Tikrit Tests Plan A
By David Ignatius
Sunday, October 26, 2003; Page B07
TIKRIT, Iraq -- Paul Wolfowitz, regarded by many as the intellectual architect of the Iraq war, spent Friday night here in Saddam Hussein's hometown. That seemed a small American victory in a conflict that has seen too few lately.
"Tikrit is important symbolically, because even in this Baathist stronghold, there is now a provincial council that was elected by secret ballot," the deputy secretary of defense said after a dinner with U.S. military commanders. He went off to bed in the marble-crusted opulence of one of Hussein's palaces, which is now the local headquarters of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division.
Early Sunday morning, despite the shelling of his hotel in Baghdad, Wolfowitz seems as passionate as ever for remaking Iraq as powerful as it was the day U.S. troops invaded. But he speaks of it now as a job for Iraqis, not Americans. His theme, repeated at nearly every stop, is that the United States must accelerate the transfer of responsibility for Iraq's security and economic affairs to the Iraqi people.
To achieve that rapid transfer of power, Wolfowitz is pushing to train five security forces: the New Iraqi Army, which should total 40,000 by next summer; a revitalized Iraqi police; a new corps of border guards; a Facilities Protection Service to guard vulnerable oil pipelines and other infrastructure, and a new 22,000-member Iraqi Civil Defense Corps that would operate like the National Guard in America. The only way to field all these security forces quickly, Wolfowitz has concluded, is to recruit elements of the old Iraqi army. "There will be no prejudice against hiring officers of the former army if they have clean records, and I believe the vast majority do," he said during a stop. Wolfowitz describes the Iraqis themselves as the second-largest contributor to the U.S.-led multinational force; more than 80,000 Iraqis are serving in the various security forces, he says, and 82 have been killed in action since June 1.
He visited a police station and a civil defense training center Saturday, as if to underscore that it's their job to stabilize Iraq.
Building up Iraqi security forces is Plan A for eventually withdrawing U.S. troops, but it isn't clear that Wolfowitz has a good Plan B. Hopes have faded for a broad multinational force.
Wolfowitz recognizes that although Turkey has offered to send troops, deployment is now a delicate issue, given the strong opposition from Iraqis. The important thing is that the Turks offered to send troops, he feels; deploying them might pose too many risks.
Wolfowitz was glowing when he walked the streets of Kirkuk in northern Iraq Saturday. Though the town has been the scene of many attacks on U.S. troops, Wolfowitz removed his military helmet as he greeted astonished shopkeepers and townspeople. "Is that George Bush?" asked one puzzled Iraqi. "We have to do it together," Wolfowitz told a gathering of Sunni Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen religious leaders in Kirkuk. "We can't do it for you, and you can't do it yourselves."
A benchmark for evaluating postwar Iraq came in a briefing here by Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which occupies Tikrit and other cities in the Sunni Muslim heartland north of Baghdad.
In establishing security, Odierno said, he is mounting more "focused" raids and intelligence operations against the Baathist resistance that is killing his soldiers almost every day. At the same time, he is quickly training the various new Iraqi security forces in his region so they can eventually take over from his troops. Odierno gave a dazzling PowerPoint presentation, full of the numbers that impress a visiting Pentagon official. He described Operation Ivy Focus, which began Sept. 10 and has involved 269 raids and 16,381 coalition patrols. It has resulted in the capture of 175 targets, including 46 bomb-makers and six paymasters.
The generals understand this is also a struggle for hearts and minds. They're talking to sheiks and tribal leaders. They're building schools and youth centers and Internet cafes and establishing women's rights councils. They're repairing power and water treatment plants. They're reopening hospitals and schools. During the holy month of Ramadan, Odierno's commanders will be meeting with religious leaders, repairing mosques, releasing prisoners and limiting patrols of urban areas.
And yet the attacks on Americans continue -- growing in number and sophistication. It's hard to fault Wolfowitz's Plan A. But after the reversals of the past six months, it's disturbing to realize that if it fails, there isn't a good alternative.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company