Wolfowitz Cites Iraqi Freedom Accomplishments, Challenges
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2005 Operation Iraqi Freedom, which began two years ago today, has allowed 25 million people the chance to build lives of freedom, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said during a recent interview.
The coalition removed Saddam Hussein from the seat of power and "we've created an opportunity to build a new free country, that will someday, hopefully, be a strong ally of ours."
All this will lead to a more peaceful world, he said.
The deputy, whom President Bush has nominated to lead the World Bank, said this would mirror what happened to the World War II foes. "President Bush says he is always amazed that 60 years ago, the United States and Japan were involved in a bloody war," Wolfowitz said. "He now he sits down with (Japanese) Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi and discusses ways to make the world a more peaceful place. Someday we'll be looking to Afghanistan and Iraq to help us in other places in the world."
Wolfowitz said Iraq is a hopeful sign in a troubled region, and that many other people in the region are paying attention. There were incredibly successful elections in Afghanistan. The Palestinian Authority held elections. Lebanese massed in the streets, calling for Syria to pull its troops from the country.
Democracy is even making inroads in Arab lands far from the turmoil, the deputy secretary noted. Qatar held elections, as did Bahrain. Saudi Arabia had elections for municipal offices. And Egypt will have multiparty presidential elections.
Wolfowitz said there is a real thirst for democracy in the Arab world. He told how early on, he attended a seminar in Washington. "An American said it was arrogant of us to impose our (democratic) values on other people," he said. "An Arab got up and said, 'What's arrogant is for you to say that these are your values. Democracy is a universal value, and many people want it.'"
The insurgency in Iraq came about because the major combat portion of the war was incomplete, Wolfowitz said. He said that in a certain sense, the regime was kicked out of Baghdad, but not really defeated. "The regime left Baghdad, but they hadn't left the field," he said. "Saddam didn't stop fighting us until he was captured in December 2003."
Wolfowitz said that when Saddam appeared in court last year, he still claimed to be the president of Iraq, and that his sympathizers label themselves "The Party of the Return."
"Those hard-core evil people who ruled that country for 35 years didn't give up just because we took Baghdad," he said. "So we found ourselves ... still in a kind of war - a counterinsurgency war."
He said some people list this as a "low-intensity war," but the secretary doesn't agree with that. "There's nothing low intensity about it, if you're in the middle of it," he said. "Obviously, it's been a much more difficult war than major combat."
Wolfowitz said the U.S. military had adapted impressively to the changed conditions and requirements. "I'm always amazed to see how good they are in the civil affairs function, even if they haven't been trained in it," he said.
The deputy talked about one captain who formed a butchers union in Mosul. "I asked him if he was trained at West Point to form a butchers union and he laughed," Wolfowitz said.
In Karbala, he spoke to an Army lieutenant colonel who was setting up a local town council. "I asked him where he got the experience, and he said in 6th grade civics," the deputy said. "There is a lot that comes from just knowing to your fingertips how civic, democratic institutions function."
And Iraqis are stepping forward. The Jan. 30 election was "a huge milestone," Wolfowitz said. Insurgents did their worst, launching 298 attacks including eight suicide bombings, but never actually reached a polling place. Iraqi security forces had responsibility for the two inner security rings around more than 5,000 polling places.
"One important thing Americans should understand is that it's not just that eight and a half million Iraqis voted," he said, "but by voting said they were for a new Iraq, a free Iraq."
The simple act of voting marked them. "When people put that purple ink on their finger, they were afraid that this would mark them for death," he said. "One of the results is that they feel - correctly - that they don't owe their freedom entirely to American courage and sacrifice, that they as a country have now demonstrated their own courage."
The future holds more promise. The Transitional National Assembly met March 16 and soon will elect a president and deputy presidents. The president will appoint a prime minister, and then the group of men and women will write the new Iraqi constitution. The referendum will be held Oct. 15 and, if approved, elections will be held by Dec. 15.
"A lot has been accomplished," Wolfowitz said. "Could some of it have been done faster? It's easy to go back and find these things. On a historical scale, it's been faster than most situations."
The core problem in Iraq is the insurgency - the forces of reaction. "The old regime is trying to come back, and they are not coming back," Wolfowitz said.