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Wolfowitz lays out plan for Iraq transition to democracy

Garner to head Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance

Paul Wolfowitz
Paul Wolfowitz: "We cannot write a blueprint."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz Thursday said coalition countries will prod Iraq toward democracy, but the Iraqis themselves will have the final say about what form of government replaces Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.

"Our goal in Iraq is a democratic Iraq that truly respects the wishes of the people of Iraq," Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Forces Committee. "We can set up some parameters for a process, but we cannot write a blueprint."

The process is bound to be messy, he said, declining to estimate how long it would take. "It's foolish to try to put a time frame on it," he said.

Wolfowitz said the coalition plans to work with the international community, "including, most importantly, the United Nations" and non-governmental organizations.

Though the United Nations refused to bless the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, the world body will have a role to play in postwar Iraq, albeit a secondary one, Wolfowitz said.

"The U.N. can be an important partner. It can't be the managing partner. It can't be in charge."

He added, "We want to make sure this process works, and we don't have so many hands on the steering wheel that the vehicle goes into a ditch."

First, the U.S.-led coalition will work to meet Iraq's immediate needs by establishing an Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, charged with overseeing the delivery of humanitarian assistance and restoring basic services, such as water, electricity and medicine, he said.

It will be led by retired Army Gen. Jay Garner, who also led the 1991 effort in which Kurds of northern Iraq established a governing authority. He will report to Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the coalition forces.

But, Wolfowitz stressed, the office "is not a provisional government for Iraq."

Though the ORHA will also be charged with restoring oil production as soon as possible, Wolfowitz said decisions regarding the long-term development of the country's rich oil fields will be the responsibility of the government that follows.

"The United States is dedicated to ensuring that all of Iraq's resources belong to Iraq's people," he said. Critics have accused the United States of using the war as a pretext to seize control of Iraq's plentiful supplies of oil.

ORHA will give way to interim Iraqi authority

Once basic services have been restored, the ORHA will assume an increasingly advisory role and an interim Iraqi authority will take over governing power, Wolfowitz said.

That body, still amorphous, will draw from all of the country's religious and ethnic groups, including Iraqis currently living in exile, he said.

Its job will be to direct the country's political and economic reconstruction and set in motion a process to create a new Iraqi government, he said.

"It must be a process owned by Iraqis," he said. "Our task is to create conditions, including the security conditions, in which Iraqis can formulate a process and pick their leaders freely."

Wolfowitz said Franks next week will begin hosting a series of town hall-style meetings in different parts of Iraq to identify potential leaders.

"Our only criterion is that, to come to this, you need to have a commitment to a free and democratic Iraq, and not be a Baathist killer," he said. Saddam is a member of the Baath party.

The meetings will be held in partnership with the other coalition members -- the British, Australians and Poles. Others, such as the United Nations, are invited, but will be relegated to observer status, he said.

Wolfowitz dismissed the suggestion that the United States wants to install Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, 58, a former businessman, at Iraq's helm.

"He's not an insignificant figure," Wolfowitz said. "But we're also not trying to anoint him or anyone else as the future leader of Iraq. ... His status as a political leader is going to have to be decided by Iraqis, not by Americans."

A number of countries have suggested they would be willing to help in Iraq's reconstruction, Wolfowitz said.

Asked what specifically they had pledged, he said, "So far, we're still in the early stages of that."

Powell reassures Turkey

Wolfowitz said it is unlikely that Kurds, who recently took control of oil-rich Kirkuk, would decide to retain their control there. The Turkish government has expressed fear that such a takeover could incite separatist Kurds on its southern border to revolution.

Secretary of State Colin Powell attempted in a telephone conversation Thursday morning to assure Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul that the area is under coalition control, Wolfowitz said.

He said "large elements" of the 173rd Airborne Brigade have moved into the city.

In addition, he said, the Turks have been invited to send observers or liaison officers to the region "so they could have transparency."

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