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Rumsfeld: Help find Saddam's men

Rumsfeld, left, speaks to British officers in Basra Wednesday.
Rumsfeld, left, speaks to British officers in Basra Wednesday.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad Wednesday where he urged Iraqis to help the U.S.-led coalition capture members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

In a message to the Iraqis recorded for broadcast on radio and television, Rumsfeld, the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Iraq since the war began, said it was crucial to find "the remnants of the regime and (ensure) the Baath party's influence is removed."

"The coalition has taken into custody a number of senior leaders from Saddam Hussein's regime," he said. "We need your help to capture the rest of them. We also need to get rid of foreign fighters, those from neighboring countries who are seeking to hijack your country for their own purposes.

"Please help remove this threat by approaching coalition forces with any information you may have about the activities and whereabouts of any foreign fighters in your area."

His visit comes at a time of high tension in the country following a deadly clash between U.S. troops and Iraqis at Fallujah, west of the Iraqi capital Tuesday.

The Red Cross said 15 locals, including three boys, were killed in the incident, sparked by Iraqis firing at the troops, U.S. officials said. It follows other complaints by some locals at the U.S. presence. (Full Story)

In a passing mention, Rumsfeld acknowledged that not all Iraqis agree with the Americans' intent to stay in Iraq "as long as necessary" to help the country form a democratic government "and not a day longer."

"We have watched you embrace your freedom -- pulling down statues of Saddam Hussein, worshipping freely for the first time in decades, debating the future of your country and even raising voices in dissent without fear of torture and death," he said.

Some of the media in the region were critical of Rumsfeld's comments and approach.

Columnist Rashaad Abu Shawer wrote in the Jordanian Arabic daily, Adoustor, Wednesday: "I think only the Americans believe the lie that is called, freeing Iraq.

"I think only the Americans believe the big lie that makes their big dreams come true towards establishing the U.S. Emperor, especially when you know that these people are insisting to enter history by force."

Another columnist, Saad Maheu, wrote in the UAE Arabic daily Al Khaleej: "It seems that Rumsfeld is talking as if he is an Iraqi official that has got a legitimate right to dominate over Iraq and its domestic affairs."

But Ahmad Jar Allah, editor of the Al Siyasa newspaper in Kuwait, wrote that if the price of war is to change the "killers" like Saddam, then it would be greatly welcomed.

The defense secretary earlier flew in to the southern city of Basra, amid tight security from neighboring Kuwait on a special forces aircraft with elite, black-clad special operations soldiers acting as bodyguards.

Rumsfeld, who suffered heavy criticism of his tactics early in the war, has been at pains to stress he is not on a victory tour. His trip comes 40 days after the U.S. launched the war on Iraq. He is on week-long tour of the Gulf to thank regional leaders for their support in the Iraq war and to discuss reductions in the U.S. troop presence in the region.

On Monday, the United States announced it was virtually closing down its military operations in Saudi Arabia, ending a presence dating back to the 1991 Gulf War. (Full Story)

Rumsfeld recalled that he had last been in Iraq 20 years ago. As an envoy of President Ronald Reagan, he held talks with Saddam and other officials in Baghdad as Washington sought to contain neighboring Iran, which Saddam had invaded in 1980.

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