Wolfowitz Views 'New Iraq' in the Making
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KIRKUK, Iraq, Feb. 3, 2004 The phrase "New Iraq" is on the lips of many in this city. Kirkuk is in many ways a microcosm of the country.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (center, seated at table) attends a city council meeting in Kirkuk, Iraq, Feb. 2. Wolfowitz visited Iraq to bring himself up to date on the rotation of forces and the overall situation in Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz met with members of the city council during a whirlwind tour of Iraq. The seven men and one woman on the council spoke their minds.
Kirkuk has all of the nationalities represented in Iraq as a whole. Kurds, Sunni Arabs, Shiia Arabs, Christians, Turkmen and Assyrians make up this city of about 800,000. There is ethnic tension in the region, especially between Arab and Kurd. The Kurds opposed Saddam Hussein, and he embarked on an "Arabization" program in and around the city. Under it, he forced Arabs to leave their homes in the central and southern parts of Iraq and moved them to Kirkuk.
In the city, he forced Kurds from their homes and moved the Arabs in. "Both groups were forced to move," a senior defense official said. "And both want to remain."
The Kurds want their homes back, and the Arabs believe they are just as much victims as the Kurds.
Helping the groups work together has been the main thrust of U.S. aid in the city and region. Part of the 4th Infantry Division territory, Kirkuk has seen some "miraculous" progress, Wolfowitz said. "There are problems, but if we hadn't had some success, this place would have already fallen apart in the last nine months," the deputy secretary said at a press roundtable following the city council meeting.
The fact that there is a representative city council at all shows that progress can be made. The council, chosen by caucus, has Kurds, Arabs, a Turkman and an Assyrian on it. They can work together, but there are flashpoints.
One Arab member complained bitterly about Kurd militia searching him. He blamed Turkey and Iran for importing trouble into Iraq. The Turkman representative said he was "lonely" on the council with no fellow ethnic members on it.
All spoke of the need for more security, and many complained about the militia problem.
The area has about 500,000 "internally displaced people" from the former regime. They are living in abandoned buildings and working in a city with an unemployment rate of about 40 percent. That group complicates everything.
There is no accurate census in the area. "Every nationality believes they form 60 percent of the population of the city," said Army Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Ordierno, the 4th Infantry Division commander. Every group claims vast numbers from those internally displaced people.
In reality, most of those people are Kurds, so Arabs in the north even Shiia Arabs do not really want the first elections that Grand Ayatollah Sistani has called for. They feel the government would be dominated by Kurds, and that their rights would be ignored by a Kurd-dominated government.
None of the participants is particularly happy with the idea of an accurate census. They realize a census would lay out the population's true make-up, and that a group might then find itself marginalized.
"Getting fair elections is part of it," Wolfowitz said. "It's not that elections by themselves will settle things. What will really settle things is for people to be convinced there's a system that will treat everyone fairly, no matter who wins the elections."
Elections used to be winner take all, Wolfowitz said. A group would get in and take care of its own base. "It's up to us to help them build a system where everyone has rights, no matter who the winner is," he said.
Earlier in the day, the deputy secretary visited the Northern Region Iraqi Civilian Defense Corps Training Facility. All American commanders see building up the ICDC and the Iraqi police as the key to controlling the security situation in the region. Wolfowitz said the two organizations are working toward a new Iraq one where the rights of all are respected.
"I think the ICDC is going to be the key to establishing stability here," he said following the meeting in Kirkuk. "The answer to militias is to have disciplined forces that are under unified command. They are doing it with impressive speed."
Both the ICDC and the police go through training in human rights. Both will come under the control of whatever government the Iraqis decide upon. And both will fill the security vacuum that the militias have filled, he said.
But Wolfowitz isn't under any illusions that the work will be easy. "We have a lot of tough work ahead, but we have some amazing people doing it, and I think some very good Iraqi partners," he said.