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Updated: 25 Feb 2003
Image of Pentagon oval, linked to DoD News page United States Department of Defense
On the web: http://www.pentagon.gov/speeches/2003/sp20030223-depsecdef0042.html
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Town Hall Meeting with Iraqi-American Community

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Dearborn, MI, Sunday, February 23, 2003.

Thank you, Emad [Dhia, outgoing president of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, host organization of event], and thanks, Maha [Hussein, incoming president of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy]. Thanks to all of you for joining us today. I've brought some people with me who will be available afterwards to help explain further what we can do together to face tasks ahead: Dr. David Chu, the Chief Personnel Officer for the Department of Defense; and Lieutenant General Michael DeLong, Deputy Combatant Commander of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for operations around the Arabian Peninsula.

Critical decisions about the future of Iraq lie ahead. I've come here not just to speak to you but, just as important, to hear from you-Americans with roots in Iraq and more recent immigrants who are not yet citizens-you have a stake in Iraq's future. And because you know firsthand the truth of Saddam Hussein's regime, it's important that we and the rest of the world hear from you.

The President is clearly in the final stages of determining whether there can be a peaceful solution to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein or whether the use of force will be necessary.

The President confronts some very difficult decisions in the coming days and weeks, and I know you all join me in praying for him and for his continued courage in confronting the serious threat posed by a dictator who possesses weapons of mass terror and who supports terrorists.

But while there are decisions now that only President Bush can decide, it is not too early for the rest of us to be thinking about how to build a just, peaceful and democratic Iraq after Saddam Hussein is gone. In fact, we in the Administration have already begun doing so, and if you have not had a chance yet, I encourage you to read the speech that Stephen Hadley, the Deputy National Security Advisor, delivered last Wednesday in New York.

As I said, I've come here to listen to you, not just to speak to you. But let me start our discussion by briefly touching on five subjects:

  • What are the principles that ought to shape the future of a post-Saddam Iraq, principles that can be broadly agreed upon by the Iraqi people themselves, the United States and the broader international community?
  • What are some of the key issues that the Iraqi people will face in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's regime and how can the international community best assist Iraqis to answer those questions?
  • What kinds of assistance should the international community be prepared to provide to meet the immediate needs of the Iraqi people?
  • How will democracy take root in Iraq?
  • How can Iraqi-American citizens or Iraqis who have recently immigrated to the United States assist the U.S. military in the aftermath of a forcible removal of the Saddam Hussein regime?

Principles to Shape Iraq After Saddam

In the speech I spoke of earlier, Steve Hadley, the President's Deputy National Security advisor said this: "The goal-which we are confident we share with Iraq's people-is an Iraq that is whole, free, and at peace with itself and its neighbors. An Iraq that is moving toward democracy, in which all religions and ethnic communities have a voice and in which individual rights are protected-regardless of gender, religion, or ethnicity. An Iraq that adheres to the rule of law at home and lives up to its international obligations."

I'd like to summarize briefly, the principles of the U.S. government. They are:

  • First-and this is really the overarching principle-the United States seeks to liberate Iraq, not occupy Iraq.
  • Second-Iraq must be disarmed of all weapons of mass terror, weapons production capabilities, and the means to deliver such weapons. This is a complex and dangerous task for which detailed planning is underway.
  • Third-we must eliminate Iraq's terrorist infrastructure.
  • Fourth-Iraq must be preserved as a unified state, with its territorial integrity intact. The United States and coalition allies will provide for the safety of the Iraqi people from day one.
  • Fifth-with coalition partners, we must help the Iraqi people begin process of economic and political reconstruction.

Key Issues Iraqis Must Confront

In moving toward that goal, there are many questions that Iraqis themselves must answer:

  • Democratic institutions need to secure not only free elections but also individual freedom and equal justice under law. But, Iraqis need to answer the question: what institutions are best suited to secure freedom and democracy in Iraq?
  • Recognizing that democratic institutions cannot come into being overnight, how quickly should the transition to democratic self-government take place and in what stages?
  • How to ensure the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq while providing the appropriate level of local self-government? This is an issue the United States confronted in the framing of our Constitution. While our answers have worked well for us, Iraqis have to find their own answers suited to Iraq's unique circumstances.
  • How to strike a balance between accounting for past injustices without creating new animosities and new sources of conflict?

The answers to these questions are not for America or the international community to dictate. Iraqis need to answer for themselves. As it says in the Quran, Sura 13, Verse 11, "Surely God does not change the condition of a people, until they change their own condition." Today I hope you will share your thoughts with us-and the American people-about these important subjects.

What the International Community Must be Prepared to Do

While Iraqis must confront many issues and challenges, they will not be alone. The international community must be prepared to do its share to help Iraq in the process of liberating the Iraqi people and setting them immediately on the road to recovery.

Should military force be needed to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein, the U.S. and its partners will make every effort to avoid hurting non-combatants and to spare infrastructure that free Iraqis will need to rebuild their nation.

Our concern for the safety of Iraq's people will begin not on the day hostilities end, but on day one. The United States and the international community will work to ensure the rapid flow of humanitarian relief and the rapid start of economic reconstruction efforts, which we've already begun discussing with UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, and other governments – there are plans and there have been initial deployments.

When Saddam Hussein and his regime are but a memory, the United States will be committed to helping the Iraqi people establish a free, prosperous and peaceful Iraq that serves as a beacon for the region. We know that to arrive at these goals, there is no greater engine than the industrious and well-educated people of Iraq themselves. Along with our coalition partners, we would help Iraqis begin the process of economic and political reconstruction. We would assist the people of Iraq in putting their country on a path towards prosperity and freedom.

If the President should decide to use force, let me assure you again that the United States would be committed to liberating the people of Iraq, not becoming an occupation force. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld further clarified this point when he said that "if the United States were to lead an international coalition in Iraq-and let there be no doubt it would be a very large one-it would be guided by two commitments." These two commitments, in Secretary Rumsfeld's words: "Stay as long as necessary, and leave as soon as possible."

Democracy-Possible in Iraq?

There are some who ask the question: Is democracy possible in Iraq?

There are even some who doubt that democracy could ever take root in the Arab world. Here's my response to the critics:

Look to the people of northern Iraq. Beyond the reach of Saddam Hussein and his regime for a decade, they've shown an impressive ability to manage longstanding differences and develop relatively free and prospering societies.

Look to the Iraqi-Americans here today and throughout this country and see how quickly they have adapted to a democratic system.

And, finally, I would say to these doubters, look to the Iraqi people's long yearning for representative government and their long suffering under one of the most oppressive dictatorships the world has known. Perhaps more than any people, they have been inoculated against tyranny.

As you know, the values of freedom and democracy are not just Western values or European values. They are Muslim and Asian values as well. Indeed, they are universal values. They are the bridge that spans civilization.

That's my answer to the critics. But, in the end, you can answer the question much better than I can-is Iraq capable of democracy? Today, I hope you'll tell us your answers to that question.

How You Can Help

As Iraqi-Americans or as recent immigrants, you have a great stake in the outcome in Iraq. Many of you here today know the cruelties of the current Baathist regime firsthand. It is important that other Americans, and indeed the entire world, also understand the atrocities of this regime. As I have said many times, Saddam Hussein's regime is one that not only supports the use of terror against its neighbors, but against its own people as well. Your personal experiences underscore why liberation is needed, and why it is a just and noble cause.

We know you want to be part of this cause. And there is an urgent need for your talents. For those of you who would like to work with the U.S. government and with our coalition partners in the reconstruction of Iraq and in assisting Iraqis in the building of free institutions, there are a number of ways that you can help. Let me briefly outline how and the people with me can describe them further.

You can help the U.S. military as civilians. We're establishing a program through which Iraqi-Americans could be hired as temporary civilian employees or, in some cases, individual contractors of the U.S. government. We're also making arrangements for Iraqi-Americans and others to be employed by contractors to serve in areas such as translating and in other specialized functions.

You can join the U.S. military. We're launching a separate initiative to encourage Iraqi-Americans to join the U.S. military as part of the Individual Ready Reserve-that's something that Dr. Chu and General DeLong can tell you more about after our discussion. In this program, you can serve as an integrated part of the U.S. military. This program would take advantage of your professional skills in a wide variety of areas, while also capitalizing on your understanding of local languages and culture.

You can join the Free Iraqi Force. Working closely with Iraqi opposition groups, we've launched a program to train free Iraqis to support military operations inside Iraq. If war becomes necessary, the Free Iraqi Force will be integrated with U.S. forces to serve as guides, translators, and experts on civil affairs. After a conflict, the skills and local knowledge of these forces will help to rebuild Iraq. Training has begun at a military base in Hungary. U.S. military members working with recruits praise their courage and dedication. This force is open to Iraqis around the world, not just those in the United States.

You can help improve public understanding by telling your story-in Iraq, in America, and around the world. You can help the American people understand what the stakes are here.

Recently, I gave a speech in New York city in which I talked about a man named Barham Salih, a very brave and distinguished Iraqi Kurdish leader, who has spoken recently about the dream of the Iraqi people. He said, "In my office in Suleymaniyah, I meet almost every day some traveler who has come from Baghdad or other parts of Iraq. Without exception, they tell me of the continuing suffering inflicted by the Iraqi regime, of the fearful hope secretly nurtured by so many enslaved Iraqis for a free life, for a country where they can think without fear and speak without retribution."

Since the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, the policy of the U.S. government is that Saddam Hussein and his regime must go. Today, in President Bush, we have a president who is serious about that policy-serious about seeing the current regime out of Baghdad, and out of the lives of the Iraqi people who've been made to suffer so much for so long.

The President understands Iraq's present enslavement by fear and he has spoken many times about the suffering inflicted on a population by a man he calls "a student of Stalin." The President also understands the hope of the Iraqi people-your hope.

You, Iraqi-Americans, can help the rest of America and the world understand the suffering of the Iraqi people-and most of all, help us understand the unrelenting fervor of a people's hope for a future of freedom and justice.

We may someday look back on this moment in history as the time when the world defined itself for the 21st Century-not in terms of geography or race or religion or culture or language, but in terms of values-the values of freedom and democracy.

We will remember proudly the part you played in this defining moment.