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Rumsfeld: U.S. liberators, not occupiers

Defense chief makes unannounced visit to Iraq

The defense secretary visited troops in Mosul on Friday before flying by helicopter to Baghdad.
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Rumsfeld visits troops in Iraq as insurgents target Shiite Muslim areas. CNN's Nic Robertson reports. (February 11)
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Donald H. Rumsfeld

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Donald Rumsfeld has told U.S. troops in Iraq they have shown the world America is a land of liberators not occupiers, and that they can return home once Iraqi security forces are trained and confident.

During an unannounced visit to Iraq on Friday, the U.S. defense secretary landed in Mosul before dawn to visit wounded soldiers, meet Iraqi troops and speak to an assembly of soldiers.

He then flew by helicopter to Baghdad where he met Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. He was also scheduled to visit U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Before his short speech in Mosul, Rumsfeld spent a few minutes at the bedside of a wounded American soldier who had earned two Purple Heart medals and was scheduled to stay in Iraq another nine months.

"Good luck to you," Rumsfeld said. "Thanks for your service to the country." He then handed the soldier one of the commemorative coins the Secretary of Defense traditionally gives to troops.

Rumsfeld told the gathered troops in Mosul that he wanted to personally thank them for "helping bring the people of Iraq to a great future."

"You have shown that America is, in fact, a land of liberators, not a land of occupiers," he said, adding that the recent national election was "a stunning blow" to the insurgency and proved Iraqis want freedom.

"They found courage," said Rumsfeld. "Indeed, millions of people found courage."

Because of the U.S. forces, he said, "newly empowered Iraqis today are forming a government."

"There are still challenges ahead, let there be no doubt," he said.

The next task is to prepare Iraq security forces to have confidence to defeat the insurgency," he said. "Once they have that confidence, our forces can go home."

"One day you'll see very clearly the history you made," he added.

Rumsfeld then left for Baghdad to visit troops and review the training status of Iraqi forces.

His visit to the capital came as a suicide car bomb detonated near a Shiite mosque during daily prayers northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 12 people and wounding 23 others, Iraqi police said. Full story

Four Iraqi national guardsmen and eight civilians were also killed in Balad Ruz in Diyala province. Most of the wounded were civilians, police said.

The one-day visit by Rumsfeld was not announced in advance for security reasons.

He is the most senior U.S. official to travel to Iraq since the country's elections on January 30.

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