WASHINGTON – Electricity is being fixed, health care is being improved and schools are being upgraded, but security in Iraq (search) remains a cause for anxiety, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) told a House panel on Tuesday.
Wolfowitz and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace (search) gave the House Armed Services Committee an update on progress in Iraq eight days before the transfer of sovereignty. They said the country still has a long way to go to becoming a stable and strong democratic nation, but Iraqi officials are determined to make the changes.
"We didn't break Iraq; Saddam Hussein (search) broke Iraq — broke it in a vicious, horrible way almost beyond imagining. It is going to be a big job to repair it, but ... there is an Iraqi team ready to take charge on July 1st and committed to fixing that damage," Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz toured Iraq last week, and told the committee that during his visit, he was more impressed than ever with the caliber of American troops he met with in Baghdad, Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and Basra. While there, Wolfowitz also met with local Iraqi leaders, including interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search).
During the committee hearing, Wolfowitz was challenged about his emphasis on the positive and failure to discuss the problems there. He responded that it's all a matter of relativity.
"You said I presented an optimistic picture. Maybe it's optimistic compared to the total doom and gloom that one otherwise hears, but I in no way mean to minimize the security problem. I agree with you it is the obstacle to all the other progress that's being made. It is incredibly serious. I gave you a recital of every Iraqi we meet with is under some degree of death threat," he said.
He added that the violence is being pushed by essentially two groups — those who kept Saddam Hussein in power for years his intelligence agents, whom he equated to the Gestapo (search) — and the Fedayeen Saddam (search) troops that "depended for survival on absolute terror."
The deputy secretary then repeated a refrain by several administration officials — that more violence in Iraq can be expected in the weeks ahead. He added that Allawi, who survived an assassination attempt in London by Saddam thugs in 1979, will be the number one target, and it's up to U.S. and coalition forces to help protect him and other members of the interim government.
Wolfowitz said the Iraqis will rely on U.S. forces for a good deal of time, and defined success as the time when the fight against insurgents becomes a fight the Iraqis are prepared to handle alone. Some lawmakers outside the hearing added that efforts made now will bring that to reality more quickly.
"It's unfortunate that so many of the people who are willing to step up to the plate and become Iraqi officials are themselves being attacked by the terrorists," Sen. John Breaux, D-La., told Fox News. "It's a job I am very happy someone is willing to take. It's not one that I would be interested in taking at the rate their being shot at and killed."
Sixty percent of the government, including 15 of 26 ministries has already been handed over to Iraqi leadership and 737 workers now report to Iraqi supervisors. Some lawmakers say that the more Iraqis are in charge, the less violence they expect.
"I think they're making good progress. Is it going to be smooth as glass with no contingent threats and terrorists acts? No, that probably will continue. But as the people see Iraqis take over more and more government decisions, hopefully the situation will improve," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
"Iraqis need to see Iraqis running the Iraqi government," Breaux said "When the average Iraqi citizen sees their own countrymen and women running their own country, I think it's going to make it a lot easier for us to find an exit strategy... The faster we can get Iraqis into places of prominence, the easier it will be for American troops to come back home."
Fox News' Mike Emanuel and Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report.