Wolfowitz Takes to the Streets to Hear About Iraq's Progress, Needs
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 25, 2003 Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz took to the streets of Iraq today literally to learn firsthand from the Iraqi people as well as U.S. soldiers on how the rebuilding process is going.
Wolfowitz joined troops from the 503rd Infantry's A Company, 2nd Battalion, today on a foot patrol through the streets of downtown Kirkuk, a northern city with a diverse population that includes Kurds, Arabs, Turkmans and Syrians.
U.S. troops conduct dismounted patrols through the area routinely to identify potential threats while projecting a security presence to the Iraqi people.
But this particular patrol was anything but routine. Wolfowitz paused frequently to shake hands and ask local citizens what impact the Iraqi rebuilding is having on their lives. "Is life in Kirkuk getting better?" he asked, listening intently as a translator relayed their responses.
Shopkeepers and passers-by alike gave Wolfowitz near- celebrity status during the patrol -- clambering to shake his hand, speak with him or simply listen in on his conversations with other residents.
Wolfowitz said he was surprised by the level of cheering and enthusiasm he encountered in Kirkuk, "not only from kids, which I expected, because I had seen it before, but also among Sunni Arabs."
"The hatred for Saddam Hussein among them was palpable," he said.
The deputy secretary's upfront look at progress extended beyond the citizens on Kirkuk's streets. It included a meeting with Arab, Turkman and Kurdish clerics in Kirkuk, a tour of a police station in southwest Kirkuk, chats with members of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps in Tikrit, a meeting with officials from the al-Daura power plant in Baghdad and, wherever he went, chats with U.S. troops.
Wolfowitz also met with religious clerics at the newly opened Kirkuk museum site. He assured them that by continuing to work together, the religious leaders, Coalition Provisional Authority, and U.S. and coalition forces can overcome obstacles to Iraq's rebuilding.
"We can all work together to ensure that each month is better than the last month," he said. "But we have to do it together. We (the United States) can't do it for you, and you can't do it yourselves."
One cleric thanked Wolfowitz for his "politeness toward Islam," and another, who said he spoke for the entire group, urged the deputy secretary to wait until the country's new government is fully established before withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Wolfowitz said he was impressed and encouraged by the level of solidarity expressed by the clerics, particularly because they represent such diverse groups. "I think their commitment to interethnic harmony is enormous," he said.
In Tikrit, Wolfowitz saw progress in the Civil Defense Corps an organization key to Iraq's ability to assume autonomy.
Army Capt. Jason Deel explained to Wolfowitz that all members of Task Force 1-22 Infantry the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps element serving with the 4th Infantry Division are recruited from Tikrit and its surrounding area through referrals by area sheiks. "The sheiks provide the names of people who are trustworthy, and we need men who are trustworthy," Deel said.
He told Wolfowitz that the training program is proceeding smoothly, and that the unit, now with 62 trained members, will soon become a full company. "The program has become a model for Iraq, promoting increased dialog with government, police, sheiks, imams and locals," he said.
Sgt. Amin Aanan is among the trained members who, working side by side with the U.S. division's patrols, gather intelligence, do combat controls in the city, provide fixed-site security and conduct joint raids and cordon search operations.
Aanan, who served in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein, said he jumped at the chance to be a member of the task force. "I love Iraq and I love Tikrit," he said.
"This job is to protect my family," said Capt. Musab Joseph, Aanan's commander. "What we do is dangerous, but it's necessary. American forces can't stay here forever. We need to look out for our own security."
But challenges remain, Deel told Wolfowitz. Lacking new uniforms, unit members still wear uniforms of the Iraqi armysomething they hate and are anxious to disassociate themselves from, he said. They need new weapons, vehicles to get to work and other items that require funding beyond what's currently allowable by law.
Wolfowitz called the growth of the Iraqi Civil Defense Force "one of the wonderful success stories of outstanding young Iraqis stepping forward to fight for the country."
He said these troops "can do things that we can't" to accelerate the stabilization of Iraq. "They can communicate with the people better than we can," he said. "They can 'read' the local population better than we can."
He promised to push to change laws that stand in the way of properly funding the Iraqi Civil Defense Force or other indigenous forces that operate in the United States' best interest and help relieve the burden on U.S. troops.
"We're seeing that there are plenty of Iraqis many, many more who willing to step up to defend their country," he said. "And we need to help them get on with that."