U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Iraq on an unannounced visit Wednesday. He urged Iraqis to finish their draft constitution before an Aug. 15 deadline.
Rumsfeld said he felt very strongly a delay would be wrong, and that Washington, with troops in the line of fire, had an interest in pressing Iraqis to reach the deal.
"A delay would be very harmful to the momentum that's necessary. We have troops on the ground there. People get killed," he was quoted as saying by Reuters. "It's time for compromise. That's what politics is about."
He also said the United States was working to train Iraqis to take control of the roughly 15,000-16,000 Iraqi detainees now held by U.S. forces, although he set no timetable for transferring them to Iraqi custody.
Iraq's leaders should "find opportunities to thank" countries that have contributed to the U.S.-led international force in Iraq, he said.
He called on Iraqi leaders to draft and approve a new constitution without delay, warning that political progress was necessary for dampening the insurgency, PakTribune reports.
His comments seemed to echo those by Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi, who said Tuesday that Syria "ignores demands by Iraqis to stop the infiltration of terrorists." Al-Dulaimi's comments were made during a news conference about a nationwide security plan to be implemented in coming days, according to CNN.
He warned countries that are slack toward the infiltration of insurgents, singling out Syria.
"When the lava of the exploding volcano of Iraq overflows, it will first hit Damascus," he said, adding that militants are infiltrating Iraq from Syria using three routes and with intentions of targeting the Baghdad region.
Rumsfeld's tenth visit to Iraq since the war comes at an crucial moment in the political process, which the United States and Iraq's leaders hope will defuse an insurgency of Sunni Arabs opposed to the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led interim government Washington backs.
A committee drafting Iraq's new constitution resumed work on Tuesday after a six-day boycott by Sunni Arab members, one of whom was assassinated last week.
The draft constitution is due by Aug. 15. The drafters can call a six-month extension on Aug. 1 if they are not ready, but committee chairman Humam Hamoudi has said they will be.
Washington is working on a new legal arrangement to define the role of the more than 160,000 foreign troops in Iraq, he said. This could take the form of a renewed U.N. Security Council resolution or a "status of forces" agreement with Iraq.
Read more on drafting Iraq's constitution