Iraq Suffering From 'Freedom Deficit'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 28, 2003 Iraq can be a model for other Arab nations as Iraqi citizens work to establish a representative government in their country, a senior defense policy maker said today.
Douglas Feith, defense undersecretary for policy, held a news conference with Arab journalists at the Foreign Press Center. He quoted from a U.N. Arab Fund for Economic Development study that said the "wave of democracy" that washed over Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s "barely touched" the Arab world.
The study said the area is suffering from "a freedom deficit." Iraq, now free of Saddam Hussein and his regime, is an opportunity for Arab nations to join the wave of democracy and eliminate the freedom deficit, Feith said.
"Iraq has the chance to make a fresh start and can demonstrate that such a country can become politically free and economically prosperous," he said.
Iraq has a number of advantages to build on. The country has an educated population, oil wealth and water resources. "This makes for an exciting moment in world affairs right now, and it is an opportunity that we are focused on," Feith said.
Feith said the process is not "nation building" a term George W. Bush disparaged as he ran for president. "(The term 'nation building') is, in our view, disrespectful of the people in the country, " Feith said. "The Iraqi nation is going to be built by Iraqis, and it is not for non- Iraqis to build Iraq. The role that we are playing there is to help set conditions that will allow Iraqis to build their own country in their own way."
The first step in the process was removing Hussein. Disorder, looting, riots and other security problems accompanied the collapse of the regime, he said. "I don't think at all that the disorder that inevitably follows the collapse of a tyrannical regime becomes, in retrospect, an argument for the tyranny," Feith said. "One of the terrible things about tyranny, you can argue, is that it always leaves a degree of disorder in its wake. But that is a problem that one should lay at the feet of the tyrant and not the liberators. And I think we're actually doing a good job in getting the law and order situation under control."
Restoring security is the prime responsibility of the Provisional Coalition Authority now, he said. "The coalition has to protect the efforts of Iraqis to reconstruct their country from Ba'athists, who are trying to create chaos and produce nostalgia for Saddam, and also from anti- democratic interference from neighboring countries," Feith said.
He gave reporters a "sitrep" situation report on progress in Iraq.
Regarding security, he told them that there are now 45,000 troops in Baghdad with 21,000 actively involved in security operations. Coalition officials are working to reconstitute the Iraqi police, and allies are providing police advisors and trainers. "Efforts are being made to restart the courts and get the judicial system functioning," he said.
The United States is working to get more countries involved in the stabilization forces for Iraq. "We hope by July to have two, perhaps three, additional divisions come to help contribute to security in the country," Feith said. A total of 15 nations including some from the Arab world will participate, he said.
The coalition authority is working to restore basic human services in Iraq, Feith said, adding that some of the services are "in very bad shape." Water, electricity and sewage are problems in Baghdad, while other services such as hospitals and schools are problems in other areas. While the war caused some damage, "the really sorry state of a lot of these institutions goes back before the war," he said.
Before the war, only 60 percent of Iraqis had safe drinking water. Half of Basra's water treatment plants didn't work. "Iraq before the war produced only 40 percent of its annual grain requirement, and 23 percent of children under the age of five were malnourished," Feith said.
Now, Baghdad has water at about 75 percent of its pre-war levels, and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and UNICEF are planning to supply clean water to all the regions of Iraq, he said. "There is no food crisis. There are no major epidemics. There is no major health care crisis in Iraq now," he said.
The World Food Program and the U.S. Agency for International Development are distributing nearly half a million metric tons of food per month.
"Primary schools opened on May 4th," Feith said. Secondary schools will soon open, and money has been appropriated to purchase textbooks.
"Partly because of the speed with which the military operations progressed, the oil wells that were wired and were set up for destruction by Saddam Hussein did not get blown up," he said. "Oil production is underway and marketing should begin within the next few weeks."
The coalition will continue to guide the Iraqis as they move toward a representative government. But the coalition wants no permanent post in the country. "We retain the intention and the policy that we have had of getting as much responsibility into the hands of Iraqis as early as possible," he said. "This has been our view all along. Iraq belongs to the Iraqis.
"We want Iraq to achieve freedom and prosperity and a place in the world as a respected country and a country that governs itself proudly."