July 18, 2003
Wolfowitz on Visit to Iraq to Assess Rebuilding Effort
By ERIC SCHMITT
AGHDAD, Iraq, July 17 — Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz arrived here today for a five-day tour of Iraq to assess the Bush administration's successes and shortcomings in the postwar reconstruction effort.
"I'm here to understand what is needed to complete the transition to a government and society of, by and for the Iraqi people," Mr. Wolfowitz said in brief remarks to reporters traveling with him, at the airport here.
In the next several days, Mr. Wolfowitz will crisscross the country, meeting with allied troops, Iraqi politicians, American occupation officials and others, to get a firsthand sense of what corrections may be necessary in the postwar strategy. His boss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, visited Baghdad for a day six weeks ago.
A senior administration official said Mr. Wolfowitz's priorities would include security, the economy and Iraq's emerging civilian political structure.
The official said Mr. Wolfowitz planned to spend little time talking to officials engaged in the hunt for unconventional weapons, saying that was now a job for the intelligence agencies. A 1,500-member American team headed by a two-star Army general recently assumed responsibility for the weapons search.
On his arrival, Mr. Wolfowitz immediately launched into meetings with L. Paul Bremer III, the senior American civilian administrator for Iraq; Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez of the Army, the allied ground commander; and their top aides.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Bremer gave a largely upbeat report, saying the newly appointed 25-member Iraqi Governing Council could finish writing a new constitution in the next six to eight months, beginning in September, paving the way for democratic elections.
"You ought to be able to have elections by next year," Mr. Bremer said in an interview at his headquarters here, one of Saddam Hussein's many ornate palaces now occupied by the allies.
Mr. Bremer acknowledged that Iraq had severe unemployment, which he said was much worse than that in the United States during the Great Depression. But he added that the allies were now paying pensions to Iraqi civil servants and stipends to former members of the Iraqi Army, and was taking steps to promote the growth of small businesses and to clear irrigation canals for farmers.
Other allied officials gave a more sobering warning that restoring security, especially in and around Baghdad, and rebuilding Iraq's shattered economy were daunting challenges that would take years. All officials emphasized that the goal was to shift responsibilities to Iraqis.
"Anyone who comes here and thinks this will be an easy ride is mistaken," said Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who is the senior allied adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
Mr. Kerik said the number of joint patrols by Iraqi and American security forces had increased to 1,100 a day from about 75 a day when he arrived seven weeks ago.
But he acknowledged that only 4,000 to 5,000 Iraqi police officers had returned to duty in Baghdad, a quarter of what allied officials say this city of 4.5 million people needs. Mr. Kerik added that virtually all of those officers would have to go through a three-week course to learn patrolling techniques and sensitivity to human rights.
Overall, about 32,000 Iraqi police officers have returned to the job, about half of the nationwide goal, which Mr. Kerik said would take at least 18 months to reach.
Sifting through successes as well as disappointments will be one of the main tasks for Mr. Wolfowitz, one of the principal intellectual architects of the administration's Iraq policy.
This is his first visit to Iraq since the end of the major combat and his third over all, counting two trips he made shortly after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. One was to visit troops withdrawing from Iraq, the other to Kurdish areas in the north. A senior administration official said Mr. Wolfowitz had wanted to come sooner but held off to give Mr. Bremer more time to establish his operation.
Mr. Wolfowitz made no public comments today about the strains on the nearly 150,000 American troops, nor on the latest audiotape purporting to be a recording from Mr. Hussein.
Echoing comments by officials in Washington, Mr. Bremer said it was essential to provide proof of Mr. Hussein's death or capture.
It is needed, he said, to reassure a fearful Iraqi citizenry and to deny a rallying point for Baath Party loyalists and other guerrillas, who continue to attack American troops and Iraqis who cooperate with American officials.
"The enemy has been watching us and they've adapted, and we're adapting to them," said Col. Guy Shields, a spokesman for the military command here.
Colonel Shields said the latest series of raids against remnants of Mr. Hussein's security forces had captured 40 senior officials since the operation started on Sunday.
Mr. Bremer said Iran continued to interfere in fledgling political reconstruction, including Tehran s intelligence service. "It's not possible to rebuild a country if a country's neighbor is trying to pick it apart," he said.