BAGHDAD: US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday warned Iraq's new Shi'ite elite against a purge of the country's fledgling security forces and urged it to steer clear of corruption.
Rumsfeld, on his ninth visit since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, said he stressed in talks with prime minister-designate Ibrahim Jaafari and President Jalal Talabani the need to draw up a constitution by Aug 15 as scheduled.
I sure hope no delay occurs, he told reporters at Camp Liberty in Baghdad where he handed out medals to US troops.
I think the Iraqi people deserve to have a constitution.
He urged the Shi'ite-dominated government in the making to avoid drastic personnel changes to its security forces.
My concern is they'll come in and clean house, Rumsfeld told reporters.
You can't do that, if you are trying to create a chain of command in the Iraqi security force and defeat the insurgency.
It was the bluntest comment to date by a US official over fears that Iraq's election-winning Shi'ite political bloc aimed to carry out mass purges of the security apparatus and other ministries.
Rumsfeld also said the United States had no exit strategy from Iraq and any pullout depended on the readiness of Iraqi forces to ensure security.
We don't really have an exit strategy. We have a victory strategy. We are here for a mission to set the country on the path of democracy, freedom and representative government, he said.
In reaction to the corruption charges, Jaafari said: I don't deny there are challenges but I'm sure we are going to have very good ministers. All of them are very efficient.
I hope we face these challenges successfully and we will fight corruption.
At a joint press conference, Talabani said he had assured Rumsfeld: We are planning to have a (full) government as soon as possible. We hope to have a cabinet before the end of this week.
Rumsfeld was the most senior American official to meet the top two representatives of Iraq's new government, which is still in the process of being formed more than two months after the Jan 30 polls.
Both America's Kurdish-ally Talabani, and the Shi'ite fundamentalist Jaafari, were named to their posts last week in the new 275-member parliament. AFP