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On Iraq visit, Rumsfeld thanks 'greatest military'

He bids farewell to US troops

BAGHDAD -- Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, with only days left in office, returned to Washington last night from a surprise farewell visit to US troops in Iraq this weekend, in which he told them the consequences of the war's failure would be "unacceptable."

Rumsfeld made the trip as war policies he helped create are under scrutiny and as sectarian violence raged on the streets of Baghdad, with a new outburst of retaliatory attacks and clashes between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

At least 83 people were killed or found dead throughout the country, including 59 bullet- riddled bodies that turned up throughout the capital.

A roadside bomb also killed one US soldier and wounded another yesterday west of Baghdad, the military said.

The death raised to 43 the number of troops who have died this month and pushed the total US military death toll to 2,931 since the war started nearly four years ago.

Rumsfeld, casually dressed in a gray jacket and an open-collar shirt, traveled to several US bases in the country, shaking hands and joking with troops.

"For the past six years, I have had the opportunity and, I would say, the privilege, to serve with the greatest military on the face of the Earth," Rumsfeld, 74, told more than 1,200 soldiers and Marines at Asad, a sprawling air base in western Anbar Province, an insurgent stronghold.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to discuss Rumsfeld's itinerary or schedule .

"He wants to keep the focus on the troops" and has not scheduled official meetings with US commanders, although he is seeing them during his stops, Whitman said.

Last week, a US bipartisan commission said President Bush's policy in Iraq "is not working" and called for urgent policies to shift the focus to training Iraqis troops and withdrawing most US combat troops by 2008.

Meanwhile, gunmen attacked two Shi'ite homes in western Baghdad, killing nine men and seriously wounding another, police said yesterday.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which police said occurred late Saturday in the mostly Sunni Arab Jihad neighborhood, but it apparently was in retaliation for a bold assault earlier in the day against Sunnis.

Witnesses said Shi'ite militiamen entered a Sunni enclave in Hurriyah, a predominantly Shi'ite neighborhood, after Sunnis warned the few Shi'ites living there to leave or be killed.

Heavy machine gunfire was heard Saturday, and three columns of black smoke rose into the sky, the witnesses said .

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