed a convoy carrying a senior interior ministry official in the Iraqi capital, killing a bodyguard and injuring three others, Gen. Tariq al-Baldawi, a deputy interior minister, escaped unhurt after gunmen in two cars opened fire on his convoy in Baghdad's western Adel neighborhood, an official in the ministry said on condition of anonymity.
  • In the northeastern city of Kirkuk, gunmen opened fire late Monday on a police patrol, injuring two members of the security service, police Brig. Sarhat Kadier said Tuesday. On its Web site, the militant group Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for attacks with machine-gun fire against three Iraqi police cars in Kirkuk on Monday evening.
  • The Iraqi government said Tuesday it had earlier captured an insurgent who has confessed to attempting to cross into Syria to collect a car bomb for detonation in Iraq and that the detainee has "links" with Syria's intelligence services.
  • Late Monday, the U.S. embassy in Iraq announced the kidnapping of an American citizen. A spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity said the American contractor, who was working on a reconstruction project, had been abducted around noon Monday. The spokesman didn't release the contractor's identity or other details, but said the abductee's family had been informed.
  • Poland wants to withdraw its 1,700 troops from Iraq early next year, the defense minister said Tuesday.
  • Residents of a small town north of Qaim — a city on the Syrian border where insurgents attacked a U.S. military base with three car bombs late Monday — reported the sounds of gunfire and heavy explosions overnight.
  • In Samarra, a troubled city 60 miles north of Baghdad, a pickup truck blew up Monday near a U.S. patrol, killing three civilians and wounding more than 20 others, including four U.S. soldiers, officials said. One soldier was evacuated for medical treatment, and the others were treated and returned to duty, the U.S. military said.

    Rumsfeld met separately with Interim President Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish former rebel leader.

  • In a joint appearance before reporters after their meeting, Rumsfeld and Talabani struggled to make themselves understood to a mixed Iraqi-American press corps. At one point Talabani translated for Rumsfeld as the defense secretary fielded a question from an Iraqi speaking in Arabic. After hearing Talabani's version of the question, Rumsfeld accused the reporter of phrasing it inaccurately, and the garbled exchange ended abruptly as another Iraqi posed another question.

    Speaking in English, Talabani said he had assured Rumsfeld that Iraq's interim leaders will work together.

    "We are planning to have the (permanent) government as soon as possible, but you know this is the beginning of democratization in Iraq," Talabani said, adding that he expects the government to complete its selection of cabinet ministers before the end of this week. The next major goal is to have a new constitution written by August and ratified by a national vote in October.

    Rumsfeld also held a closed meeting with Gen. George Casey and Lt. Gen. John Vines, the top two American commanders in Iraq. In a brief interview with reporters later, Casey said he was encouraged that the long and difficult process of training and equipping Iraqi security forces was gaining ground.

    "We're getting better and more efficient at it," he said.

    The Iraqis, in turn, have gained a new measure of confidence since the Jan. 30 elections.

    "Iraqi security forces are operating more aggressively" against the insurgents, Casey said.

    Thus a surge in attacks in early April is being matched by military successes, such as a string of nearly flawless weekend raids, CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports. Overall the raids captured about 65 suspected insurgents.

    But what makes the raids significant is the arrests were made by U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers, not Americans themselves. This could be one of the reasons U.S. officials have indicated some of the U.S. force in Iraq could be coming home by early next year.

    Rumsfeld also gave a pep talk to a few hundred soldiers at Camp Liberty, headquarters of the 3rd Infantry Division. He also pinned Bronze Star medals and Purple Heart awards on several soldiers and participated in a mass re-enlistment ceremony for about 100 soldiers gathered in a mess hall.

    "The role you're playing is a critically important role in the global war on terrorism," he told them.

    Rumsfeld arrived in the Iraqi capital before sunrise aboard an Air Force C-17 cargo plane for his second visit in three months. It was his ninth visit since the war began in March 2003.