(Interview with Hussein Jamal, director of political programs at Kuwait TV and Middle East Broadcasting correspondent.)
Q: Thank you very much, sir, for giving us this chance. The first question is whether transferring the command control from Saudi Arabia to Qatar was done for political or military purposes, and was it pre-planned?
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, I think that that question is something which is more appropriately asked to General Franks. It certainly is not for political reasons; it’s a matter of the commander in this region having made a judgment that he wants to rearrange some of the forces. Several things have happened. One is that Operation Southern Watch has been completed. There is no need for that activity. So, those aircraft and the people who were responsible for that activity will be leaving and going elsewhere. Second, the change of regime in Iraq changes the security situation substantially in the region, and of course the opportunity that that brings is for us to decide how we want to arrange our forces. In this case, General Franks has made various recommendations which I will be in the process of considering and working with the governments in the region, cooperatively, so that things are arranged in a way that are comfortable with the countries here and also comfortable for the United States.
Q: While we’ll talking about Iraq, in this region we’re hearing that there is a sort of a “deal” between Saddam Hussein and coalition forces in which he was disappeared. And --
Rumsfeld: That’s just ridiculous. That is absolutely ridiculous. The United States doesn’t do secret deals with people like Saddam Hussein, and I can’t imagine anyone who could be so confused that they would even think such a ridiculous conspiratorial theory. It’s nonsense.
Q: How can you explain his disappearance and not yet to be captured? Do you think he will be captured soon?
Rumsfeld: I don’t know. The one thing we know for sure is that he’s not running Iraq. He is no longer the head of Iraq. Iraq is in different hands at the present time. Soon it’ll be in the hands of the Iraqi people. That’s our hope. That’s our expectation. You say, how can you explain? It’s easy to explain. It is very hard to find a single person. The United States armed forces are designed to deal with armies, navies and air forces, not to do individual manhunts, that’s the kind of thing that’s police work. It is very easy in a country this large -- of Iraq for a single person who has -- knows it’s coming, to make plans, to go into an underground facility somewhere and hide. And if that’s what’s happened, that’s what’s happened. But will we find him eventually? Sure.
Q: Till now, Coalition forces did not discover the weapons of mass destruction. And this is the main reason that the Freedom of Iraq war was to start with. How do you explain this to the Arab viewers and to the world?
Rumsfeld: Well, if you think about it, the inspectors were in Iraq for month after month after month, year after year, and it’s a big country. And the Saddam Hussein regime was determined to hide what they were doing. So what did they do? They dispersed these weapons and they dispersed the documentation all across the country in various locations, hid them and did so very successfully, which is why the inspectors didn’t find anything. What we will do is we very likely will not find anything either immediately. What we will find is, over time, we’ll find the people who did it. We’ll find the people who managed to hide the documents, the people who managed to do the work, and at some point when they’re no longer frightened of Saddam Hussein, and they’re willing to talk, they will come to us. We’re having this happen right now, if you think about it. There isn’t a day that goes by that one of the senior people isn’t captured. They’re not captured because people just stumble over them and discover them. They’re captured because local Iraqis are coming up and saying, “Look, Coalition. Down that street in the next block, you’re going to find somebody that you’re looking for.” And they’re cooperating with the Coalition, so it’s very easy to explain.
Q: One of the things the Coalition has done is to change the regime, then replace the regime with another regime which is more democratic, a new system in Iraq, a new life in Iraq, but still there is no new government. There is not been much progress in this regard. Many are talking about this in this region.
Rumsfeld: That’s fascinating. Six weeks ago Saddam Hussein was in charge of Iraq. Six weeks later, he’s not. And you say lots of people are talking and saying, “Well, why isn’t there a new Iraqi government?” The idea that in six weeks the Coalition could go in, take over from Saddam Hussein, put his regime out of business, and expect that you could have a new government in six weeks is so unrealistic it’s just impossible to believe that people are really saying what you just said people are saying. I can’t even believe that. Nobody is so unrealistic to think that. It takes a long time for people to fashion a new government. You’ve also phrased it that the United States is going to put in place an Iraqi government. That’s not true. We’re not. We’re going to create a secure environment; we’re going to provide humanitarian assistance for the people of Iraq, medicine, food, water. And we’re going to create an environment that they can fashion a new government. It will be an Iraqi government that has been fashioned by Iraqi people and it will not be a government that is imposed by the United States.
Q: How about --
Rumsfeld: If we wanted to impose a government, we could do it tomorrow; we could do it in five seconds. Just like that, go in and say, “This is your new government.” But would it be worth anything? No, because it’s going to have to be something that is an Iraqi government.
Q: How about a transitional government?
Rumsfeld: I think what will happen is that there will be some sort of a process that will produce an interim, meaning temporary authority, of some kind that’s Iraqi, and the next step would be for that authority, that interim Iraqi authority, would then work with people across the country, and fashion a process to develop a new constitution. It would be a process to figure out at what point in the future they could have free elections, and what they wanted that government to look like. And at some point then, the interim government which people would participate in, Iraqi people, not us, would then propose something that would produce a permanent Iraqi government down the road.
Q: Would this process take a long time?
Rumsfeld: How long is long?
Q: You tell me.
Rumsfeld: I don’t know. How long will it take? My hope is it takes a relatively short time, but if we wanted to decide how long it would take, we could go do it, but then it wouldn’t be an Iraqi government. One would hope it would be relatively short. Iraq is not Afghanistan of course, on the other hand, Afghanistan went from a no government, Taliban and al Qaeda running the country, to the United States and the coalition forces suggesting that they figure out a new government; they had a process which produced an interim authority, the interim authority then transitioned and they eventually will have a permanent government, and it’s been decided by the Afghan people. How long did it take? Well, so far, it’s been a year, a year plus. No, it was a relatively short period of months before they had the interim authority. The entire process now has been less than two years, less than a year and a half, I think.
Q: Is it Ahmed Chalabi that we’re looking forward to?
Rumsfeld: I don’t know. It’s up to the Iraqi people. I have no idea who will rise out of that process. Who will end up being, what kinds of people, will be the people that the Iraqi people will decide are the ones they would like to take them forward to the next step. My guess is that it’ll be a process where a lot of people will compete; a lot of people will have ideas; a lot of people will be free to talk and they’ll criticize and they’ll argue and they’ll discuss—that’s what’s free people do. Who will come out of that process at the end? I have no idea.
Q: I’ll shift a bit. Kuwaiti POWs, was it at the top of the priorities?
Rumsfeld: Oh, absolutely. Our country cares greatly about prisoners of war, and people who are missing in action. We feel it very deeply. We had formed many weeks ago, well before war started, we had put together teams of people, gathered the best information we could find, and they were prepared the minute pieces of Iraq were occupied by Coalition forces coming in. The minute they were in able to get ground truth as to what might be done, they started looking at these possible sights for people who were prisoners or missing.
Q: Are they still?
Rumsfeld: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. They have spent enormous number of hours, they’ve gone to all kinds of prison and locations, where pieces of information suggested that the Kuwaiti prisoners and those missing might be. We have obviously our own, Captain Speicher, who was missing, and they started from the first day, as soon as they were on the ground, they are continuing it, and they will continue it, trying to seek out records, trying to find people who might know something about what happened, so that the families can bring closure, either we find the people or we begin to understand what actually happened.
Q: You might have heard this in the Arab world, the Americans “protected Ministry of Oil ministry because they’re looking for the Iraqi oil, and they disregarded the rest of the ministries and institutions.”
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all you used the word the Arab world as though there is a single opinion. I find that that’s not the case. I’ve spent a good deal of time in this part of the world, in many countries and with many different people over three decades, and I don’t find there is a single unified deal on issues like that, so I would challenge the premise in your question.
Second, it’s easy to criticize and someone can step back and say something like that, but if anyone looks at the history of the United States of America, they would know that we don’t want Iraqi oil. That oil belongs to the Iraqi people. We don’t covet Iraqi land; we’re not interested in occupying a country. We’re a nation of free people who believe in freedom and want to try to contribute to peace and stability, and we were attacked by terrorists. We had three thousand people killed from all nationalities from all countries, men, women and children who had done nothing wrong, and they were attacked and killed. What is our interest? Our interest is not the oil, and it will be clear that that is the case. The money and revenues from that oil belong to Iraqi people and they will have that. And it will be very clear in a relatively short period of time, so people running around pedaling that argument will be proven wrong and I hope when that happens, people in your business will point out and say: Oh, isn’t that interesting, a bunch of people were saying that and they were wrong, they were not telling the truth, they were misleading people. Because it is important that people in your business do that.
Q: One of the things we’ve heard, if the Iraqis choose a fundamentalist state, what will the United States do? Are you planning to have military bases there?
Rumsfeld: No, we’re not. First, with respect to bases in Iraq, the air bases and the port in Iraq today are being used by the Coalition forces and countries from all over the world, bringing in food, bringing in medicine, bringing in water for the Iraqi people. With the threat of a Saddam Hussein regime gone, the United States needs fewer bases, we need fewer people, not more. So those people who were running around suggesting that are not accurate.
With respect to Iran, let me say this. I can’t tell you what the government of Iraq will look like in five years. I can say that the government of Iran, with a handful of clerics running that country and not allowing the kinds of freedom for women and for young people in that country is not a model that I would recommend for the Iraqis. I think replacing the despot, the dictator, who was a vicious dictator, Saddam Hussein, with a system that is repressive of minorities in that country, or restrictive of religious freedom in Iraq would not be what I would recommend. So I doubt that the Iraqi people particularly would want to have a country or a government that has been influenced by its neighbors. I think the Iraqi people will resist that. And I don’t believe that that is the future for Iraq. I think they have an opportunity for freedom; they have an opportunity for a system that protects religion and protects ethnic diversity, religious diversity in that country and that they’ll go down that path. I would certainly hope so.
Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Rumsfeld, secretary of Defense. I wish I had plenty of time as I have plenty of questions, but we don’t have time. Thank you very much for being with us and we hope that you have a last statement as you travel to Iraq tomorrow, and is it to end the operation in Iraq?
Rumsfeld: Is it to end the operation in Iraq?
Q: Yes, we heard, declaration of ending Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Rumsfeld: No, you certainly hear a lot of things that are unusual. I don’t know quite how that happens, but we feel a responsibility and the coalition forces do, that if a regime is taken out and there are humanitarian needs in that country, and there are still pockets of resistance, there are still people getting killed and wounded --American and Coalition forces -- by some of these so called death squads that have been roaming around the countryside, the kinds of people who had their headquarters in hospitals and schools, the kinds of people who used the Red Crescent for military purposes and hid under the guise of humanitarian assistance, and that’s the kind of people they were and they are. And what we need to do is to see that we create a sufficiently secure environment there, for a period of time, so that the Iraqi people can fashion themselves the future. And that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to move from a phase of major military activity to a phase of security stabilization, and to assist and participate in reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. We’re going to stay there, as long as it takes, for that opportunity for the Iraqi people to fashion a new government and we’re not going to stay one day longer.
Q: Thank you very much sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you.