US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has strongly defended US policy in Iraq, saying an immediate troop pullout would be a "terrible thing". Mr Rumsfeld appeared on four Sunday TV talks shows following Friday's raucous Congress debate in which a resolution on an immediate withdrawal was beaten.
Mr Rumsfeld said a decision would be based on military commanders' views. The debate was fired by Democrat representative John Murtha's call last week for troops to come home. Mr Rumsfeld said an immediate withdrawal would be "a terrible thing for our country and for the safety of our people".
The US has about 160,000 troops in Iraq but that is expected to fall to 138,000 after the 15 December elections. Mr Rumsfeld said further withdrawals would "depend on what takes place on the ground". He said Iraqi forces would take up a greater share of the battle against insurgents.
"They're doing a very good job. They're growing in numbers. They're growing in competence." The defence secretary also said talk of immediate withdrawals would give succour to militants.
"The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder maybe all we have to do is wait and we'll win," he said. Mr Rumsfeld was also repeatedly asked about a Time magazine article which said he had turned down a military request in August for reinforcements.
"No-one has ever been turned down by me. The troops that have been asked for have been given." But Mr Rumsfeld also said he had "never been asked" about invading Iraq and had not advocated it.
However, when pressed on ABC television whether he was distancing himself from the invasion, he said: "Of course not. I completely agreed with the decision to go to war and said that 100 times. Don't even suggest that." In Friday's Congress debate, Mr Murtha called for troops to leave Iraq within six months, prompting some Republicans to accuse him of abandonment, surrender and even cowardice.
Mr Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran, also appeared on TV on Sunday, saying he had received great support for his position, reports BBC news. I.L.