Rumsfeld: U.S. expects democracy in Iraq

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 22, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States expects an eventual government of Iraq to be a democracy where the rights of minorities are guaranteed, not a theocracy run by clerics such as in neighboring Iran, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says.

''There should be a country that is organized and arranged in a way that the various ethnic groups and religious groups are able to have a voice in their government in some form,'' Rumsfeld said Monday at a Pentagon news conference. ''And we hope (for) a system that will be democratic and have free speech and free press and freedom of religion.''

Some demonstrators in Iraq, particularly from the Shiite Muslim majority, have called recently for an Islamic republic similar to Iran, where top Shiite clerics known as ayatollahs have the final say. Rumsfeld said such a government would not be truly democratic.

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Meanwhile, Rumsfeld said the United States will not keep its military forces in Iraq longer than necessary to stabilize the country. He denied a news report that the United States was planning a long-term military relationship with Iraq that would grant American access to air bases in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country.

''It's flat false,'' Rumsfeld said, adding that the subject had not even been raised with him.

''The likelihood of it seems to me to be so low that it does not surprise me that it's never been discussed in my presence, to my knowledge,'' he said. ''Why do I say it's low? Well, we've got all kinds of options and opportunities in that part of the world to locate forces. It's not like we need a new place. We have plenty of friends'' in that area.

Rumsfeld was responding to questions about remarks in Sunday's New York Times attributed to unidentified senior Bush administration officials.