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Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense, is widely considered the chief policy architect of the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. On July 7, he spoke with Los Angeles Times correspondents Doyle McManus and Esther Schrader for Global Viewpoint at his Pentagon office.

QUESTION: Some have suggested that one of the reasons for so many problems in Iraq today is that post-war planning didn't start until Gen. (Jay) Garner was hired in January. Didn't the planning start significantly earlier than that?

ANSWER: It did. In the late summer and early fall we had a lot of briefings about the post-war situation, and much of it focused on things that happily didn't happen.

The fact is we put a lot of thought into planning to repair oil fields that we expected to be devastated. We put a lot of thought into how to put out oil fires in the north which would have poisoned the whole environment with hydrogen sulfide. We even prepared contracts for those eventualities.

We also made preparations to feed hundreds of thousands of displaced persons it was feared would be the result of large-scale urban fighting.

None of these things happened because, in the first couple of instances, the enemy didn't have time to react before they were basically undone, and in the second instance because we managed to bring them down without the kind of "fortress Baghdad" disaster that had been so widely predicted.

That we moved so quickly left some problems in its wake, but it also saved a lot of Iraqi as well as American lives. In hindsight, I would not for a minute go back and say, "Gee, we should have gone slower so we could have had more forces built up behind us to control areas that we went past."

Q: How much planning went into the prospect of looting and persistent and crippling attacks on the electrical and oil power grids -- in other words, the things that are facing U.S. forces there today?

A: A lot of CentCom's planning on that score assumed that we would have an effective indigenous police force more or less intact, and that we would even be able to enlist some significant numbers of Iraqi military manpower to help with the security task. Those are assumptions that turned out not to be accurate.

One ought to be clear that planning in a situation like this is not putting together a railway timetable or an exact itinerary. When you get to a situation like we have today, you inevitably have to make some judgment calls. Clearly one of the things that is now getting a lot of priority is training an Iraqi police force.

Q: What about damage to the electricity and water infrastructure? Is that organized?

A: Some of the electricity problems really do look like organized sabotage.

Again, if the war had been longer and bloodier, we wouldn't have so many surviving remnants of the old regime. But I wouldn't make that trade-off.

This is like a large gangland operation that hijacked a whole country for three decades. There are thousands of bitter enders from that group -- not a big percentage in a country of 20 million, but not small, either -- who are clearly hopeful that they can somehow drive us out. They're not going to succeed ....

To some extent we're still dealing with a legacy of 1991 (when rebellious Iraqis expected American help after the Gulf War, but then Saddam cracked down -- ed.) because Iraq is a country where people believe that Saddam is like Dracula, that he has the capacity to keep coming back from the dead. And they need to be convinced of American staying power.

But I think they are being convinced -- both by the combat operations we're conducting now, much more aggressive frontal assaults on the Baathists, and the announcement recently of a $25 million reward for Saddam Hussein.

Q: Many recall your old words about American troops being greeted as liberators, and now we're finding that there's a significant, or at least a troublesome, minority of the population that isn't behaving that way. Did we misunderstand what was going to happen?

A: Look, you have 7,000-8,000 members of Fedayeen Saddam; you have 15,000 members of the Special Security Organization. This is a country that was ruled by a gang of terrorist criminals, and they're still around. They are threatening Iraqis and killing Americans. That doesn't mean the population wants them.

Certainly in the north and in the south, where these people are much less strong, the evidence is very clear. But even in the Sunni areas of the country, the overwhelming preponderance of the population welcomes the change, and we were greeted as liberators. All over the country we were greeted as liberators. We continue to be greeted as liberators.

It is important to convince people that Saddam is finished. He -- or his clique if he's not alive -- is trying to convey the opposite impression.

I do think it's fair to say that we were accurate in our perception of how the population would receive us. I think we were also closer to accurate in what the general effects would be throughout the region in the Arab world. The people who were opposed to this action predicted all kinds of disasters in Arab countries. None of those happened. They predicted that this would somehow destroy the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It's had the opposite effect. They predicted that Turkey would intervene and we'd have trouble with Turkey. That didn't happen.

If you do an inventory of assumptions upon which we operated, we came out pretty well. Part of that is also because Gen. (Tommy) Franks had a plan that emphasized speed, and speed prevents a lot of bad things from happening. It leaves you with some holes you need to fill in behind. I'd much rather fill in the holes than not have had that speedy result.

Q: Could the process of integrating war and post-war plans have begun sooner? Would that have helped to flesh out some of these different scenarios?

A: The things we planned for that didn't happen didn't NOT happen because we made faulty assumptions. They didn't happen because we prevented them. It was not a faulty assumption to be concerned about large numbers of displaced persons. Also, we know that Saddam's regime had explosives rigged to blow up oil fields. But we also know that the speed of our advance and the kinds of warnings that we'd issued had an effect that prevented it from happening.

We know that we got to the oil platforms in the Gulf before they had a chance to rig the explosives. It's amazing, actually, that Gen. Franks was able to achieve surprise in an attack that some people would have said was forecast a year in advance, but that surprise and then the speed following on the surprise prevented these things. It's absolutely wrong to say that we planned on the basis of wrong assumptions. We planned to deal with things that I think were realities.

On the business of looting, it's easy to ask why we didn't have some plan to deal with law and order in a city the size of Los Angeles. The answer is, if we'd waited three more months and given up the surprise and marched slowly and deliberately into Baghdad, we could have marched in with a large enough force to establish security in Baghdad. We got there with what we had. The so-called forces of local law and order just kind of collapsed. There's not a single plan that could have dealt with that.

To be fair, we crossed the Kuwaiti border on March 20. So it is three and a half months since the war began, and less than three months since major combat ended. It's pretty early in the process. We're dealing with 34 years of a devastating, destructive reign of terror, and a lot of what we're coping with is that. So that perspective is needed.

Maybe someday we'll get a better fix on exactly how much of this looting was random lawlessness and how much of it was targeted by elements of the old regime. It would appear now (according reports by National Geographic magazine) that the so-called looting of the National Museum took place long before the war even began. It wasn't looting, it was organized. Further, a lot of the claims that were made at the time about the looting were wildly exaggerated.

(c) 2003, Los Angeles Times/Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 7/15/03)