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Deputy Assistant Secretary Whitman Interview with the Paul Berry Show

Presenters: Bryan Whitman, DASD PA (Media Operations)
April 14, 2003
Q:  -- Bryan, nice to have you with us.


            Whitman:  Thank you, Paul.


            Q:  It is remarkable if you'll allow me to say how much things have changed since we last spoke. It must be satisfying in the right kind of way to all of you there at defense.


            Whitman:  You're absolutely right. Our forces have performed marvelously, but you are also right in your opening that this war is not over yet and we still do have a lot of work to do.


            Q:  Let's start with the hunt for Saddam and his sons and others. How do you see this playing out? Are we going to be successful in locating these folk? Or is it just one of those hit or miss deals at this point?


            Whitman:  As you know we have a number of the senior Iraqi leadership that we are interested in getting a hold of and we have some of those. Some of those individuals have been captured. Many of them are on the run. Some have fled the country and some are dead.


            Saddam Hussein is obviously of interest to us but what's more important is that his regime no longer controls Iraq. These regime leaders will eventually be called upon to answer for the crimes that they've committed against the Iraqi people.


            Q:  Indeed, and I suspect the real issue is whether or not our troops over there, Mr. Secretary would be safer, would be in a safer environment were it the fact that you could produce Saddam Hussein and say he's either dead or here he is. Would that provide a more safe environment for them?


            Whitman:  I think that in addition to areas of Iraq where we still have combat fighting going on there is still a danger to U.S. and coalition forces over there because there are going to be for some time what I would call or what the Secretary calls dead-enders that are going to try to do harm to our forces that are over there as well as the smaller pockets of resistance that may try to put up a fight in a small but could be intense skirmishes that could take place.


            Q:  What about, let's talk for a moment about chaos and looting. Did we, I mean defense, did we underestimate the level, the degree that this was going to take place in terms of being prepared to handle it?


            Whitman:  I don't think so. I don't think that it should be surprising that a people that have been under an oppressive regime like Saddam Hussein for so many years would be angry at the symbols of that regime and want to take out some of that frustration.


            The situation is increasingly more stable in the country and it varies from city to city. There is more stability in the south. As coalition forces become more available to provide security I think you'll continue to see the situation improve even in Baghdad. But like I said, even today there are firefights that are occurring in Baghdad.


            Q:  Indeed. Let's talk a little bit about the weapons of mass destruction. How important is it, Mr. Secretary, to find these weapons of mass destruction to "prove", quote/unquote, that our purpose was justified, unquote?


            Whitman:  That is certainly one of our mission objectives here. That is to find, locate and destroy Iraq's WMD. Its facilities as well as its systems.


            It's not going to be an easy job. Saddam Hussein has been hiding those weapons programs for nearly 12 years. So we shouldn't expect that the task is going to be easy but we are prepared to deal with that and we are going to search out not just those weapons programs but the people that will be able to tell us about those weapons programs. That's how we'll really find a lot of these WMD, is through those people that participated in those programs. They have the information and can lead us to it.


            Q:  Bryan, it was wonderful to see those people that we saw on the cameras in other places throughout Iraq cheering the forces as they came in and in fact doing basically what I think you thought they were going to do, the reception that you thought you were going to get.


            Whitman:  Yes, I think that there were Iraqi citizens that were initially very cautious in displaying their relief until they were absolutely sure that the Saddam Hussein regime was going to be gone. Once they could tell that Saddam was going to be gone and gone forever, they started to celebrate in a way that you would expect a people that had been repressed for so many years would.


            Q:  Absolutely. Let's talk for a few minutes here about Syria. A great deal of, I won't call it saber rattling, but it's pretty strong talk from the President, from Defense and from the Secretary of State about Syria's role here. How serious are we about turning our attention to Syria if in fact they continue with this same behavior?


            Whitman:  Well you know the President and the Secretary of State as well as Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld spoke about this today. I'm not sure that I can add a lot to it other than to say that in many respects Syria has been helpful with regards to Iraq. I think it's important that they understand that and they know that we understand that. They have provided less than adequate security of the border for regime members that have crossed over. There have been terrorists that have crossed over from Syria that have been captured, found to be wanting to do harm to U.S. and coalition forces. We have found that their borders have been porous with respects to some military equipment that has aided or did aid Iraqi forces in the past. So in many respect Syria hasn't been helpful, but I think the President as well as both the Secretary of State and Secretary Rumsfeld have addressed that today.


            Q:  And is it the feeling that the tongue-lashing, if you will, if I can describe it that way, and it's my words, would take care of the issue? Is that the belief, that their behavior might change based on what we've said?


            Whitman:  We would hope that any sovereign country in that region would act in a way that contributes to the peace and stability of the region.


            Q:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary. We appreciate it, Bryan, for you being with us. Thank you.


            Whitman:  You bet.

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