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Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz answered questions sent in from visitors to the White House web site. Thanks for logging on. The transcript follows:
Justin, from Harrisonburg, VA writes:
What role will with the United States military play during the Iraqi Transition? Will the United States military and CPA continue to act as arbitrators on behalf of the Iraqi government in the event of another terrorist attack? Thanks for your response
On June 30, the Coalition Provisional Authority will cease to exist when it transfers authority to the Interim Iraqi Government. The members of this new government will have responsibility for Iraq’s day-to-day governance until elections are held in January 2005.
A new U.S. Embassy in Iraq will open for business on July 1, headed by Ambassador John Negroponte, who will be the US’s representative to the sovereign government.
Regarding the U.S. military role, the character of our engagement will change on June 30, but our commitment will not. Iraqis will make the decisions about how their country is governed. But, as leaders of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF), provided for under UN Security Council Resolution 1546, we will continue as full partners in helping the new government bring democracy and security to Iraq. During this stage, our focus will rest on supporting Iraq’s political transition, equipping and training Iraqi security forces, and helping set the stage for national elections at the end of the year.
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. 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.
Although there are growing pains, Iraqis are stepping up to their new roles. By our own count, which is probably significantly low, nearly 400 Iraqis have died in the past year for the cause of an Iraq free from tyranny and terror. The real number could be twice that. And despite the enemy’s attempts to intimidate them, Iraqis continue to step forward in large numbers to defend their country.
During my recent trip to Iraq, I met a U.S. Marine who’d been on patrol with some members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. 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. That story and others like it are encouraging. However, for a time, U.S. and other international forces will be indispensable to preserve security while Iraqi forces build their strength.
Faith, from Memphis writes:
What is being done with the revenue that is recouped from the Iraq oilfields?
Faith, One of the steps in the President’s plan for victory in Iraq involves rebuilding Iraq’s civil infrastructure—deeply damaged by decades of Saddam’s neglect.
Already, Iraq is beginning to contribute to its own rebuilding—including through its oil assets. 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 addition $8 billion of oil revenues are projected to go into the fund by the end of this year. These funds are paying the salaries of over 350,000 teachers and professors and 100,000 doctors and health workers.
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.
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. 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.
Kayla, from Bentonville, AR writes:
Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, thank you for taking my question. What specific role will women play in the handover of power to the new Iraqi govnernment? Also, what role will the new government have a part in the United Nations?
Thank you again and God Bless.
Kayla, That’s a great question. It 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.
Iraqis frequently refer to the “new Iraq,” a place where women are beginning to play greater roles in Iraqi government. In the new Iraqi Interim Government, which will gain authority on June 30, there are six women ministers. This is an encouraging sign in itself.
Perhaps even more important 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.”
That sort of courage was echoed in one of the first members of Iraq’s Governing Council Akila Hashimi, who was murdered so brutally last fall. On one of my earlier trips to Iraq, I met women at the Al Hillah Women’s Center, which works to advance the cause of women’s rights. One young women, wearing a conservative Muslim head covering, told us confidently that there was no inconsistency between her practice of her religion and human rights and rights for women.
And countless other women are defying the past with their newfound voices. I came across an amateur Iraqi Web site, one of the many where Iraqis are taking advantage of their newfound freedom of speech. One site showed two Iraqi women demonstrating a few months ago against a development which threatened women’s rights. They, too, were dressed in conservative Muslim fashion. Yet, as one of them put it: “We didn’t wait all these years without the most basic rights to be denied them now.” When an Arab reporter asked if she were Sunni or Shi’a, she snapped: “I’m an Iraqi citizen first and foremost, and I refuse to be asked such a question.” In such words and actions are the hope of a new Iraq.
Ben, from Atlanta writes:
My cousin is now serving in the Army in Iraq and I worry about him, and, increasingly, the cause that he is fighting for. Does the president believe that the Iraq war will have been worth it even if we don't find any WMD or substantial links to Bin Laden in Iraq?
Ben, you can be very proud of your cousin and the part he has played in helping to liberate 25 million Iraqis from one of the most brutal dictatorships of modern times. I have visited with many of our troops in Iraq, and they are performing with great heroism.
As I am sure you know, we went into Iraq for a number of reasons, not only to destroy the WMDs that everyone agreed Saddam Hussein had. 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 ten years ago. He was in violation of 17 UN Resolutions. Resolution 1441 was his last and final chance to come clean on WMDs and he failed to do so.
We have not yet determined why we didn’t find more when we got to Iraq, 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 invaded his neighbors. His regime supported and harbored terrorist elements like Al Qaida.
And today, a key figure in the resistance in Iraq is an Al Qaida-associated fugitive and terrorist, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who has taken “credit” for personally beheading several U.S. hostages and for sponsoring numerous suicide bombings.
By giving the Iraqi people a chance to live in freedom and peace, we have opened the door to progress throughout the Middle East, which has been a source of so much terrorism. 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.
So yes, the war has been worth the great investment we have made and the great sacrifices our servicemen and women are making. I believe future generations will look back at them with the same sense of gratitude that we look on the World War II generation.
jon, from huntington beach, ca writes:
I realize that Iraq is in control of a great deal of the government but why dont you catch the insurgents off-guard and turn full control over to Iraq now. What difference does a few days make? I have the feeling that they are planning some big attack on the 30th. Remove the significance of June 30th.
Let the Iraq deel with the insurgents starting right now.
That’s an interesting idea. 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. Saddam’s killers and Zarqawi’s terrorists are already 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. 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.
Danielle, from California writes:
Specifically how is the U.S. more secure and safe with Hussein no longer in power in Iraq?
This is a critical question. Thanks for asking it.
Saddam Hussein led one of the most vicious regimes in the world. 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 Qaida.
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.
But Saddam’s old gang and their terrorist allies won’t go down without a fight. That is why there is so much violence in Iraq today. That is also why we say that Iraq is presently the central battle in the war on terrorism. The terrorists understand that their defeat in Iraq will be a major victory for us.
Stephanie, from Louisiana writes:
Why is it that everyone is only reporting and visiting Iraq? I understand that we are at war with that country. But what about all the other service men and women fighting the war in Afghanistan? No one has secretly flown there to support them. Has the government "forgotten" about these troops? You never hear about what's going on there except when a soldier is killed.
They're not considered a "hero" for being killedinjured. We are lucky to even get their name on the news cast. Why are we not supportingtreating these soldiers like we are the soldiers in Iraq? They too are putting their lives on the line to keep us safe.
We certainly haven’t forgotten our magnificent forces in Afghanistan. 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, 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.
I have been to Afghanistan twice and Secretary Rumsfeld has been there five times. So have many members of Congress. Afghanistan’s new President Hamid Karzai was here recently and spoke out in support of our overall effort against terrorism.
Melanie, from Bayonne writes:
Hello. My question is. Why did we get invloved with Iraq? All we had to do was leave them alone. They could deal with their own problems. If we left them alone there would have been no war, no looosing family members and everthing would be nice. All Iraq was trying to do is telll us that they didn't want any help from us.
As we learned so tragically on 9-11, the American people do not enjoy an exemption from threats that exist in other parts of the world. On that day, 3,000 innocent people were killed for no other reason than because they were in America.
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. They are not interested in having their country occupied, but they also know that our presence there is essential if that country is not to slip back into the control of the brutal minority who controlled it for more than 30 years. As an Iraqi said to me during my recent trip, “In my heart, I would like you to leave now. But in my head, I know we need you to stay.”
In a few days, the new Iraqi government will take over. For the first time in a generation, peace-loving Iraqis will have the opportunity to govern their own country and to get on with their lives. We will only stay as long as we are wanted and needed. But we will leave behind a government that does not represent a threat to the U.S. or any other country.
Thanks to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz for taking questions today on "Ask the White House." Make sure to join us Monday as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice appears on the White House web site for another "Ask the White House."