Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz yesterday told a Senate committee that he doesn’t expect more allies to put troops on the ground in Iraq as long as fighting continues, even if the United Nations is given a greater role.

“[T]hey may say it’s the lack of this or the lack of that or this U.N. resolution. The fact is, this is not peacekeeping, it’s combat. And until it becomes peacekeeping, a lot of countries are probably going to still stay on the sidelines,” Mr. Wolfowitz said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said commanders already have identified U.S. military units that could be sent to Iraq to bolster security in the weeks before the June 30 switch from the U.S.-led coalition to the new Iraqi government.

“In the end, we’re going to have to do what we have to do,” he told the committee. “And we’ll have the authority to do it.”

Gen. Myers said militia loyal to Iraqi Shi’ite Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr and to former elements of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the Sunni-dominated areas of central Iraq are trying to “disrupt progress” toward a new Iraqi government.

Some areas of the country are “still very, very hot,” he added.

The hot areas are what Mr. Wolfowitz, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official, said will prevent more allies from joining the fight and had Secretary of State Colin L. Powell calling leaders of 13 countries to ensure that they honor troop commitments in Iraq.

Spain’s upcoming pullout of 1,300 soldiers and an announcement late Monday that Honduras also plans to withdraw its 370 troops were blows to President Bush’s portrayal of a solid international coalition trying to pacify a chaotic Iraq.

A further blow came last night, when the Dominican Republic announced that it would pull out its 302 troops in Iraq in the coming weeks.

Three dozen other nations have about 24,000 troops in Iraq.

Later at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he does not plan to keep 20,000 U.S. troops who are slated to go home in Iraq. That would leave 115,000 troops in Iraq.

During the hearing — one of five on Iraq scheduled this week at the Capitol — Mr. Wolfowitz denied charges by Democrats that the Bush administration secretly diverted $750 million in funds from the hunt for al Qaeda to plan for war in Iraq.

“The notion that the invasion of Iraq has been on my agenda since 1991 is simply wrong,” he said in response to questioning by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

“Until September 11th, I thought the problem with Saddam Hussein was something that should be dealt with by Iraqis, although I was consistently critical of the lack of American support for those Iraqis who were prepared to liberate their own country,” Mr. Wolfowitz said.

Money was not spent on Iraqi war preparations until after Congress voted in October 2002 to approve the use of force if needed in Iraq, he said.

Earlier, Mr. Kennedy interrupted Mr. Wolfowitz’s opening statement, calling the Defense Department official’s testimony “somewhat disingenuous.”

Mr. Kennedy faulted Mr. Wolfowitz for offering testimony that focused on life under Saddam Hussein’s rule rather than the administration’s rationale for going to war in March 2003, including its accusations that Saddam had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

As for the June 30 turnover of power in Iraq, Mr. Wolfowitz said plans have been drawn up for a two-year, three-phase changeover from the ruling U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority to a new Iraqi government. He said the process will be “daunting” because of the harsh undemocratic rule in Iraq for decades.

“Iraqis will decide to establish the exact provisions of their permanent constitution and who will emerge as the leaders of a new Iraq,” Mr. Wolfowitz said. “Particularly after 35 years of what they’ve been through, it’s a complicated task. But Americans, of all people, should understand that a democracy does not guarantee specific outcomes; it opens up ideas for debate.”

The transition to Iraqi self-government will take place in three phases, said Mr. Wolfowitz. First, an interim government will be set up by July, followed by a second transitional system throughout 2005. Finally, a constitutionally elected government will be set up in January 2006.

The new transitional government will guarantee freedom of religion, press, expression, assembly and movement, he said. The new system in Iraq also will provide “equality under law” and forbid discrimination by religion, ethnicity, gender, race or nationality, Mr. Wolfowitz added. It also will have an independent judiciary and civilian control of the military.

“I am not here to paint a rosy picture or to view this through rose glasses. There are enormous problems,” Mr. Wolfowitz said, noting one major concern is a “blanket of fear” among Iraqis about the future of the country.

State Department Undersecretary Marc Grossman said the administration still is trying to decide what a new U.N. Security Council resolution should include and when would be the best time to introduce it.

“A new resolution should extend a hand to this new Iraqi government,” Mr. Grossman said.

He said the document also could “encourage other nations … to get involved on both security and reconstruction efforts and … could structure a role for the United Nations in this new political framework, particularly in supporting progress toward elections.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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