Setting benchmark dates for progress is difficult, the secretary of state said.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday that anyone demanding deadlines for progress in Iraq should "just back off," because it is too difficult to predict when Iraqis will resume control of their country.
During a Pentagon news conference, an often-combative Rumsfeld said that while benchmarks for security, political and economic progress are valuable, "it's difficult. We're looking out into the future. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty."
He said the goals have no specific deadlines or consequences if they are not met by specific dates.
"You're looking for some sort of a guillotine to come falling down if some date isn't met," Rumsfeld told reporters. "That is not what this is about."
His comments came less than two weeks before an election for control of Congress in which the Bush administration's conduct of the war has become a defining issue. They also came two days after a timeline was first announced by U.S. officials in Baghdad and underscored strains that have emerged between the two countries.
Bush administration officials said Tuesday that they and Iraqi leaders had agreed to craft guidelines toward progress in the country. The next day, Iraq's president disavowed them, saying the benchmarks merely reflected campaign season pressures in the U.S.
Noting that this is the political season, Rumsfeld also complained that critics and the media are trying to "make a little mischief" by trying to "find a little daylight between what the Iraqis say or someone in the United States says."
Rumsfeld often spars with reporters at Pentagon briefings, but Thursday his criticism of journalists seemed more pointed than usual.
"That's a rather accusatory way to put it," he said in response to one question about reducing troop levels.
Members of both parties say next month's congressional elections have become a referendum on the war in Iraq. Control of Congress could hinge on whether voters believe the Bush administration is on the right path or if there should be a change in course and significant reduction in U.S. troop levels there.
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