Iraq’s Future in Hands of Its Own People,
U.S. Officials Say

Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, AFPS

WASHINGTON, May 2, 2003 — Three senior U.S. government officials agreed that humanitarian efforts to renew and restore Iraq have gone well so far, and movement will continue to return Iraq to the Iraqi people.

Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim, DoD comptroller and chief financial officer, Undersecretary of State Alan Larson and Undersecretary of Treasury John Taylor, updated Arab and Muslim reporters in a press conference here May 1. Larson is in charge of economic business and agricultural affairs at the State Department; Taylor handles international affairs for the Treasury Department.

"We have every intention to hand over quickly as feasible the management of the … 23 ministries to the Iraqi people," Zakheim said. "It’s not a simple matter," he said. "The idea is to move as quickly as possible to get Iraqis in jobs that Iraqis should conduct."

He told reporters that the "only objective, one objective only, is to renew, revitalize the spirit of Iraqi life." And he emphasized that the Iraqi people and Iraq’s future elected government will have an important role in that rebuilding process.

Larson said that the U.S. Agency for International Development, along with DoD’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, have begun restoring much of Iraq’s water supply and electricity, and many schools and hospitals are operating again.

Zakheim pointed out that five power-generating plants in southern Iraq are now in operation for the first time since 1991.

He said the reconstruction office’s work led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, with a multi-agency federal and international staff, "demonstrates that the world is working together to renew Iraq."

"That is an example of the level of international cooperation and effort that is going to yield considerably and increasingly greater results for the Iraqi people," Zakheim said.

He also pointed out "there are no refugee crises. There isn’t really a hunger crisis either, and that’s terribly important to bear in mind. The kinds of dislocation that people kept predicting and predicting, whether economic dislocations or human dislocations just have not happened."

Support for Iraq is coming from neighboring Muslim countries, Larson said, citing that Kuwait, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have delivered food and medical supplies. Morocco has sent in a medical team, he said.

Larson added that he believes that Turkey, which as has been active in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, will help in Iraq as well.

Reconstruction includes rebuilding security in Iraq. Zakheim said that Iraqis would see more "veteran professionals who really are in the business of policing, as opposed to being in the business of fighting." Military and civilian police would evolve from "a demand that has to be worked out in a rational, effective, and smooth-flowing way."

Taylor pointed out that the Iraqi economy had declined for the past 25 years under Saddam Hussein regime. During that period, Taylor said the country’s gross national product went from $128 billion to about $30 billion. "Income per capita was $3,000, now it’s half that amount at best," he added.

"So what we would like to do is to help the people of Iraqi restore economic growth in their country so that they can begin to prosper like many other countries in the world have, who have not been under such repression," Taylor said.

"We are very interested in working with the people there so that they can prosper and benefit from the talent that they have, from the education that they have and from the great amount of resources in the country."

Taylor said that economic growth could be very strong in Iraq with the "right circumstances" and that the environment there is very conducive to capital investment.

"We’ve begun to see businesses starting up and entrepreneurs going to work, I really expect to see more of that and a real thriving economy down the road. We very much hope so," he said.

Responding to questions on who will control Iraq’s oil reserves, Larson said "Iraqi oil is a trust for the Iraqi people and must be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people."

He said that the basic infrastructure for processing and transporting oil has been protected and that Iraq’s oil reserves contribute importantly to the development of Iraq and the efforts of the Iraqi people to rebuild their country.

He assured that Iraqi people who have oil-industry expertise will play a prominently in the process of getting the country’s oil industry going.

"The big decisions about the future of the Iraqi oil industry are decisions that should be left to the future Iraqi government to make," he said. Larson said the United States will work as stewards to help Iraqi oil experts safeguard oil assets for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

Larson further added that he supports lifting U.N. sanctions on Iraq’s oil that were in place to prevent Saddam Hussein from buying weapons of mass destruction.

"The purpose for sanctions no longer exist," Larson said. "We believe it is appropriate for the Security Council to move forward and recognize that we’re in the new era now and that it’s time for the oil production of the Iraqi people to be used to generate revenue that can contribute to their economic development."