WASHINGTON (AP) – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday warned of new violence in Iraq tied to upcoming political milestones but insisted the insurgency was not gaining ground.

He said attacks could come before the scheduled Oct. 15 referendum on a new constitution, and before the Dec. 15 general elections.

“I think it’s reasonable to expect that violence could, again, increase for a time, as it did during the last elections,” he said during a Pentagon press conference. “But given the political progress, that should not necessarily be considered an accurate gauge of the enemy’s future.”

Still, he offered no new thoughts on when U.S. forces may able to come home in large numbers. He said any decision will be based on commanders’ read of the security situation and the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, which now number 173,000. Already, Pentagon officials have said they expect to increase the size of the U.S. force in Iraq before the elections.

Rumsfeld also renewed criticisms of Iran, saying that some insurgents’ weapons are entering Iraq from. He indicated it was unclear whether they were coming from elements of the Iranian government or from other parties.

“It is true that weapons, clearly, unambiguously from Iran, have been found in Iraq,” he said. “It’s notably unhelpful for the Iranians to be allowing weapons of those types to be crossing the border.”

He did not provide further specifics.

At the briefing, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Iraqi and U.S. forces have detained people who may be connected to the deaths of 20 Marines in two incidents in Haditha, Iraq.

Myers pointed to the arrests as evidence that Iraqi civilians support the U.S.-led coalition trying to pacify the country.

“The public came forward and said these are the folks,” Myers said. He did not say how many people had been detained or identify them but said those detained are being interrogated to determine whether they were involved.

Six Marine snipers were killed by small arms fire on Aug. 1. Last Wednesday, a Marine armored personnel carrier rolled over some land mines, which exploded and killed 14 Marines and a civilian translator. Myers said the explosives that destroyed the carrier were in three stacked anti-tank mines buried just below the road surface.

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