MOSUL, Iraq, July 21 — The fruits of a long personal mission for Paul D. Wolfowitz were spread out before him today in a modest second-floor conference room in this bustling city in northern Iraq.
There sat the newly elected mayor and his council — Arabs, Kurds, Christians and Turkmens. It was the kind of mix of ethnic groups and faiths that Mr. Wolfowitz has long argued could thrive if Saddam Hussein was ousted, and Iraq became free and democratic.
Now Mr. Hussein is gone, and Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary and a main intellectual architect of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, today expressed both elation at meeting the council — part of a carefully choreographed visit to Iraq — and sounded a cautionary note to his new allies in what he says is a running war on terror.
"You don't build a democracy like you build a house," Mr. Wolfowitz said over tea, honey pastries and water buffalo cheese. "Democracy grows like a garden. If you keep the weeds out and water the plants and you're patient, eventually you get something magnificent."
Mr. Wolfowitz crisscrossed Iraq on a fact-finding trip to gauge the road ahead for America's strategy here, as attacks against United States troops continued to put pressure on the Bush administration.
In the latest strike on Americans, a roadside bomb exploded today near a military convoy in northern Baghdad, killing one soldier and his Iraqi interpreter, The Associated Press reported. Three other members of the First Armored Division were wounded. The American military credited an Iraqi bystander who helped the troops out of the damaged vehicles with saving the life of one of the soldiers.
Mr. Wolfowitz's five-day journey seemed to produce a welter of soaring emotions as well as a sense of final vindication in a man who had warned since 1979 of the menace posed by Mr. Hussein and his Baath Party followers — long before anyone feared Iraq's suspected chemical and biological weapons arsenal.
Much of the trip had the feel of being stage-managed to support those long-stated views on Mr. Hussein's brutality. Reporters joined Mr. Wolfowitz on a tour of a mass grave in Hilla, where 3,000 bodies had been unearthed from shallow pits. He led another tour through the notorious Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad where thousands of Iraqis were tortured and executed.
Mr. Wolfowitz has long compared the rule of Mr. Hussein to that of Nicolae Ceaucescu, the deposed head of Communist Romania. So when the occupation authority's senior civilian adviser to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry turned out to be a Romanian diplomat, Mr. Wolfowitz was delighted when the diplomat agreed with his comparison.
Throughout the trip, in conformity with his activist bent, Mr. Wolfowitz referred to Mr. Hussein as "tyrant," "killer" and "sadist."
Mr. Wolfowitz said at a news conference here that Washington would welcome outside help in rebuilding Iraq, but he warned its neighbors and suspected foreign guerrilla fighters who may have arrived in the country against meddling. "I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq," he said. "Those who want to come and help are welcome. Those who come to interfere and destroy are not."
During his tour, Mr. Wolfowitz was greeted as a liberator by two groups who suffered the most under Mr. Hussein's three-decade rule — Kurds here in the north and Shiites in the south, especially marshland Arabs — and he listened to their horrific tales of loved ones tortured or killed by Mr. Hussein's followers.
Mr. Wolfowitz was, however, also a magnet for complaints that the all-powerful United States had failed to provide more security, more electricity and more jobs. "Even though there are many things we can do, we are not gods, and the things we can do take time," Mr. Wolfowitz told leaders here. "It's important for you and your colleagues to teach patience."
During the trip, Mr. Wolfowitz underscorced Mr. Hussein's brutality, but he virtually ignored the issue of weapons of mass destruction, even though that was President Bush's main reason for waging the war.
Mr. Wolfowitz met briefly in private on Sunday with David Kay, who is overseeing the strategy for a newly expanded American search team.
"I'm not concerned about weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Wolfowitz said tonight to reporters traveling with him, adding that that was now the job of American intellegence agencies. "I'm concerned about getting Iraq on its feet."
Clearly Iraq is still a very dangerous place. On the ground, Mr. Wolfowitz traveled in a heavily armed convoy, often with attack helicopters buzzing overhead. Word of his destinations was not widely disseminated in advance. His C-130 transport plane detected enemy ground radar on a flight today to Kirkuk, and discharged flares as a defensive measure. Crew members said they saw no missiles.
Immense challenges lie ahead — some glimpsed by Mr. Wolfowitz and others discussed in his many meetings with Iraqis and Americans now trying to run Iraq. Thieves in Basra tap into pipelines and smuggle oil into nearby Iran. The slightest rumor of fuel shortages creates huge lines at gas stations, requiring Army soldiers to stand guard. The country needs tens of thousands of new police officers.
In Baghdad and Mosul, Iraqis who work for the occupation authority have received death threats. Foreign guerrilla fighters and terrorists continue to infiltrate Iraq's porous borders and ambush American troops. The United States is scrambling to set up a new Iraqi civil defense force to free up thousands of American troops to conduct antiguerrilla missions and to put more of an Iraqi face on the postwar security effort.
Despite the challenges, Mr. Wolfowitz found an ebullient note here as he wrapped up his trip. "I feel very encouraged overall that conditions here are much better than I thought they were before I came," Mr. Wolfowitz said at a news conference for mainly Kurdish journalists. "The biggest challenge we face immediately is a very serious security challenge. But I believe it's just a very small minority of Iraqis and some foreigners who are doing that.
"You can't deal with the complex situation of Iraq in simply a one-dimensional way," he said today. "The problem of security is related to the problem of electricity. They're both related to the problem of employment. And the question of governance affects everything. We need a strategy that moves forward on all those things."
Indeed, there is some progress. Here in northern Iraq, the 101st Airborne Division says it has helped establish interim city and provincial governments, restore commerce along the Syrian and Turkish borders, and repair schools, bridges and courthouses.
In the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in south-central Iraq — despite a tense confrontation between Americans and crowds of Iraqis supporting a young ayatollah in Najaf over the weekend — American marines have worked closely with tribal and religious leaders to win their trust. At one point, Mr. Wolfowitz gloated that many of the dire predictions of "uninformed commentators" and Middle East experts that Shiites would rise up against the American occupation forces have so far not materialized.
"It's hard for them to throw rocks at us when we're handing out water in 110-degree heat," said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the First Marine Division.
There were more demonstrations in northern Baghdad today, The A.P. reported, as Shiites gathered to protest the presence of American troops in Iraq.
During his trip, Mr. Wolfowitz took copious notes and threw out questions and comments to everyone from aid workers on their security conditions — "Save the Children's office here has suspended operations because of death threats" — to chatting with the Tennessee Air National Guard C-130 crew that flew him here. — "They have been on active duty for 19 of the past 23 months."
He said the barrage of information and impressions over the five days had felt like drinking out of "two or three fire hoses" at once, and many questions remain.
None, perhaps, is as pointed as the fate of Mr. Hussein himself. Military commanders say he is still alive and almost surely in Iraq, and Mr. Wolfowitz said he would eventually be captured or killed. He acknowledged this was crucial for ending the state of fear Mr. Hussein still engenders in many Iraqis.
At a city council meeting in Najaf, one councilman even asked if the United States was secretly holding Mr. Hussein to ensure that Iraqis did what the occupation authority wanted. It set off a rare flash of anger, and strong language, from Mr. Wolfowitz. "We're not playing any games with Saddam Hussein," he said. "The sooner we can catch that bastard, excuse me, the better."
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Last modified: Fri Aug 8 10:34:04 CDT 2003