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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Al Arabiya

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
March 25, 2003

(Interview with Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya Satellite News.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you for this opportunity. We appreciate it.

Let me start with a general question about the situation in Basra. There is a great deal of concern about the humanitarian situation in Basra. The Red Cross is concerned about the situation there. What's being done?

Wolfowitz: There seems to be a water problem in Basra but it should be very clear it's not because of anything we did. There's been no bombing of Basra. It seems to be something the regime did.

The Red Cross has been in there and we're told that 70 percent of the water supply has been restored. The Kuwaitis are laying a pipe up to the border with water and we're going to pipe it on up to the city.

(Discussion in Arabic.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, once again we appreciate this opportunity.

Sir, there were a lot of expectations before the war that the resistance will be light, that there will be massive defections, and that essentially the American and British troops will not be faced with stiff resistance. Many people are arguing that something may have gone awry with the American plans. How would you deal with that?

Wolfowitz: First of all, people had some exaggerated expectations. We're not responsible for that. War is war. It takes time. I would not call the resistance stiff at all. Our people advanced a very long way into Iraq on a timetable that I think no one would have imagined.

We're just about at the end of--I believe it's just the fourth day since the bombing really began, a little bit longer actually since our ground forces went in. The speed of this advance is extraordinary. That doesn't mean it's going to keep up that way. We are braced for some worse times ahead, but I would say so far things are going very well according to a very good plan. We're particularly pleased that the environmental disaster that we feared in Southern Iraq, it looks like it's not going to happen. The SCUD attacks that we feared coming out of Western Iraq are not going to happen. We now have large numbers of Special Forces up there in the north with the Kurds, which I think will help to stabilize that situation. This regime is on its way out.

Q: You spoke a little about the northern front, the Kurds. To what extent has the Turkish decision not to allow the United States to open up the northern front so to speak hurt or delayed your plans?

Wolfowitz: We've always believed that it would have been over sooner, would be over sooner, if we were able to confront the Saddam regime with a threat from all directions. It would have been good to have that capability up north. But if you look at the speed of the advance in the rest of the country, I would say we're doing quite well.

Q: I'm sure if you watch television, you see the reaction in the media in the Arab world. Definitely the reaction of the Iraqi leadership. They are painting the battles of Nasiriyah and Um Qasr and all that as this is the Iraqi way of giving the Americans a taste of their medicine, now we are shocking and awing the Americans.

Wolfowitz: It's pathetic. I mean what they're doing is they continue to terrorize their own people and that's what's going on. We know that in Basra and in the other cities the people do not want to repeat the experience of 12 years ago where they rise up against Saddam and then they're slaughtered. But before we take care of the killers that are left behind in those cities, we've got to take care of the regime. It's almost like cutting off the head of the snake and then the rest of the body will go.

Q: So the fact that we didn't see any kind of massive defections in Basra or welcoming of the American and the British forces, is this because of Iraqi intimidation or because also people remember that in 1991 they were let down?

Wolfowitz: I think it's because of Iraqi intimidation. Look, we'll see when we get there. There may be some people who still hold it against us. I would think for the most part they will say you should have done it a long time ago, but thank heavens you did it now. But nobody's going to come out and say "thank heavens you did it," when there's a Fedayeen Saddam sitting down the block.

Q: You don't think also the effects of sanctions or the way sanctions were interpreted by many people in the region, definitely the Iraqi regime, as the sanctions also responsible for their plight, and that the Americans because they were pushing for sanctions, therefore we don't trust the Americans this time?

Wolfowitz: I think--I imagine if it's like other tyrannies, the people of Iraq understand the lies that have been coming out of their government. All they have to do is go look up north where the same sanctions applied, but Saddam's regime wasn't there. The people have managed quite well, actually, under those sanctions. Food comes in, medicine comes in.

The problem with Saddam is he takes the money and spends it on guns and palaces.

Q: Sir, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iran, [Mustah Hakim] said yesterday that the Americans remain in Iraq for awhile, we will resist them, we will evict them. This is a man that you've been dealing with. His brother visited you here in Washington I think a few months ago. How would you interpret that? Are they sitting on the fence? How do you interpret that kind of public talk at a time like this? These are your allies?

Wolfowitz: First of all let me emphasize what we've been saying all along. General Franks said it just a couple of days ago. We're not there to occupy the country. We're there to liberate the country. I think our record historically makes it very clea-- including our recent history in Northern Iraq--where we came in, we liberated the northern part of the country and we left in six months. We have no interest in being there one day longer than we have to.

I am not completely sure about some of the opposition elements including the gentleman you mentioned. If they want to participate peacefully in the construction of a free and democratic Iraq, they are welcome. If they want to bring in outside influences from neighboring countries with the use of armed force, then they will be opposed, not only by us but by the Iraqi people.

Q: Six days or five days into the war no collapse in terms of organized resistance definitely around Baghdad yet. Also no trace of weapons of mass destruction. Are you somewhat surprised? Because many people in the region are saying he told you he doesn't have them. If he has them, why he didn't use them?

Wolfowitz: Well, that's why we're cautious and why General Franks and others have said there may be much more difficult days ahead.

We do think that we achieved a significant measure of surprise by coming in in a way that he didn't expect. Generally, from what we know about his psychology, he would have thought the Americans would have six weeks of bombing for him to get ready to do other things. But he's very dangerous. I hope the people who are thinking about committing war crimes on his behalf, including using chemical or biological weapons, will think twice about it, because this regime is finished and people who commit crimes on his behalf will be punished.

Q: There were reports that one of the reasons why the oilfields in the south were not burned is that some people did it half-heartedly or they didn't want to do it or they were afraid or they didn't want to destroy their own wealth. What's your sense?

Wolfowitz: Well, all of the above, and maybe we got there before they were ready. We do know that at least the two oil platforms in the [Shavalara] had some explosives that hadn't yet been rigged. So as I say, I think there was some measure of surprise, but it will be awhile before we have exact ground truth.

What we do know is we now have prevented what could have been a major environmental disaster in the south, actions that would have deprived the Iraqi people of a great part of their patrimony.

Q: Secretary Powell yesterday I think cautioned that it is still possible that Iraq may use weapons of mass destruction.

Wolfowitz: Absolutely.

Q: Chemicals. And there were also reports that some Republican Guard units may have received chemical munitions and that they may use them if the United States crossed some sort of a red line. What is that red line? Is there such a thing? What's the latest in terms of intelligence information on these units?

Wolfowitz: We don't know. It is interesting that they're threatening in various ways to use weapons that they claim they don't have. We believe they have them. We believe they're dangerous for that reason. Obviously as we get closer to Baghdad, as we get closer to the end of the regime, the possibility of some kind of desperate action increases.

At the same time the certainty of punishment for those people who carry out his illegal criminal orders will increase as well.

Q: What do you know about the leadership now? There were many reports that after the first bombing that some senior leaders were killed, some reports that [An Hasir Najib] was killed, or [Asabduri] or (Inaudible.) and [An Hasir Najib]. We haven't seen Abduri, we haven't seen Saddam, we haven't seen his sons at least publicly. What's the latest? I know you cannot talk about intelligence, but what's the latest?

Wolfowitz: It's really very hard to know these things. We understand the public interest and the press interest in trying to know, but it was the German military thinker Clausewitz who coined that phrase "the fog of war." There is a lot of fog in war, and the point is we have a plan that will work whether he's alive, whether he's dead, whether he's stunned. And he and his criminal gang really are in their last days.

Q: Obviously, sir, the United States would like to conduct some sort of quick war, shock and awe. On the other hand it is in Iraq's interest or Saddam's interest to drag it on as much as possible, to force you to get bogged down on the outskirts of Baghdad and to say well, this is going to be the Stalingrad for them.

What would happen if the American military managed to decimate the Medina and the (Inaudible.) and the Hammurabi divisions and then nothing happens inside? Would you be forced to get in? I think the last thing the United States would like to do is to get bogged down in a street-to-street fight for Baghdad.

Wolfowitz: I can't speculate about the future course of events. I can say that the parallels to Stalingrad are only in possibly Saddam Hussein's mind. The fundamental difference, if we want to look for one, is the care with which this operation has avoided hitting Iraqi civilians, hitting the civilian infrastructure that they depend on, hitting anything other than those pillars of that regime.

What rallied the Russian people behind Josef Stalin was that they saw a much more evil dictator on the other side. We don't have that problem. I think once the fear of Saddam and his thugs go away, his own people will take care of a lot of the work.

Q: In the last couple of days we've seen military analysts -- obviously it's easy when you are outside the government doing Monday morning quarterbacking.

Wolfowitz: And you have to do a lot of guessing.

Q: Yeah, I know. That the United States managed to, with stunning speed, to reach the outskirts of Baghdad in a few days. Yet they have thin lines, long lines of supplies, that they're exposed to the kind of ambushes that we've seen at Nasiriyah and other places.

What would you say to the argument that you can't accomplish such an endeavor, objectives, with 250,000 men and women and yet Bush 41 deployed half a million troops? Was there a problem with the plan? Is there any second thoughts?

Wolfowitz: There's no problem at all. As a matter of fact, for a little historical perspective it's worth remembering that we brought back 90 percent of what we took over there for Desert Storm. We obviously had a lot more than we needed then. I'm not trying to compare. These are very different missions.

But General Franks emphasized speed and surprise in order to gain some very crucial advantages. He has adequate force. Not only does he have adequate force on the ground, he has the capability to support those forces on the ground with fire from the air that is just orders of magnitude better than what we had ten years ago. We saw some demonstration of that in Afghanistan. In fact I think it's above the level of Afghanistan now in terms of the accuracy and the percentage of our bombs that are precision guided.

Q: Any plans to bring the division that was supposed to go through Turkey to Iraq through Kuwait or from the south?

Wolfowitz: It's coming through the canal right now and it will come around through Kuwait and unload in Kuwait and it will be falling in behind the other divisions that are there.

Q: They will be put in the south to guard the supply lines or --

Wolfowitz: I'm not going to talk about how General Franks will dispose of his people. But there are threats to our supply lines. Again, let's keep it in perspective. It's a bunch of thugs riding around with Toyotas and machine guns, and believe me, they're not going to survive very long in those conditions.

That there was an ambush, yeah, there was an ambush. But this is not--this does not yet qualify as formidable resistance and I'd be surprised if it does.

Q: You spoke about the fog of war. The Iraqis and people in the Arab media are saying that the Americans also are engaged in psychological warfare, they are not being very true, they talk about the fall of Basra and it didn't fall. They talk about Um Qasr, it didn't fall. How do you deal with this? To (Inaudible.) Basra. You want to get in, engage in street fighting and yet you have this humanitarian problem in Basra. How are you going to deal with all these problems? And then you have these elements that you're talking about.

Wolfowitz: I think those elements are the key thing. If there's a little bit of a surprise, I suppose it's the surprise that there are enough of those people still around and that the fear factor is as great as it is. But then when you stop and think about the stories we've heard, that people that were known to be thinking about not fighting for the regime were tied to stakes and had their tongues cut out and bled to death. I mean people are not going to quickly take on that sort of thing.

But again, with the force that we have, the focus has got to be on defeating the Republican Guards and defeating the regime. With respect to the humanitarian situation in Basra, I think we've made some progress. It is not something that was caused by our action. And I don't believe we've ever claimed Basra has fallen. But certainly the forces around Basra have fled.

Q: A little about the future. This is a region that still remembers the old days of the High Commissioner and the British Viceroy and all of that. And the Iraqis are very sensitive about this. They are really fiercely independent. And the sense I'm getting is that nobody wants to be under military rule even for a short period of time.

How are you going to deal with this issue and then, keeping in mind how everybody in the region, in the neighborhood, is watching what you're doing in Iraq. This issues of transition, the quick withdrawal, a representative government. That's a tall order.

Wolfowitz: I think we've demonstrated in so many ways that this is not a country that wants to own other people's territory or own other people's problems for that matter. We really do believe in the power of people to represent their own interests and the power of democracy. And that doesn't mean that democratic governments are always going to do exactly what we want to do.

I was very much involved 20 years ago in supporting the transition in the Philippines that got rid of Ferdinand Marcos and went into a democracy. They kicked us out of our bases, but believe me it was worth the trade to have a democracy in the Philippines instead of that dictatorship.

And I think our record in Northern Iraq ten years ago demonstrates that we will be happy to leave as soon as we can.

Q: There is a widespread view in the Arab world including among (Inaudible.) people who are friendly to the United States, who studied here, that what's happening here really is not necessarily for the people of the region, for Iraq. It's for U.S. strategic interests, to help Israel. People know you by name, they know people like Doug Feith by name and Richard Perle, and they point out that you have strong interests in a hegemonic Israel if you will. They point out letters that you signed in 1988 and [before].

I'm sure you understand these concerns. And also when you talk about reform you are running against a legacy of 50 years when the United States like other European powers supported autocratic Arab regimes and what not.

How do you deal with the Israel thing, with the fact that people, not necessarily you but in government are known for their strong pro-Israeli views. Even people at the White House like Elliot Abrams or Doug Feith here in this building, didn't care even for the first peace process. They even advised the Israeli government to debunk it.

Wolfowitz: Okay. I can't be responsible for everybody's views nor for everything that is attributed to me.

Maybe let's begin at the other end with the Arab-Israeli issue which is a painful running sore for everybody.

I've believed for a long time that peace is the only solution there and have had great hopes--which have sometimes been dashed but still remain--that I think the solution of two states living side by side in peace as the President outlined last June, Israel and a free Palestine, are the solution. I think we came remarkably close to it at the Camp David Summit in 2000. Maybe we were pushing a little too fast. It's a shame that it didn't happen.

I think it's incredibly important. It's important for U.S. national interest to achieve that. And clearly I think important for Arabs and Israelis.

I think it's not an accident that some of the greatest progress that's been made in the last 15 years came after the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 1991 with the Madrid Conference and the Oslo meeting. I hope that with his regime gone we can resume some progress in the peace process.

The issue of the criminal regime in Baghdad is, unfortunately, I have to say, not one that the Israeli government has put at the top of its agenda. This is not an Israeli issue. This is an American issue. And what I guess I'd like to say, especially to your Arab audience, is that they must understand that there are many people in the world-including, surprisingly to me some people who seem to be friends with the Arabs--who suggest in some way that Arabs are not capable of democracy. I've heard that same kind of nonsense about Koreans. I've heard it about Chinese. I've heard it about Indonesians. And I've seen Koreans, I've seen Taiwanese, I've seen Indonesians demonstrate that, in fact, they are quite capable and ready and capable of democracy.

While I'm accused of having too great a hope for what a post-Saddam Iraq can be--and I am prepared for some disappointments--I think the people of Iraq, if they can construct a democratic country, can disprove that notion and it will be a stunning step forward for the whole world, and particularly for the Arab world.

Q: Secretary Wolfowitz, [shukra].

Wolfowitz: [Shukra ganzila].

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