Jay Garner, the retired U.S. general overseeing Iraq's reconstruction, acknowledged widespread discontent among Iraqis because of the postwar chaos, but predicted: "In a very short order you'll see a change in the attitudes."
"I think things have gone incredibly fast and I think they've gone a lot better than has been portrayed, so I have a good feeling about this," he said on the second day of a visit to northern Iraq's Kurdish region.
Garner's humanitarian work with the Kurds has made him widely respected among them, and his welcome has been far warmer than it was in Baghdad, where he arrived on Monday to begin full-scale establishment of his Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
In 1991, he directed a U.S. military mission to protect hundreds of thousands of Kurds who fled their homes when Saddam Hussein put down an uprising following the 1991 Gulf War.
Garner acknowledged that security in Iraq has yet to be fully established and that discontent among Iraqis is high in the chaotic aftermath of Saddam's fall, with looters pillaging cities and utilities and municipal services barely working, if at all.
Asked how soon life could return to a semblance of normalcy, Garner said, "Everything has to be done in a secure environment and ... I think security is getting better every day."
Anti-American demonstrations have been frequent in Baghdad and the south, but Garner said he believes those passions will cool.
"The majority of people realize we are only going to stay here long enough to start a democratic government for them, we're only going to stay here long enough to get their economy going ... to get their oil flowing back to the people and the revenue back to the people," he said.
In Irbil, the administrative capital of the Kurdish region, Garner was met by Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two main groups in Kurdish Iraq that have often been at odds. A day earlier, Garner visited Sulaymaniyah, the center of support for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and its leader Jalal Talabani.
On Tuesday, Garner praised the Kurds' efforts to establish democracy as a model for all of Iraq. The Kurds formed a regional government in 1991 under the protection of U.S. jets patrolling northern Iraq's no-fly zone.
He skirted discussions of Kurdish desires for independence — a sensitive issue for neighboring Turkey, which fears a possible uprising of its own Kurds — and Talabani said that the Kurds, for now, aspired to be part of a democratic Iraq.
Talabani said a commission would be established to mediate disputes between Arabs and Kurds who were displaced from their homes under Saddam.