(Interview with Dan Nasif, Sawa Radio and TV.)
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld -- what is he trying to accomplish during his trip to Iraq?
Whitman: Well the main purpose of Secretary Rumsfeld’s trip to the region is to thank the many coalition troops that performed so marvelously and with such distinction and dedication as they carried their missions and their tasks. So he is going there to thank them firsthand and personally.
In addition to that, he is meeting with several leaders in the region; he wants to thank them for their cooperation and their support also and to talk about the future and the way ahead and ways in which the United States and other countries in the region can cooperate in the future.
Q: Time Magazine this week said that the war will not be complete in Iraq until U.S. forces can resolve three key questions. Where is Saddam Hussein? Where are the weapons of mass destruction and who is in charge? What do you have to say about that?
Whitman: Well there’s still a lot of work to be done. Saddam Hussein, his fate will be known eventually, but right now the primary emphasis is to create that safe and stable environment so that the Iraqi people can begin to work together and decide for themselves in a secure environment what they want the future of Iraq to look like.
In addition to that we still have other work to do too. We still have weapons of mass destruction that we must search out and destroy. We have to continue to look for links to terrorist organizations and terrorist and make sure that we learn of all those and do what we can to make sure that Iraq doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorist activity in the future but most importantly as we go forward, we need to make sure that the conditions are right so that the Iraqi people can form a uniquely Iraqi government that represents all the people of Iraq that doesn’t threaten its neighbors that doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction that can live in harmony with its neighbors so we need to be there for Iraq so that they can do that and once they have been able to do that, then the coalition forces will no longer need to be there.
Q: Are you satisfied with the pace of moving toward putting Iraqis in charge?
Whitman: Oh absolutely, I mean if you look at how much time has passed, its been a little over a month and for much of that time we were engaged in difficult and intense combat operations and it has only been in the last couple of weeks that we have been able to shift our focus a little bit towards allowing and creating those conditions where Iraqis can come out and start discussing their future. We still have portions of Iraq where we are engaged in combat operations and we still have individuals and small groups of individuals that are out there that are still resisting the future of Iraq and are still committed to the old Iraq and we still have to take care of that also.
Q: How helpful are the town meetings in identifying the future leaders of Iraq?
Whitman: I think it’s a very important part of the beginning of a democratic process where all voices can be heard and everyone with a view is able to express it and talk about what type of Iraq they want in the future. It’s an opportunity for many different people in Iraq to have that opportunity to come together to express their differences and to come together in a productive way to start to run the government, to ensure that the essential services start to get back and working and then to take on the more difficult work of what is it that they want, the new Iraqi government to look like.
Q: What do you have to say to the average Iraqi on the street to assure him or her that United States is not there to colonize Iraq?
Whitman: We are there to help the Iraqi people create the kind of government that they want. We will be there for as long as it takes for that government to flourish, to blossom and then we won’t be there for another day longer. The United States has no interest in occupying another nation’s land or in its resources or its wealth. The resources and wealth of Iraq belong to the Iraqi people and when Iraq has had the opportunity to get back up on its feet then the coalition forces will be ready to leave.
Q: Let me rephrase your answer a little bit. Will the U.S. military stay as long as it takes to establish democracy in Iraq?
Whitman: We are prepared and committed to stay as long as it takes to give the Iraqi people the opportunity so that they can stand up a government that is representative of all the people of Iraq and we feel that we need to provide that environment, that security environment so that they have the time to be able to do that.
Q: What’s the level of contacts with the Iranian-supported groups like (Inaudible.) and what message are we sending to them?
Whitman: Well I think that it should be of no surprise that Iraq ought to have the same opportunity to form its future as any other country and that to the extent that outside influences try to put to much pressure on Iraq to conform to something that Iraq may not want is not helpful and so I think that Iraq’s neighbors need to realize that and to be prepared to assist as many of the countries in the region have been willing to assist with humanitarian aid and with providing food as well as medical supplies and things like that for the Iraqi people. But just like the coalition forces, they ought to give Iraq the opportunity to form its own government, the government of Iraq.
Q: On what basis the Iraqi army will be restructured?
Whitman: Well I think it’s too early to tell. Clearly Iraq will have the need to protect it’s own sovereignty and in the days ahead I’m sure that the government, the new government of Iraq will make the necessary provisions to provide for its own territorial security, but those are things that are still in future and will be decided by the new Iraqi government.
Q: The removal of Saddam Hussein. Does it mean that our forces in the region will be less and how will our security policy be shaped in the future?
Whitman: I think that, we have a term that’s called the task to troops. The number of troops, the number of forces in the region is proportioned to the task that has to be done and to the extent that security becomes a more, Iraq becomes a more peaceful place and where fewer security forces are needed, then you will see that number reduced but, the number of troops is dependent upon the mission and the task at hand and we’ll have to see in the days ahead to what level those forces can be reduced.
Q: Will the Iraqi regime prisoners of war be treated the same way like the detainees in Guantanamo?
Whitman: Well there are no plans at this point and time to take any of the enemy prisoners of wars to Guantanamo. The enemy prisoners of war are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. They’re being processed, a couple hundred are being released every day as they go through that process and being returned to civilian life and I think that the important thing to note is that all the enemy prisoners of war is being treated humanly and fairly and those that can be released back into society are being released back into society.
Q: What did we learn from the experience in Afghanistan that could be applied in Iraq?
Whitman: That’s a good question, I’m sure there are many things, even though sometimes it’s dangerous to compare two situations too closely. There are certainly things that I think you can look at Afghanistan and you can look at the progress that Afghanistan has made towards their own prosperity and towards a life that is so much better than it was under Taliban rule and the opportunity for the Iraqi people in a free Iraqi society is so much better and it is so much more promising than life was, could ever be imagined under a very brutal Saddam Hussein regime.
Q: Thank you.
Whitman: My pleasure.