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Regional Media Interviews with Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
November 13, 2003

(Interview with Don Shelby, WCCO-TV, Minneapolis.)

 

     Q:  The speed up of the transition of power to the Coalition government, Mr. Secretary, suggests a couple of things.  One, that the U.S. government is ready to make that move.  Two, it suggests to others that perhaps we have miscalculated our stay.  What is your position?

 

     Wolfowitz:  No, from the very beginning our goal was to achieve as rapid a transition as possible to Iraqi responsibility and in many fields, and we can come back and talk about some of the others in a few minutes, like security.  But, with respect to governance, as they call it, or government, what really has happened in the last few days, last few weeks has been -- I think, I don't want to over-promise here, but I think a kind of a break-through in what was a bit of a logjam for the last couple of months over what was the way forward.  There was a very prominent moderate Shi’a cleric who said we can't have a constitutional convention unless the members of the convention are chosen by direct elections.  That, to us, meant an extremely long delay because setting up an election process in Iraq would probably be a one-year proposition to have a really good election.

    

What happened in the last few weeks was some ideas put forward by leaders in the Iraqi Governing Council to Ambassador Bremer, which Ambassador Bremer brought back here to Washington the day before yesterday.  I think we have some very good ideas for moving forward now.

 

     Q:  Does the U.S. government have a position, does the Pentagon and State?  And I’m not asking you to speak for State.  But, is there a position for the U.S. government about what form the government ought to take in a pre-election?   Is there any concern that this may turn into an Islamic Republic?

 

     Wolfowitz:  I think we as a country have some important interests in how Iraq turns out, but I think we have to distinguish between the sort of broad principles which -- or, as some people like to call them, the red lines - that are critical to us, and all those sort of details that are most appropriately can only be decided by Iraqis.  Iraqis have to write their constitution, but I think we need to have a consensus between us and the Iraqis that that has to be a government that provides for a unified country.  It's very important for the stability of that region that Iraq remain a single country.  I think it's very important to Americans, and particularly the memory of those people who died to liberate Iraq that it remains a free country in which basic rights of individuals are respected.  Clearly that means religious tolerance.  Whether it means exactly our view of what the relation is between religion and the states, I think we have to acknowledge that we have one view, our friends in England have a very different view.  They have an official religion, but they certainly have freedom of religion in every sense that we could ask for it.

 

     And my experience, talking even with very devout Shi’a Muslim leaders in Iraq, I think these are people who have suffered so much under a tyrant that they are very sensitive to any new form of tyranny, and I think we can come to that kind of agreement with them.

 

     Q:  Thank you Mr. Secretary.

 

     Wolfowitz:  Thank you.

 

(Interview with Michael Putney, WPLG-TV, Miami.)

 

     Q:  Let me begin if I can, Mr. Secretary.  We see today that Japan refuse to commit troops for Iraq and South Korea is capping its contribution at 3,000 soldiers.  How are we going to pacify and reconstruct Iraq if countries like Japan and South Korea don’t really give us a substantial number of troops to help ours?

 

     Wolfowitz:  Well, we do want to bring in as much international help as we can.  We already have over 23,000 international troops as part of the coalition and they're making big contributions.  The whole southern part of the country is now under the command of a British division and a Polish-led multinational division.  So, we're getting a lot of help.  We'd like more.  Japan, by the way, was never a country that we counted on providing very much.  Japan has still a very tentative attitude towards anything that has to do with the military, but the important point is that we are getting enormous support from the people who matter most, and that's the Iraqi people.  We now have over 100,000 Iraqis fighting for their freedom, fighting for their country either in the police force, in the new army, in the Civil Defense Corps, in the border guards, or in something called the Facilities Protection Service.  And they're fighting and they're dying, in some cases.  They've prevented a great many terrorist acts, they've done many things that have protected our troops, they've taken on missions from our troops, which is a welcome relief.  So, those are the people who care most about the future of Iraq and they're ready to fight for it.

 

     Q:  Mr. Wolfowitz, speaking of the Southern part of the country, there was this horrific incident yesterday in Nasiriyah down in the South, which is suppose to be a supposedly a more pacified area than the Sunni Triangle.  When I spoke to -- gave a speech last night to a group of about 200 influential people here in Miami, they asked me about that incident and they said, “Are we in another Vietnam, because it looks like a quagmire to us?”  What would you say to those people?

 

     Wolfowitz:  Well I would say it is completely different as best we can determine it.  These people are operating in the shadows.

 

     But it looks as though -- well let me start with something that I think Americans can understand. It only took two criminal minds -- Timothy McVeigh and his friend Terry Nichols -- to kill 150 people in Oklahoma City, and I always thought Oklahoma was a pretty stable part of the country.

 

     The fact that these criminals could kill Italian policemen in Nasiriyah only means that they have, I don’t know, 10 or 20 people and someone ready to commit suicide.

 

     You can't prevent everything like that.  The British have had terrible terrorism problems from the IRA.

 

     But one of the essential points here when people talk about Vietnam, the Iraqi people are with us.  What we're dealing with us are the Saddam Hussein loyalists.  I don't know whether it's 500 or 1000 or several thousand.  It's enough people to do a great deal of damage.

 

     But remember, for 35 years, these people were murdering and torturing and killing in that country.  They have everything to lose if freedom wins in Iraq, but freedom is going to win.  The Iraqi people are with us.  That is a fundamental difference.

 

     Q:  Sir, late last month, you had an incident yourself when you were at the Al-Rasheed Hotel and it came under a mortar and, I guess, rocket attack.

 

     Wolfowitz:  It was rockets.

 

     Q:  It was rockets?  And as you well know, obviously, an American officer died, 16, I think, were wounded.   Did going through that experience in some way, I’m sure it must have informed your view of how difficult it is in Iraq.  Would you mind talking a little bit about that incident and how it changed your mind, how it affected you?

 

     Wolfowitz:  Well it didn't change my mind, it told me what I knew already which is that Iraq is a dangerous place, that it's dangerous for not only our military but for our civilians who are real heroes there.  And it's dangerous for Iraqis who are fighting with us by the tens of thousands.  But it's dangerous for anybody who takes on this Saddam Hussein gang that is still trying to come back into power.

 

     The thing that was most impressive to me and, indeed, very moving, was to go to the hospital that afternoon to meet with the five seriously-wounded who were in the hospital -- By the way, it was four civilians, one military; four men, one woman; four Americans, one British.  It was very representative of the people who are working there in the Coalition Provisional Authority.  Every one of the five, the four Americans and the Brit, believed in the mission.  I didn't hear a single one say, “I wish I hadn't been here.”  The State Department secretary, the woman, who had just been there two weeks, had come from Guatemala.  I said, “Are you sorry you volunteered?”  She said, “Absolutely not.  This is very important work we're doing.”  That's the message to me as we have heroes in every line of work here.  It is heroic work and it is very important not only for the future of Iraq, but for the future of our country and the world.

 

     Q:  And finally Mr. Wolfowitz let me ask you this question.  Before the United States went into Iraq I believe you as did indeed Vice President Cheney told Congress and told the American people that you believe that Iraqis were going to be out on the streets to embrace the Americans as their liberators from a very brutal regime.   And while surely some have, it is has not been what you and others predicted.

 

     Wolfowitz:  I'm sorry, that's not true.  The Iraqis in overwhelming numbers have welcomed us as liberators.  I was just walking the streets of Kirkuk.  It's a city of roughly a million people up north.  We were literally mobbed on the streets by Arabs and Kurds saying thank you for getting rid of Saddam.  One little ten year old came up and said to me in Arabic, and it was translated, "Saddam is a donkey."

 

     Look, you can't have a regime that put 300,000 people in mass graves, murdered maybe half a million to a million Iraqis, and not have people welcome you.

 

     Just think back to those scenes in Baghdad when the statues came down in April.  Think of the celebrations that took place the night that Uday and Qusay were killed.  What we are dealing with is some number, and it may be in the thousands, but in a big country that's not a huge number, of murderers and killers from the Saddam Hussein regime who are now organizing to kill Americans and to kill Iraqis who are standing up for freedom, hoping that they can bring back that terrible regime.  And there are a lot of Iraqis now who are afraid of that.  The intimidation is a real factor.  But there is no question but that Iraqis want their freedom, want us to stay to help them gain their freedom.

 

     Q:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much and next time you come to Miami I’d love to have you on a show I do every Sunday morning.  Thank you very much.

 

     Wolfowitz:  Well, I love any excuse to come to Miami.  I'll look for one.  Thank you.

 

     Q:  Thank you.

 

(Interview with Mike Landess, KMGH-TV, Denver.)

 

     Q:  All right Mr. Deputy Secretary, we’re ready to go, you ready to go?

 

     Wolfowitz:  Yes, indeed.

 

     Q:  Thank you for joining us this afternoon, Sir.

 

     Wolfowitz:  My pleasure.

 

     Q:  With the proposed elections in Iraq in the first half of next year, shouldn’t we expect to see some stepped up attacks by Saddam loyalists?  And what could we do about it?

 

     Wolfowitz:  Well, you're absolutely right.  Every time something goes well, they target it.  They are trying to target success.  They're trying to drag Iraq back into the dark ages from which it has emerged.

 

     There are many things we can do to deal with it.  We are pursuing some very effective offensive tactics against the enemy, including - I know there are some real heroes out there from Colorado, from elements of the 4th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Carson.  We've got a lot of civilian heroes helping us, but we also, and this is important, I don't think the American people appreciate how many Iraqis are fighting for their own country.

 

     We have now over 100,000 Iraqis in the police, in the Civil Defense Force, in the army, who are standing up and fighting for the freedom of their country and frequently losing their lives.  It's a risky business.  It's going to be a risky business to protect elections, as you correctly point out.  But there is only one way, and that's forward.

 

     Q:  Earlier today, General John Abizaid said there are no more than 5,000 insurgents and most of them are the most dangerous group being the Saddam loyalist.  Has our ability to develop intelligence sources in Iraq improved to the point that we can make some headway against the insurgents?

 

     Wolfowitz:  We are making headway and I think our capability is improving.  I wouldn't say they're standing still, either.  They're figuring out more devilish ways to attack.  But, ultimately, these guys are losers, they’re hated by their people, they’re real killers and they will do anything.

 

     But, I think the key to defeating them are the effective tactics that our own military is using; and number two, increasingly, getting Iraqis in the field.  Because Iraqis are just, by virtue of knowing the country, speaking the language, knowing their neighbors, are going to be able to get the best possible intelligence.

 

     Q:  With Operation Iron Hammer, aren’t we in somewhat of a slippery slope in trying to weed out the insurgents and not inflict injury or death on innocent?

 

     Wolfowitz:  It's always a dilemma in war and it's one of the reasons why one has got to prefer peace.  But we go to very great lengths to be discreet in how we target, to not target innocents.  We certainly wouldn't want, in the course of capturing our present enemies, to create new enemies.

 

     That's another reason why we want to have as many Iraqis in the field with us, because when they interact with the population, they're less likely to make a mistake, and if they make a mistake, it's going to be argument between Iraqis and not Americans and Iraqis.

 

     Q:  Recent political cartoon shows a politician claiming that Iraq is not another Vietnam and then another voice says it’s more like the West Bank.  Does it feel that way sometimes?

 

     Wolfowitz:  I think no, it's not the West Bank.  It's a country that's emerged from 35 years of a literally sadistic regime that was responsible for maybe a million Muslim deaths, and murdered and tortured and raped without regard to race, religion or national origin.  All Iraqis were persecuted by that regime.  It's not one that enjoys any kind of broad, popular support, but they have terrorized people for a long time.  They continue to terrorize people.  And in some insignificant parts of the country, people are scared of these folks, but we'll win.

 

     Q:  Any significance to the idea that we would have elections before we get the constitution done?  That’s the proposal, as I understand it.

 

     Wolfowitz:  Well, we're still working out, what happened this week was that Ambassador Bremer, in his discussions with the Iraqi Governing Council, I think they achieved some real breakthroughs in terms of how to move forward.  We had a little bit of a dilemma because one very prominent Iraqi leader, a Shi’a Muslim, had said it was absolutely critical that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention be the product of a national election.  That would have slowed things down a great deal.  People have worked in ingenious ways to figure out a way forward, and I think we'll come up with something here.

 

     Q:  Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, thank you very much, sir.

 

     Wolfowitz:  Thank you.

 

(Interview with Adam Shapiro, WEWS-TV, Cleveland.)

 

     Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, you’re talking with Adam Shapiro from WEWS in Cleveland, Ohio.  Thank you for joining us.

 

     Wolfowitz:  It's good to be with you.

 

     Q:  My question for you is, the Financial Times of London is running an article tomorrow quoting President Bush as saying the United States will not pull out of Iraq until Saddam Hussein is captured.  Is this accurate?

 

     Wolfowitz:  What I do know is, we are in Iraq until those people can stand on their own feet with a free country.  And more and more Iraqis are standing up and fighting for their freedom alongside Americans.  Fighting and dying, unfortunately, but fighting.

 

     There are roughly 100,000 Iraqis today in the various security forces -- the police, the Civil Defense Corps, the border guards and the army.  They're making a big difference.  We're going to have more with us - we have more coming every day.

 

     We also, I think, have a real breakthrough now that Ambassador Bremer has achieved in his discussions with the Iraqi Governing Council to begin to have a process that moves forward toward elections and Iraqi self-government.

 

     Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, are you aware of what the President has said, though?  That the United States will not leave Iraq or Afghanistan until both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are captured?  This is the quote from the Financial Times.

 

     Wolfowitz:  I am not aware of the quote.  Obviously, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are both major targets of ours.  It's very important to get both of them.

 

     Beyond that, it is also very important that both Afghanistan and Iraq should remain free countries, should become stronger, should never again revert to countries that are supporters of terrorism.

 

     Q:  The top general in the region in Iraq, John Abizaid, has said that there are no more than 5,000 insurgents today in Iraq.  What’s it going to take for us to capture them, eliminate them and stabilize Iraq?

 

     Wolfowitz:  Remember, it doesn't take a lot of people to do this kind of terrible damage.  We had two criminal individuals who killed 150 people in Oklahoma City a few years ago.  That's the scale of effort required to do horrible damage.  So, 3,000 people can make a lot of trouble and it's going to take time to root them out.

 

     But, I think a key to doing it is increasingly to transfer that responsibility to Iraqis.  As I said, more and more Iraqis are ready to take on that role.  It is their country.  They're ready to fight for it and they will.

 

     Q:  Shouldn’t we be concerned, though, about transferring control and arms to the very men that we defeated in the original war - members of the Ba’ath Party, members of the Army -- the Iraqi Army?

 

     Wolfowitz:  Well, don't paint with too broad a brush.  The 5,000 or so that General Abizaid referred to are the inner core of that regime that raped and murdered and tortured and abused Iraq for 35 years, and those people are fighting because they have everything to lose if it becomes a free country.

 

     Most Iraqis welcome freedom and the few that may be on the fence, I think, will reconcile themselves to a future of freedom.  It's those 5,000 killers that we have to go after.

 

     Q:  Regarding the policy of pre-emption.  Are we concerned about Syria and the insurgents who are coming in from Syria and working with these insurgents in Iraq?  And, if so, would we be taking action against Syria at some point in the future, not necessarily militarily, but some other action?

 

     Wolfowitz:  We're very concerned about the foreign killers that are coming in through Syria or through other means.  Clearly, we want the Syrians to do everything they can to shut down that kind of flow.  We're also taking very tough measures on the Iraqi side of the border, we and the Iraqis, to kill and capture those people as they come across.

 

     Q:  My last question for you.  Why can’t the most powerful nation on earth the United States capture Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein?

 

     Wolfowitz:  We will, but think about how long it took us to capture that murderer from the abortion clinics who was hiding in the mountains of North Carolina for, I don't know how many years.

 

     Just because we can do some amazing things, and we are a very powerful country, there are other things that can be very difficult.  Rooting out terrorists is one of those things that is difficult. The British took many years to bring the IRA terrorism under control.  And it's going to be a long, difficult campaign that's going to extend many years before we can say that another 9/11 is not something to worry about.

 

     I think Americans -- I guess it's a virtue.  We can be impatient at times, but I think in this case, we want to get as many results as we can as quickly as possible, but we have to recognize it's going to take a long time.

 

     Q:  Dr. Wolfowitz, thank you very much for giving us your time this evening, and even if you are a Cornell grad, that’s okay with me, as a Syracuse grad.

 

     Wolfowitz:  It's a great part of the country.  We thought of Cleveland as Western New York, so it's good to talk to you.

 

     Q:  Thank you very much Dr. Wolfowitz.  Take care.

 

     Wolfowitz:  Thank you.


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