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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with BBC World Service

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 24, 2003 12:00 PM EDT

(Interview with BBC World Service. Also participating was Emad Dhia, Iraqi Forum for Democracy.)

Q: We may be only a few days into this crisis but potentially we're reaching a critical phase in the campaign as American-led forces begin to engage the Republican Guard divisions protecting Baghdad.

I do have the Deputy Defense Secretary Mr. Paul Wolfowitz, and I also have Emad Dhia of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, an Iraqi-American who is helping the Administration with plans for a post-Saddam Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz, first, could I ask you, there are apparently new pictures on Iraqi television allegedly of the missing pilots from the downed Apache helicopter. I know you haven't been able to see these pictures, but do you have any response to these new pictures?

Wolfowitz: The Geneva Convention is very clear on the rules for treating prisoners. They're not supposed to be tortured or abused, they're not supposed to be intimidated, they're not supposed to be made public displays of humiliation or insult, and we're going to be in a position to hold those Iraqi officials who are mistreating our prisoners accountable, and they've got to stop.

Q: In terms of the campaign so far, before the military action actually started I think you referred to the Iraqi people as a people waiting for liberation. So far it seems we're having precious little signs of that. What do you make of that?

Wolfowitz: I think it's a people that is still distinctly terrorized into silence. I'm glad Mr. Dhia is here with us. The Iraqi people are still not free to speak for themselves. Until this regime is gone, until the fear of Saddam and the other kinds of terrorists are gone, they're not going to be able to speak.

Q: In terms of your reaction to what we see, what are we seeing as the Iraqi people are seeing unfold in front of their television screens this advance of American forces? What do you make of their reaction?

Dhia: Their reaction, they are still under the fear of Saddam Hussein and his regime. They are still controlled by that fear which has come to them from the security people, from the fear of Saddam. They are professional criminals who usually they stop a man in the street if he is against the regime, cut his tongue and leave him to bleed to death.

Q: Do you think the way we're seeing this campaign unfold, do you think it's going to make it more difficult to establish a post-Saddam Iraq?

Dhia: Yeah, if this is going to be a long process with heavy civilian casualties -- which we are not seeing right now in fact. The bombing as we talk to our people inside Iraq was precise. We have people living next to the Presidential Palace, and their home was not damaged. The bombs itself are successful. People are going to restaurants, people are going to buy their daily food supplies, they feel safe in their homes. That's why you didn't see any exodus of Iraqis going to Jordan or Syria or Turkey.

Wolfowitz: This was not a bombing of Baghdad. It was a bombing of the Iraqi regime and it was done with extraordinary precision. We never in history have been able to do it with that kind of precision. As a result we made enormous effort to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population. I think what Mr. Dhia has just reported from phone calls from friends in Baghdad is a demonstration that we've succeeded to a remarkable degree.

Q: How important do you think it is to the success that you're going to have in building a post-Saddam Iraq very quickly, that the campaign itself is brought to a quick conclusion?

Wolfowitz: Obviously the shorter the better, but it's also important to emphasize we've taken great care to avoid, for example, destroying those targets that we hit in the last war because they are of dual use. They have a military function but they're critical to civilian infrastructure. I think one of the greatest achievements already so far has been that those vital oil resources that are the property of the Iraqi people, and critical for their post-Saddam reconstruction and rehabilitation, have been largely preserved in spite of what was clearly a plan by the regime to destroy those oilfields.

Q: A lot of people have been saying that the resistance has been stronger than expected, yet officials I've been talking to here insist that that's not the case. Surely we are seeing pockets of resistance that are going to make things very difficult for you in terms of how you rebuild the country.

Wolfowitz: I'm sorry. Nobody with any knowledge of military matters expected there to be no resistance. If anything is unexpected it's the speed of the advance and the relative absence of organized resistance. That there should be resistance, this is a war. One has to expect it. I think to some extent the people who say it's unexpected really do not understand what this is all about.

Q: Can you explain, in terms of your preparation for what comes after, if you like, are we going to see the slow establishment of new control in the areas that you control? Perhaps before even Baghdad is taken under control. Is it going to be a stepped process? How is it going to unfold?

Wolfowitz: The focus has got to be on removing this criminal regime. Until the regime is gone it's going to be very hard to do anything. Even in cities that are liberated. I think when the people of Basra no longer feel the threat of that regime, you are going to see an explosion of joy and relief. But right now they're still under threat, they're still not convinced. Saddam is still maybe alive as certainly his goons and his assassination squads are still there. Once that's gone, I think things can move very quickly.

I don't want to say we can do as well, but if you go back and see what happened in Northern Iraq 12 years ago with the help of the Kurds and a lot of other allies including the British, we were able to kick the Iraqi army out of the northern third of the country. We were able to hand it over to Iraqi administration in six months. It was phenomenal.

Q: You mentioned Northern Iraq there. How much of a problem has it been to the execution of the war plan that you haven't been able to get significant forces in there very early on through Turkey?

Wolfowitz: We've got some significant forces. We've had them there thanks now to the overflight from Turkey. We have more substantial light forces. It's a disappointment to all of us, I believe, that we didn't reach the agreement that could have put a very substantial heavy force there that would already be putting pressure on Baghdad from the north, but we have a reasonable level of control in the north. We've just taken some very decisive action against that pocket of al Qaeda terrorists in Kramal. We're hearing from the Kurdish militia that they're just delighted to see the Special Forces coming in in great numbers. So I think we're doing well in spite of that.

Q: Finally, Mr. Wolfowitz, you're a man who's been warning about the threat from Saddam Hussein for something like 20 years. I think you wrote a paper 20 years ago on this. What's your own personal feeling now as you see the events unfolds on the ground?

Wolfowitz: I'm just praying for our men and women in uniform. They're doing a fantastic job. I'm praying for the Iraqi people. And like everyone here, we're hoping this can be as short as possible, but there still could be worse things to come.

Q: Mr. Wolfowitz, Emad Dhia, thank you very much for joining us. Clearly the next few days could have a significant impact on just how this campaign unfolds.

With that, back to the studio.