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Wolfowitz Defends Coalition's Plans for Iraqi Recovery

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2003 – Pundits criticizing the coalition Iraq reconstruction effort are demonstrating "an incomplete understanding" of pre-conflict in-country conditions and "an unreasonable expectation" of the progress level, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said to the Senate May 22.

"Much of what I read on this subject suggests what I believe is a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the security problem in Iraq and, consequently, a failure to appreciate that a regime which had tens of thousands of thugs and war criminals on its payroll does not vanish overnight," Wolfowitz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He said that Saddam Hussein's regime terrorized the people of Iraq for more than two decades, and "the people who created the mass graves that are now being uncovered in Iraq still represent a threat to stability that was not eliminated automatically when the statues came tumbling down in Baghdad."

The deputy stated that those saying the coalition is ignoring the lessons of the Balkans in Iraq do not realize the fundamental difference between the two experiences. He said they are ignoring the difference between normal peacekeeping operations and the combination of peacekeeping and low-level combat coalition forces find themselves in.

"To give you some statistics, in the last two weeks there have been 50 hostile incidents, 37 of them initiated against our troops," Wolfowitz said to the senators. "We have had 17 wounded in action and one killed. That is since the end of major combat activity."

President Bush declared major combat operations over in April, yet American soldiers continue to be shot at almost daily.

Wolfowitz said the coalition has made substantial progress in Iraq, yet much more remains to be done. The low-level combat complicates the situation for coalition forces because it constrains their freedom of movement.

"We face in Iraq a situation where a substantially defeated enemy is still working hard to kill Americans and to kill Iraqis who are trying to build a new and free Iraq," the deputy said, "because they want to prevent Iraqi society from stabilizing and recovering."

"Bizarre as it may sound, it would appear that their goal is to create nostalgia for Saddam Hussein. We cannot allow them to succeed."

He said Americans must realize the situation in Iraq is completely different from Haiti or Bosnia or Kosovo, where opposition ceased very soon after peacekeeping forces arrived. "We do not have the choice in Iraq of avoiding confrontation with these repressive elements of the old regime," he said. "We have to eliminate them, and we will do so, but it will take time."

The deputy said it is unrealistic to judge the plan for a post-war Iraq against perfection. "There is no plan that could have achieved all the extraordinary speed of this one and, at the same time, been able to flood the country with military policemen," he said.

"Choices had to be made. I think we made the right choices, choices that saved both American and Iraqi lives and prevented damage to the environment and to the resources of the Iraqi people."

The deputy addressed money. He said the coalition will use funds impounded from the previous regime, found in stashes around the country, oil revenues and contributions from the United States and other countries to fix the problems Iraq faces that are a result of decades of neglect and corruption.

Just as important as fixing the infrastructure or funding development will be the political events in Iraq. "We continue to work towards the establishment of an Iraqi interim administration which will assume increasingly greater responsibility for the administration of Iraq," he said. This government must draw from all groups in Iraq and draw up a new constitution based on a whole Iraq that renounces weapons of mass destruction and provides freedom to all citizens.

The final phase of the plan is for an Iraqi government to assume full sovereignty on the basis of elections. "Our intention is to leave Iraq in the hands of Iraqis themselves and to do so as soon as we can," Wolfowitz said.

"As President Bush has said, the United States intends to stay in Iraq as long as necessary, but not a day longer," he continued.

But the coalition will not leave a fledgling Iraqi government in the lurch. Coalition forces will remain in the country to dissuade others from trying to interfere with the Iraqi government.

"Our message is simple: While we intend to withdraw as rapidly as possible from Iraqi political life and day-to- day decisions, we will remain there as an essential security force for as long as we are needed," he said. "I would also caution that this process will take time, and it is necessary to get it right."

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