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Originally published Friday, October 27, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Iraq deadlines? "Just back off," Rumsfeld says

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday that anyone demanding deadlines for progress in Iraq should "just back off," because it...

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald 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 an often-combative Pentagon news conference, 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 said. "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 prime minister 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's comments on the benchmarks further muddied the waters on whether there is agreement between the Iraqis and the U.S. on how quickly progress must be made there.

"They're still in discussions," he said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad announced on Tuesday in Baghdad that Iraqi leaders had agreed that by the end of the year, they will have a plan that roughly lays out the times by which they want certain things accomplished.

The next day, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected Khalilzad's announcement and said his government had not agreed to anything. President Bush responded that al-Maliki was correct in saying mandates could not be imposed on Iraq, but said the United States would not have unlimited patience.

"You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated, it's difficult," Rumsfeld said regarding deadlines. "Honorable people are working on these things together. There isn't any daylight between them."

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