Rumsfeld warns against Iraq withdrawal


Leaving Iraq now would be like handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed in a column published today, the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.

"Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis," he wrote in an essay in The Washington Post.

Rumsfeld said "the terrorists" were trying to fuel sectarian tensions to spark a civil war, but they must be "watching with fear" the progress in the country over the past three years.

In London, former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said Iraq is in a civil war and warned sectarian violence would spread throughout the Middle East.

However, Rumsfeld's view was that the Iraqi insurgency was failing.

"The terrorists seem to recognise that they are losing in Iraq. I believe that history will show that to be the case," he wrote.

He said 75 percent of all military operations in Iraq include Iraqi security forces.

"Today, some 100 Iraqi army battalions of several hundred troops each are in the fight, and 49 percent control their own battle space," Rumsfeld wrote.

Thousands of anti-war protesters gathered in cities around the world for demonstrations yesterday to mark the anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Doubts about the Iraq war have helped drive down President George W. Bush's approval ratings to their lowest level.

In a Newsweekpoll published yesterday, only 36 percent of Americans said they approved of his performance as president. Sixty-five percent disapprove of his handling of the situation in Iraq, once one of his strongest suits.

Bush used his weekly radio address yesterday to urge Americans to resist a temptation to retreat from Iraq, but opposition Democrats pressed him to offer a plan for drawing down US troops and said Iraq was moving closer to a civil war.

Rumsfeld wrote that if US forces leave Iraq now, "there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum - and the free world might not have the will to face them again."

A recent Le Moyne College/Zogbypoll showed 72 percent of US troops serving in Iraq think that the United States should exit within a year. Nearly one in four said the troops should leave immediately.