WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday that it could take as long as 12 years to defeat the insurgency in Iraq, but he said it will be up to Iraqi forces to do the job.
"We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency," Rumsfeld told Fox News Sunday. "That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years."
He acknowledged that the insurgents' attacks "are more lethal than they had been previously, they're killing a lot more Iraqis," and he said the insurgency "could become more violent" in advance of a referendum on a new Iraqi constitution and new elections in December.
Rumsfeld's frank assessment, which echoed one the top two U.S. military commanders in Iraq gave to Congress last week, came as President Bush prepares to address the nation about Iraq on Tuesday night. Recent opinion polls have found flagging public support for the war and growing doubt about whether invading Iraq was the right thing to do.
It also came as insurgents in Iraq have escalated their attacks in an apparent effort to aggravate sectarian strife, undermine the interim Iraqi government and its security forces and perhaps demoralize U.S. troops and the American public.
Insurgent attacks have killed more than 1,300 people, the vast majority of them Iraqis, since April 28, when Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari announced the formation of his government. According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, 1,739 American soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
In the last week, at least 15 car bombs have targeted Iraqi policemen, soldiers, Shiite neighborhoods and the American military. An ambush last week on a U.S. convoy carrying female troops killed two Marines, both men, and wounded 13, 11 of them women.
On Sunday, at least two bombs ripped through an Iraqi police and military post in the northern city of Mosul, killing at least 21 people and wounding at least 29.
At about 6:25 a.m. local time on Sunday morning, a car bomb hidden under a load of watermelons ripped through Al Hadba, a police headquarters building in Mosul. The explosion killed at least six people, four of them policemen.
About two and a half hours later, soldiers stopped a suicide car bomber from entering the Al Kisk military camp in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, which has been a center of the insurgency. He detonated his bomb outside the camp in a crowd of civilians, killing at least 15 and wounding 15, according to an interior ministry official and the Iraq Ministry of Defense.
In Baghdad, police colonel Riyadh Abdel Karim was assassinated Sunday morning as he drove to his downtown office, and one U.S. soldier was killed and two were wounded by an improvised explosive device on the side of the road.
Most of the attacks have come in Anbar province, where an offensive by 1,000 U.S. Marines and sailors was completed last week and another continues in a campaign to weed out insurgents and locate weapons caches.
But as U.S. and Iraqi forces have attacked in one area, insurgents have struck elsewhere, later and returning to their old strongholds after the Americans leave.
The Iraqi police and soldiers on whom Rumsfeld said victory depends patrol the streets fearfully with their guns pointed and their faces covered to protect their identities. Their offices, checkpoints and even the places where they eat lunch are all targets for insurgent attacks.
Rumsfeld on Sunday said that Iraqi forces are gaining public support and that the insurgents will lose because they have no vision and no charismatic leader like China's Mao Zedong or Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh.
"They are foreigners trying to impose their will against an elected government in Iraq and they are going to lose it," Rumsfeld said.
Responding to a report in The Sunday Times of London, Rumsfeld said the United States is supporting the Iraqi government's efforts to reach out to the country's disaffected Sunni Muslim minority in an attempt to encourage greater Sunni Arab participation in politics and to diminish support for the insurgency.
"The first thing you want to do is split people off and get some people to be supportive," Rumsfeld said. He added that, "this doesn't mean we are talking with people like (terrorist leader Abu Musab al) Zarqawi." Zarqawi is a Jordanian, not an Iraqi.
Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi said in a Sunday press conference in Najaf with radical Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that he didn't know whether the meetings between U.S. military officers and officials and insurgents would "limit the terrorist operations."
"I think that destroying terrorism depends on the Iraqi efforts from both the Sunni and Shiite," he said.
After meeting with Mehdi, however, al-Sadr, who opposes the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, said the Iraqi government must set a timetable for an American troop withdrawal.
(Fadel reported from Baghdad, Hall from Washington. Knight Ridder special correspondents Huda Ahmed and Qassem Zem contributed to this report.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.