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Wolfowitz, Public Discuss Iraq in Online White House Forum

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2004 – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz answered questions on Iraq from the public June 25 through the "Ask the White House" feature on the White House's Web site.

In response to one question, Wolfowitz explained what the U.S. military role will be after sovereignty turns over to the Iraqi people.

"The character of our engagement will change on June 30, but our commitment will not," he wrote. "Iraqis will make the decisions about how their country is governed." But as leaders of Multinational Force Iraq as authorized under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546, he continued, the United States "will continue as full partners in helping the new government bring democracy and security to Iraq."

The focus at first will be to support Iraq's political transition, equip and train Iraqi security forces, and set the stage for national elections at the end of the year, the deputy defense secretary explained.

"Over the next few months, our aim is to prepare Iraqi security forces to assume greater responsibilities allowing Iraqis to take local control of the cities, even as the multinational forces move into a supporting role and provide forces only as needed," he wrote. "We will continue the process of integrating Iraqi officers with the MNF and embedding coalition officers with Iraqis the sort of relationship that will continue to develop more capable Iraqi security leaders and improve our coordination."

Wolfowitz noted that an estimated 400 Iraqi security force members have been killed in the line of duty over the past year. "The real number could be twice that," he wrote. "And despite the enemy's attempts to intimidate them, Iraqis continue to step forward in large numbers to defend their country."

For a time, Wolfowitz wrote, U.S. and other international forces will be "indispensable" to providing security in Iraq while the country's own security forces are strengthened. In what he called an "encouraging" story from his recent visit to Iraq, Wolfowitz noted the bravery shown by Iraqi forces when a joint patrol came under fire.

"I met a U.S. Marine who'd been on patrol with some members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps," he wrote. "When they'd been ambushed and the Marine was shot, five Iraqis risked their own lives to save him and subsequently received medals for valor from the Marines."

Wolfowitz told another questioner that rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure is part of President Bush's plan for victory in Iraq, and that Iraqi oil revenues are helping in that effort.

"Already, Iraq is beginning to contribute to its own rebuilding including through its oil assets," he wrote. "Through a combination of oil revenues and existing assets, nearly $20 billion of Iraqi funds have gone into the Development Fund for Iraq to finance government operations and reconstruction projects. An additional $8 billion of oil revenues are projected to go into the fund by the end of this year."

The funds are paying the salaries of more than 350,000 teachers and professors and 100,000 doctors and health workers, he added. "Iraqi funds have paid for $1.2 billion of improvements to the electricity infrastructure, $300 million for water, sewage and irrigation projects, and $660 million to sustain and expand oil production," he also noted.

Health-care spending in Iraq has increased some 30 times over prewar levels, allowing children to receive crucial vaccinations for the first time in years, Wolfowitz wrote, and using part of the $800 million in Iraqi funds provided to local governors and local commanders, coalition forces and local authorities have rehabilitated more than 2,200 schools and 240 hospitals.

Another question asked about the role of women in the new Iraq. "(The question) gets to my long-held belief that a government that does not respect the rights of half its citizens cannot be trusted to safeguard the rights of any as we saw so painfully under Saddam Hussein," Wolfowitz wrote. The interim Iraqi interim government that takes power June 30 has six women ministers, he pointed out.

"Perhaps even more important," he continued, "is the courage many Iraqi women have displayed. On my recent trip to Iraq, a young Iraqi Kurdish woman was our interpreter, and she told us that her sister had been assassinated because she was working with Americans. And yet, there she was, still working with us. I asked her why. And she said, 'Because my father said you mustn't retreat in the face of evil.'"

The deputy secretary wrote that Akila Hashimi, one of the first members of the Iraqi Governing Council that preceded the interim government, helped to set the stage for women's rights in Iraq before she was murdered last fall, and that Muslim women are showing they're ready to have a real role.

He wrote that he recently saw a Web site in which Iraqi women dressed in conservative Muslim fashion were demonstrating against a development that threatened women's rights. "We didn't wait all these years without the most basic rights to be denied them now," Wolfowitz quoted one of the women as saying. When an Arab reporter asked if she were Sunni or Shiia, he continued, the woman replied that she is "a citizen of Iraq first and foremost." Wolfowitz wrote that such words and actions "are the hope of a new Iraq."

In answer to another questioner, Wolfowitz summarized the reasons why war came about and addressed the weapons of mass destruction issue.

"We went into Iraq for a number of reasons, not only to destroy the WMDs that everyone agreed Saddam Hussein had," the deputy secretary wrote. "Remember that he used chemical weapons against his own people and against his neighbors. He had produced biological weapons and come very close to nuclear weapons 10 years ago. He was in violation of 17 U.N. resolutions. Resolution 1441 was his last and final chance to come clean on WMDs, and he failed to do so."

Why the weapons haven't turned up still is unknown, he continued. "But there is no question that he had the capability to build new ones, and there is no question that Saddam Hussein posed a very real threat to world peace," he wrote. "He invaded his neighbors. His regime supported and harbored terrorist elements like al Qaeda."

Giving the Iraqi people a chance to live in freedom and peace, he wrote, has opened the door to progress throughout the Middle East. "Already there are important signs of positive change in the Middle East, from Muammar Qaddafi giving up his WMD to some Arab governments talking for the first time about democratic reform," Wolfowitz wrote.

The war, he continued, has been worth the investment and the sacrifices. "I believe future generations will look back at them with the same sense of gratitude that we look on the World War II generation," he wrote.

One questioner suggested surprising the insurgents in Iraq by turning over sovereignty ahead of schedule.

"That's an interesting idea," Wolfowitz wrote. "The terrorists work by surprising us and we need to think about what we can do to throw them off balance. But their real target is not so much a date as it is the new government."

He noted that remnants of Saddam's regime and the network of fugitive terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are ramping up their attacks. "The terrorists know that if the Iraqi people succeed in setting up a free and democratic government, their days are numbered," Wolfowitz wrote. "So it's very dangerous right now to serve in the Iraqi government. But Iraq has courageous new leaders. And Iraqi security forces are also stepping up to the challenge that they face. They are serving heroically. They will still need our help for some time to beat back the terrorist challenge, but the key to victory is building up the Iraqi army and police as rapidly as possible."

Another questioner asked Wolfowitz to explain how the United States and the world are safer with Saddam out of power.

"Saddam Hussein led one of the most vicious regimes in the world," Wolfowitz replied. "He not only invaded his neighbors, but he oppressed his own people with incredible brutality. Moreover, he sponsored and promoted a number of the most vicious terrorist groups in the world, including al Qaeda. The removal of Saddam Hussein means that the Iraqi government no longer supports terrorism or provides sanctuary for terrorists. It also means that Iraq will no longer threaten the world with the kinds of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam used against the Iraqi people themselves."

He wrote that former regime remnants and their terrorist allies are responsible for the violence that has continued in Iraq. "That is also why we say that Iraq is presently the central battle in the war on terrorism," he continued. "The terrorists understand that their defeat in Iraq will be a major victory for us."

When another questioner noted that Iraq dominates the news and the American public doesn't hear much about U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Wolfowitz assured her that the work those men and women are doing is well noted by government officials even if it's not making headlines.

"We certainly haven't forgotten our magnificent forces in Afghanistan," he wrote. "They achieved the first great victory in the global war on terrorism, the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the liberation of 25 million people. But that fight also isn't finished yet. They continue to serve in that country, with enormous courage and dedication.

"At the moment," he continued, "Iraq is dominating the headlines. But our 18,000 troops in Afghanistan are fighting another crucial front in the continuing effort to destroy terrorist organizations. They are also helping Afghanistan move forward on the path to a free, representative government."

Wolfowitz pointed out that he has visited Afghanistan twice, and that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been there five times. "So have many members of Congress," he continued. "Afghanistan's new president, Hamid Karzai, was here recently and spoke out in support of our overall effort against terrorism."

In answer to another question about why the United States is involved in Iraq, Wolfowitz wrote that the American people aren't exempt from threats that exist in other parts of the world, as evidenced by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"On that day, 3,000 innocent people were killed for no other reason than because they were in America," he wrote. "As the president has said repeatedly, the safety of the American people depends on U.S. leadership in the global war against terrorists, their organizations, and the states like Afghanistan and Iraq that support them.

In Iraq, the vast majority of the people support our presence and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein," he continued. Though the Iraqi people don't like their country being under occupation, he wrote, they also know the coalition's presence is necessary to avoid slipping back to a totalitarian regime. "As an Iraqi said to me during my recent trip," he noted, "'In my heart, I would like you to leave now. But in my head, I know we need you to stay.'"

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Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz

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Transcript of "Ask the White House" Featuring Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, June 25, 2004

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