Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's long struggle over how to describe the war in Iraq moved to...

Los Angeles Times

and The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s long struggle over how to describe the war in Iraq moved to new ground Tuesday as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he wants to retire the term “insurgents” in favor of “enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government.”

Rumsfeld, who has previously described the foe as “dead-enders,” “former regime elements” and in other terms, told a Pentagon news conference that the insurgent label lends the enemy “more legitimacy than they seem to merit.” That’s because Iraqis now have a constitutional government that offers them legitimate means of political expression, and the foe lacks broad popular support in Iraq, Rumsfeld argued.

“These people don’t have a legitimate gripe,” he said. “These people aren’t trying to promote something other than disorder. … This is a group of people who don’t merit the word insurgency.”

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, an insurgent is “a person who revolts against civil authority or an established government.”

This isn’t the first time the Pentagon has tried to retire such a term.

Immediately after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. military commanders referred to non-uniformed attackers as the “Saddam Fedayeen,” and then “regime death squads.”

After the military declared an end to initial major combat operations in spring 2003, Rumsfeld began calling them “dead-enders” and “former regime loyalists.” Marine Gen. Peter Pace, appearing at the podium with Rumsfeld on Tuesday, slipped and used the term “insurgents” before catching himself in front of his boss.

“I have to use the word ‘insurgent’ because I can’t think of a better word right now,” said Pace, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Later, Pace, acknowledged, abashedly: “I’m sure I’ll make a mistake and slip back into it.”