By THOM SHANKER
The New York Times
June 23, 2004
WASHINGTON, June 22 Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a prime architect of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, said Tuesday that the Pentagon had underestimated the violent tenacity of an insurgency that formed after Baghdad fell, and he acknowledged that the United States may be forced to keep a significant number of troops in Iraq for years to come.
But even under questioning from House Democrats, Mr. Wolfowitz never wavered from an optimistic posture as he cited "enormous progress" in the effort to stabilize Iraq and hand over responsibility for governing and security to the Iraqis.
Mr. Wolfowitz, who just returned from a five-day visit to Iraq, told House Armed Services Committee members that he heard military personnel from the United States and its allies, as well as Iraqi citizens, say the world does not realize the successes achieved as Iraq moves toward sovereignty on June 30.
"It's something we heard almost everywhere from Iraqis, from Americans, from a British general down in Basra," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "It doesn't mean that there aren't serious problems in Iraq; we all know about the problems. But I think that what doesn't get through in all the reporting on problems is there's also been enormous progress."
Mr. Wolfowitz's assessment was challenged by Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the committee's ranking Democrat, who read aloud the administration's goals for Iraq as stated last July, and said they had still not been met.
"The four pillars of this plan were establishing security, restoring essential services, creating conditions for economic development, and enabling the transition to democratic governance," Mr. Skelton said. "It's clear that these goals have not been achieved, at least not to the extent we had hoped, largely because we haven't established security."
Mr. Skelton asked Mr. Wolfowitz whether American forces might be required to remain in Iraq for "a good number of years."
"I think it's entirely possible," Mr. Wolfowitz replied. "But what I think is also nearly certain is the more they step up, and they will be doing so more and more each month, the less and less we will have to do."
Mr. Wolfowitz said Pentagon planners had not counted on the ability of a guerrilla-style resistance to form, operate and grow after the capture of Saddam Hussein and the arrest or killing of his top advisers.
"If you want to say what might have been underestimated, I think there was probably too great a willingness to believe that once we got the 55 people on the blacklist, the rest of those killers would stop fighting," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
During more than three hours of testimony, Mr. Wolfowitz received compliments and support from committee Republicans but dueled with Democrats over an exit strategy for American forces and the quality of intelligence supplied by Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress.
When pressed to address charges that Mr. Chalabi provided false intelligence on Iraq's program for unconventional weapons, which helped form the administration's arguments for war, Mr. Wolfowitz said "nothing in Iraq is black and white."
But he said American military commanders told him that "some of the intelligence that his organization has provided us has saved American lives and enabled us to capture some key enemy targets."
Mr. Wolfowitz also defended the Bush administration's assessment that American intelligence had evidence of contacts between Al Qaeda and the Hussein government.
Mr. Hussein's Iraq was "a state that had contacts of a murky but ominous sort with Al Qaeda," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "The mere fact of contact is disturbing."
Committee members also pressed Mr. Wolfowitz about a mismatch between individual battlefield successes and a lack of political progress.
"I'm deeply concerned about a precipitous withdrawal of troops, for whatever reason, in the short term, if we don't achieve a political end-state that is satisfactory to the American people," said Representative Ellen O. Tauscher, Democrat of California.
Mr. Wolfowitz offered reassurances, saying "what terrifies the enemy the most is the prospect of an elected Iraqi government." He said the administration's plan for bringing stability to Iraq is based on passing sovereignty to an interim government by July 1; training and equipping Iraqi security forces; moving to an elected government late this year or early next year; seeking additional international forces; and forming a constitutionally elected government by the end of 2005.
"I would hope five years from now we see an Iraq that has more or less effectively defeated this enemy," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "It doesn't mean that terrorism will be gone."