Press Exaggerations Test American Will

 By Jim Garamone
 American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON, March 7, 2006  - The will of the American people is the center of gravity for the war on terror, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon news conference today.

Exaggerated reporting is giving the American people a false picture of what is happening in Iraq, the secretary said. "Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side," he said. "It isn't as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors, all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq."

Rumsfeld pointed to reporting that exaggerated the number of mosques attacked and the number of Iraqis killed in the violence that followed the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra Feb. 22.

Fomenting a civil war was the impetus behind bombing the sacred shrine, and press stories exaggerating the violence that followed played into terrorists' hands, he said. "It has been and remains a time of testing for the Iraqi people, but the Iraqis are meeting that test thus far successfully, I would say, and defying the seeming rush to ... proclaim exactly what the terrorists seek, namely a civil war," he said.

A recent poll shows most Americans believe Iraq is already involved in a civil war. Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace said the Iraqi people looked "into the abyss" of civil war and stepped back.

The truth in the country is those who want civil war in Iraq are disappointed, the secretary said. "First, the Iraqi security forces have taken the lead in controlling the situation," Rumsfeld said. Coalition forces assisted Iraqi soldiers and police.

"Second, the Iraqi government leaders took a number of key steps that have had a calming effect in the situation," he said. "They imposed a curfew, and the leaders of most of the major parties have stepped forward to publicly urge restraint on all parties."

Reports after the bombing indicated that sectarian groups had burned and sacked thousands of mosques. This was wrong, the secretary said echoing information passed by Army Gen. George Casey, commander of multinational forces in Iraq. Further, contrary to reports, Iraqi security forces behaved well and provided security in Samarra, as well as in Shiite and Sunni areas of the country, Rumsfeld said.

Overall levels of violence in Iraq have not increased substantially as a result of the Golden Mosque bombing, officials in Baghdad said. However, violence continues and continues to affect formation of the Iraqi government.

"In the coming months, Iraqis will face difficult obstacles in controlling illegal militias, and we know that," Rumsfeld said. "They're working to try to strengthen their ministries, and we're trying to help them.

"And their effort to fashion a unity government that will represent all elements of their society is clearly being delayed by the situation in Iraq," he continued.

"Nonetheless, the leadership being shown by the Iraqi security forces, by the Iraqi government officials in the wake of these attacks against the shrine has to be seen as encouraging, despite the apparent unwillingness of some to accept it."