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Rumsfeld Predicts Rise in Violence Before Iraqi Vote

Times Staff Writer

With a constitutional referendum approaching in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday delivered the grim prediction that has become the Bush administration’s standard message before each political milestone there: Violence will soar as insurgents try to derail the march toward democracy.

At a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld said Americans should expect an increase in guerrilla attacks before the Iraqi vote on a new constitution, scheduled in October. Iraqi politicians face a deadline Monday for drafting the charter.

But Rumsfeld also painted the picture of an increasingly desperate foe. Though avoiding pronouncements that the insurgents were losing steam, he likened them to Japanese kamikazes and the Nazi SS in the waning months of World War II. He said the increased violence should “not necessarily be considered an accurate gauge of the enemy’s future,” given the political progress in the country.

Rumsfeld’s comments echoed those made by Bush administration officials before previous political milestones in Iraq. In the weeks before the June 2004 hand-over of power to Iraqis and the January 2005 parliamentary election, officials predicted that guerrillas would step up attacks but that Iraqi political progress would eventually cripple the insurgency.

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Yet alongside Rumsfeld’s words Tuesday, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the ability of insurgents to carry out deadly attacks had remained unchanged for months.

“The overall capacity of what they’re able to do on any given day

Rumsfeld expressed optimism, however, that by adopting a new constitution, Iraqis would be further emboldened to turn against an insurgency that had attacked U.S.-led troops and Iraqi civilians with increased sophistication.

“As the political progress goes forward and as the economic progress goes forward and as the Iraqi security forces increasingly

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With the constitutional referendum in the offing, the Pentagon may bulk up the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, probably by delaying the departure of troops scheduled to rotate out this fall.

With 138,000 troops in Iraq nearly 2 1/2 years after the fall of Baghdad, many in the Pentagon worry about the strain on the all-volunteer military, especially as soldiers return to Iraq a second and third time. Myers said that such concerns were unfounded.

“We’re good for several years,” he said.

Rumsfeld said the ability of U.S. troops to one day leave Iraq depended in part on the behavior of Iraq’s neighbors, notably Iran and Syria. He has criticized both countries, accusing them of failing to stem the flow of insurgents into Iraq and attempting to meddle in Iraqi politics.

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On Tuesday, Rumsfeld leveled another charge at Iran: arms trafficking. He said that unspecified Iranian armaments had been found in Iraq, but he wouldn’t say whether the Pentagon believed that the government in Tehran was actively arming insurgents.

“It’s a problem for the Iraqi government. It’s a problem for the coalition forces. It’s a problem for the international community. And ultimately, it’s a problem for Iran,” Rumsfeld said.

In a visit to Baghdad in May, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied that his government was supporting the insurgency in Iraq and pledged to secure his nation’s border to prevent militants from entering.

“We will not allow terrorists to use our lands to access Iraq,” he said during a news conference in Baghdad. “We will watch our borders and will arrest infiltrators, because securing Iraq is securing the Islamic Republic.”

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