- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz came under fire yesterday from lawmakers worried that the gelid pace of reform in Iraq threatens to undermine the military victory and derail the long-term political success of the country.

Mr. Wolfowitz countered that overhauling a regime as entrenched as that of Saddam Hussein was by its nature a messy business, and insisted the United States should not be held to “a standard of unachievable perfection.”

“Assertions that we are already failing,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “reflect both an incomplete understanding of the situation as it existed in Iraq before the war and an unreasonable expectation of where we should be now.”

Both Republicans and Democrats — concerned over problems in the postwar reconstruction effort and uncertain about the final cost of getting Iraq back on its feet, appeared unmoved by Mr. Wolfowitz’ arguments.

“I am concerned that the administration’s initial stabilization and reconstruction efforts have been inadequate. The planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican.

“Victory is at risk unless we ensure that effective postconflict stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Iraq succeed over the long term,” he warned.

Mr. Lugar said he was reassured by Mr. Wolfowitz’s declarations that the United States would stay the course, although he could not say how many years or how many troops it would take to produce a politically stable and free Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz said the necessary conditions for Iraqi political forces to take control of the country from coalition forces were not yet present.

“The most urgent requirement remains the creation of stable and secure conditions,” he said, adding that even officials from the Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Baghdad could not walk freely in the city without risk of coming under attack.

The U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said on Wednesday that the creation of an Iraqi interim government would be delayed more than a month, until mid-July.

The deputy secretary came under a blistering attack from Sen. Joseph R. Biden, Delaware Democrat, for the apparent inability of the administration to simultaneously secure the military environment and police the cities.

“Gentlemen, I don’t know why we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time,” he snapped.

“The longer it takes us to restore law and order, the more likely it is the Iraqis will turn to extremist solutions,” added Mr. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the panel.

“When is the president going to tell the American people that we’re likely to be in the country of Iraq for three, four, five, six, eight, 10 years, with thousands of forces and billions of dollars?”

Mr. Wolfowitz pointed out that many potential problems had been averted. Few oil wells were destroyed and there is no food, health or refugee crisis, he said.

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