'Smothering Blanket of Fear' Plagues Iraqis, Wolfowitz Says
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WARSAW, Poland, Oct. 5, 2004 The deep fear Saddam Hussein instilled in the Iraqi people still plagues a population that knows remnants of his regime still are among them, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said here today.
"They are trying to cast off a smothering blanket of fear, a blanket of fear woven by 35 years of the most brutal kind of repression where even the smallest mistake could mean torture or death or even punishments worse than death," Wolfowitz told an audience at Warsaw University. "Yes, there are punishments worse than death, like fathers or mothers being forced to watch their children tortured or killed."
The Polish people, he said, can appreciate far more than Americans how that state of fear can distort the behavior of even good people. "Perhaps you also understand," he told his Polish audience, "that that sort of fear isn't something that can be cast off immediately and simply forgotten, particularly not when the people who inflicted that fear are still at large and killing people."
Wolfowitz said Saddam started weaving the blanket of fear at the very beginning of his rule in 1979, when he forced some Baathist Party leaders to take part in firing squads to execute some supposedly disloyal colleagues. "But that wasn't enough for Saddam," Wolfowitz said. "No, he had videotapes made of that event and sent to leaders throughout the Middle East so that his neighbors would know just what kind of leader they were dealing with."
Videotaped torture was common during Saddam's regime, Wolfowitz said. An American writer recently viewed some of the images, and wrote that "they are the sort that no civilized person wants another to see," the deputy secretary added.
In his own visits to Iraq, Wolfowitz said, he has seen and heard evidence of the brutality Saddam inflicted on the Iraqi people. "I saw the forked trunk of a dead tree behind the police academy in Baghdad," he said. "On each branch of the tree, the bark is permanently marked by what had been two sets of ropes one set high enough to tie up a man, the shorter set to tie up a woman. Our guide told us about horrific things that happened to the men and women who were tied to that tree."
A commander in northern Iraq told Wolfowitz during a visit last year that work on excavating a mass grave had stopped temporarily after the remains of 80 women and children were unearthed, "some still with little dresses and toys," the deputy defense secretary said. He also noted that Saddam turned the southern Iraq wetlands into a manmade desert the size of New Jersey to exterminate its 500,000 inhabitants, the Marsh Arabs one of Iraq's oldest civilizations. The Marsh Arab population now is estimated to be only 40,000 to 200,000, Wolfowitz noted.
Wolfowitz likened talk that Iraq was more stable before Saddam was toppled from power to similar assertions during the Cold War that Soviet satellites at least were stable. "I believe that you in Poland had a phrase that correctly characterized that as 'the stability of the graveyard,'" he said.
Saddam's so-called stability was worse, he pointed out. "Beyond the genocide and murders, he systematically destroyed Iraq," Wolfowitz noted, "building palaces while the infrastructure decayed beyond repair, starving his people while stealing money from the U.N. Oil for Food Program, and exporting terrorism, inciting terrorism and funding terrorism."
Poland, Wolfowitz said, has stood beside the United States from the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "The tragedy of World War II came about in part because people in my country believed that the Atlantic Ocean provided a wall behind which the United States could hide from the tragedy that was about to engulf Europe," Wolfowitz said. "Today, I think there are some people who believe that they might escape the scourge of terrorism by building a high wall around their country. But that's an illusion."
Wolfowitz noted that Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Smajdzinski had expressed that same view recently. "He said, 'By taking part in this operation in Iraq, we are proving that we properly understand the nature of modern threats and the philosophy of counteracting them. Now, thanks in part to us, the world is safer, we are safer,'" Wolfowitz said. "'Today,' he said, 'the war is never far away, and no one's home is safe. We will not close ourselves off, and we will not hide from danger behind any wall.'"
Wolfowitz characterized the threat Polish forces are helping to suppress by citing the differences between the people trying to help Iraq and those seeking to destroy it.
"Our enemies know us by our love of life and democracy," he said. "We know them by their worship of death and their philosophy of despair."
An intercepted letter written by fugitive terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi earlier this year provided "a window into that dark and hopeless world," Wolfowitz said. Zarqawi is believed to be the mastermind behind much of the violence in Iraq and to have personally beheaded several hostages his followers have kidnapped. In the letter intended for his colleagues in Afghanistan, he wrote that democracy in Iraq would mean suffocation for terrorists, Wolfowitz said.
"He talks with contempt about Iraqis who, in his words, 'look ahead to a sunny tomorrow, a prosperous future, a carefree life, comfort and favor," Wolfowitz said. He added that Zarqawi's contempt for Christians, Jews, Shiia and Kurdish Muslims and other groups calls to mind the racism of the Nazis.
Zarqawi and his followers claim the mantle of religion, the deputy defense secretary said, but their rhetoric is reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's Schutzstaffel, better known as the SS.
"They may profess to be religious, but they teach that destruction is good and murder is noble," Wolfowitz said, "(and) that killing innocents, even children, will earn the murderer Paradise, despite the fact that Islam condemns murder and suicide. They use mosques as part of their terror campaign and desecrate Muslim holy places. And they say that their ultimate goal is God's greater glory, but what they truly glorify is murder.
"Their ultimate goal is raw power," he continued. "That is not religion. That is totalitarian ideology, and that is the point where terrorists and Saddamists converge. Their long-term goals may differ, but their immediate goal is the same: to use fear and terror to prevent the emergence of a free Iraq. They have nothing positive to offer only death and destruction."
The enemies of a free Iraq are using murder and mayhem to "play on the fears of an Iraqi population that has been terrorized for 35 years," Wolfowitz said. That's the heart why the fight in Iraq continues to be difficult, he added, but it's also the enemy's great weakness.
"Because they offer nothing positive," he said, "most Iraqis would like to see them defeated, and more and more Iraqis are stepping up to defeat them." The Iraqis want free and fair elections, he added, and the terrorists are doing everything they can to keep that from happening.
The coalition's objective is to build Iraq, Wolfowitz said, but the enemies of freedom want to destroy it. "We build schools, and they kill children," he said.
Wolfowitz cited Poland's prominent military role in Iraq. Poland was one of four countries that sent troops into combat on the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said. Polish special forces helped to capture oil platforms that had been rigged with explosives before they could cause destruction. He also noted that Poland commands the coalition's Central-South division that he called one of the most diverse military units ever assembled, with 10,000 troops from 21 countries who speak 17 different languages.
Because they shook off the yoke of Soviet totalitarian repression and since have thrived, Poles have credibility in Iraq, and the Iraqi people are listening, Wolfowitz said. He noted that in his recent visit to the United States, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said that despite every obstacle and every prediction that the next step toward democracy would fail, the Iraqi people have succeeded in achieving every milestone in its political progress.
"I think this all demonstrates vividly that like Nazism and communism, the terrorist brand of totalitarianism runs fundamentally counter to the love of life and the love of freedom that represent the deepest longings of most human beings," Wolfowitz said.
"The terrorist doctrine contains within it the seeds of its own defeat. But it will not collapse simply of its own weight. We must remain on offense."