WASHINGTON – As the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq over the last eight days grew to 14 on Sunday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) said on Fox News Sunday that he doesn't think American support for the mission there will decrease and stressed that good intelligence is key to catching Saddam Hussein and rebuilding the country.
"This is a war that’s going to be won not by smothering the country with individual guard posts (but) by better and better intelligence," Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz said he was unsure whether the recent upsurge in American combat deaths represented a trend or was merely a spike triggered by the killing last week of two sons of deposed President Saddam Hussein (search). In either case, the defense secretary said he does not believe the mounting death toll will erode Americans’ support for restoring stability to Iraq.
"Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism" and is vital for the safety of the United States, the Pentagon’s second-ranking official added, hours after returning from the war-ravaged country.
"The reports of deaths are terrible. Any American death is a terrible thing," Wolfowitz said. "But I think the American public understands that when you're fighting a war against terrorists, when you're fighting for the security of this country, that sacrifice is something that you'd have to expect."
There were 13 deaths in the seven days ending Saturday, in one of the bloodiest weeks since the war began. Another soldier died Sunday.
"The sacrifices that our troops are making are spectacular. It's difficult conditions, it's dangerous conditions, and it takes a lot of ingenuity to figure out how to do some of these civil military things they're doing," Wolfowitz said.
"But it is a sacrifice that is going to make our children and our grandchildren safer, because the battle to win the peace in Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism, and what these troops are doing — and they understand the mission — is something that's going to make our country safer."
"What has definitely also taken place, though, is a real increase in the amount of information that we're getting from Iraqis," he said. "And intelligence was improving even before Monday, and I think it's improved since then."
He said gathering information is a problem for the occupation forces partly because of the nature of the enemy, not only in Iraq but everywhere since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
There is "a great deal of false information planted all over the place," Wolfowitz said. "I think the lesson of 9/11 is that if you're not prepared to act on the basis of murky intelligence, then you're going to have to act after the fact, and after the fact now means after horrendous things have happened to this country."
While he insisted the occupation was going well, Wolfowitz also said, "I don't want to paint a rosy picture; there are real problems. The security problem is real, and the security problem is making it difficult to solve other problems like getting the power and electricity restored."
He compared the occupation with the postwar occupation of a devastated Europe in the 1940s.
"If you look at the history of the World War II occupation, which goes down as one of the great accomplishments, they were constantly changing their plan because the plan encounters reality," he said.
"When you encounter reality, you have to adjust. That's the nature of planning. It's not the kind of thing where you can construct it like a railway timetable and proceed in a clockwork fashion."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.