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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Thomas J. Basile, Senior Press Advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq Biography
November 6, 2003

Tom Basile
My name is Tom Basile and I am a Senior Press Advisor for Ambassador Paul Bremer at the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and it is my pleasure to take your questions on Ask the White House

Ashleigh, from Clemson writes:
Tom How stretched is the U.S. military troops?

Tom Basile
Thank you for the question.

As Secretary Rumsfeld has said, we have enough troops in Iraq to handle the job. In addition to the American presence, a number of Coalition partners including Great Britain, Poland, and Spain also have troops in Iraq performing vital functions.

What is important to note when talking about the numbers of troops needed, is that each week more and more Iraqis are working along side Coalition forces to help secure the country. In just six months nearly 100,000 Iraqis have answered this call to service. On some nights Coalition troops are conducting as many as 1700 joint patrols with security services like the Iraqi Police and Civil Defense Corps. Many of these Iraqi assets have already helped relieve American and Coalition forces in some roles such as facility and infrastructure protection.

The Coalition is also standing up a new Iraqi Army, the first battalion of which graduated from basic training last month. We are on target for training nearly 40,000 new Iraqi Army troops by next fall. These troops will assist Coalition forces and be prepared to help secure the country when sovereignty is transferred back to the Iraqi people.

Meghan, from Chatsworth, CA writes:
What's it like in Bahgdad right now? What are the major noticable differences between March 18th (I think that was day before we started attacks) and now, as far as daily life goes? How's the general morale of the troops that you've been in contact with?

Tom Basile
Excellent question Meghan.

There are many differences between now and prior to the conflict or just after liberation. I’d like to focus on a few. Prior to the conflict, the children in the dilapidated schools of this country were pledging allegiance to Saddam. Now they pledge their allegiance to Iraq. In the area of education, we have seen marked progress in creating an educational environment that will breed hope not hate. This was a country that did not have a funded school maintenance program for over a decade. Conditions in schools were so bad enrollment had dropped to nearly 50% of eligible children in some areas.

Today, the Coalition and is partners are working with the Iraqi people to renovate the schools of this country. To date we have completed more than 1600 renovations, delivered tens of thousands of school supply kits, and increased teacher salaries many times over. Today Parent Teacher Associations are popping up across the country and for the first time, parents and educators are coming together to ensure a better atmosphere for learning.

The other major difference is the seeds of democracy taking root throughout Iraq. Where freedom of association was once restricted, now people of all segments of the population are coming together to make decisions about their future. In Baghdad alone, residents have selected 88 neighborhood advisory councils to help communicate the needs of the population to the City and the Coalition. This type of stewardship, cooperation and accountability is a major change for a people that suffered under the thumb of dictatorship. And they are already improving their quality of life.

As for our troops – they are heroes. They are professionals who in my opinion understand the importance of this mission and are committed to seeing it through. They deserve the respect of all Americans for the outstanding job they continue to do here in Iraq and in the war on terror.

Rob, from Evansville writes:
I'd like to hear a personal observation about the Iraqi people. Perhaps one Iraqi person that has touched your life.

Tom Basile
I have found that the vast majority of the Iraqi people are thankful for our assistance in liberating their country from Saddam. They are a noble and proud people with a rich history and a strong sense of nationalism. They are proud to be Iraqis.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with the man who would go on to become the Chief the Iraqi Supreme Court. I sat in his plainly furnished office in downtown Baghdad and listened as he spoke about finally ending the days of cutting out tongues, branding, other tortures and government interference with the judicial process. His enthusiasm as he talked about human rights and restoring the great legal tradition of Iraq, once widely regarded as the most respected in the region, filled the room with energy. I walked away from that encounter with a belief I still hold - and hold stronger today than then – that the Iraqi people are ready for democracy.

There are those former regime loyalists that crave the power they once had and seek to halt this progress. While they may try, the Iraqi people I continue to meet every day are ready for this change.

Greg, from Middleton writes:
As the sole superpower of the world, I understand the need for the U.S. to get involved in other areas of the world, but I think we need more support from other countries. I don't like the fact that we are doing this completely alone.

Tom Basile
We are not alone in this effort. At this time, 30 countries in addition to the US have contributed to the Coalition effort in Iraq. They have sent troops, engineers, equipment funds and advisors necessary for the reconstruction effort. Everyday I walk though the CPA headquarters and see a new uniform or hear a new language I hadn’t before. Further, at the recent Madrid Donor’s Conference nations from around the world pledged more than $10 billion in financial support for the reconstruction effort.

We have had broad international support from the beginning and that support continues to grow.

Kate, from Pawtucket writes:
I think I'm like most Americans and would prefer to see the IRaqis take control of their country as soon as possible. Personally, I would like to see that now. My question has to do with Iraq patrolling their own streets. How many Iraqis are doing this? Are there any iraqi policemen? They need to take over.

Tom Basile
The Coalition agrees with you about turning control over to the Iraqi people. The President and Ambassador Bremer have said that the goal of the CPA is to put ourselves out of a job. We want to leave Iraq a nation free and at peace.

However, now is clearly not the time to pull out our presence. We are making great strides toward helping the Iraqis build a better nation. The Coalition has articulated a seven point plan for creating the institutions of democracy here.

In just the past few months, the governing council has convened, it has appointed ministers to run the day to day operations of government agencies, and the Iraqis are actively engaged in developing a process by which a constitution can be written.

Once the constitution is written and a government has been elected the CPA will cease to exist and sovereignty will be ceded back to the Iraqi people. It needs some time, but we are making progress every day.

As for the police, there are between 45, 000 and 50,000 police on the streets right now in Iraq. They are conducting patrols with Coalition Forces, enforcing laws and serving their people.

In Baghdad, nearly 80% of Iraqi Police stations are now in what we call a monitoring phase where Iraqis rather than MPs run the stations. The justice system is operating and the Iraqi police are interdicting crime every day. Some have already lost their lives in the line of duty to help secure Iraq.

Rachel, from Newburyport writes:
It is clear the Iraqi people don't want us in their country. Shouldn't we listen to the will of the people?

Tom Basile
I have had the opportunity to travel throughout Iraq and I can say that the VAST majority of the Iraqi people are grateful for our assistance. Your view is not expressed by the average Iraqi on the street.

The Iraqis are a proud people and like any proud people, they would like to see the eventual departure of any occupying forces.

But the people I speak to, that includes members of the new Iraqi media, understand the importance of the Coalition’s presence during this pivotal moment in their history.

Our presence is paving the way for an Iraq that will be a productive member of the free world.

Bill, from Colorado writes:
It's absurd to compare our efforts in Iraq with how the Johnson and Nixon administrations conducted battle in Vietnam. What would you say are the greatest accomplishments we've had in Iraq to date (after Saddam's removal) that you would like to see more coverage of?


Tom Basile
Thanks for your question. I think one of the most striking differences and accomplishments in the last six months is democracy taking root in the country -- in towns, villages and cities across Iraq we are seeing people come forward to serve on city councils, district councils, and village advisory boards. Many of these folks have already been elected by the local folks. They are working close with the Coalition to assess priorities, and to plan for the future of their communities. These councils are having great results. They are helping to improve infrastructure, helping set up jobs programs, and looking at various ways that they can improve the quality of life for their residents and they are learning that as leaders they are going to be held accountable for their actions. They are also learning as leaders that they need to be responsive to the members of their communities. The Coalition is working to train the councils on how to run meetings, parliamentary procedure, how to set up an agenda, how to set up subcommittees and how to promote community stewardship -- these are things that were never done before and never done under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Teddy, from Ocala, Florida writes:
Some are saying that the U.S. presence in Iraq has actually increased terrorism. Obviously, you are not going to agree with that, but certainly Baghdad is not a peaceful place. How do we know that things are actually better? And furthermore, I don't get the notion that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.

Tom Basile
There are people in Iraq that are former regime loyalists and they are witnessing the progress and are trying to stop it. one of the reasons we have seen terrorist activity is because is because the terrorists are seeing success on part of the coalition and the Iraqis to create a better life here.

The markets are full with shoppers. The restaurants are full. There are new products in the stores. Children are going to school. The Universities are open. And we know things are getting better everyday because we can see the Iraqi people are determined to see this reconstruction through for the betterment of their future. There is a return to normalcy to this country which can be seen everywhere -- including Baghdad. Which is not to say there is not work to be done on the security front, there is.

But to talk to the people in Baghdad and in the majority of the country, they are going about their lives and are hopeful for the future.

Trent, from Thaxton writes:
I don't believe it is in our best interest to occupy another country unless they are an imminent threat to the U.S. How can this country be classified as a threat to us? They are clearly not.

Tom Basile
Trent, you are right -- they are not a threat to the U.S. -- any longer. But Saddam Hussein over the course of his rule in this country harbored terrorists, supported terrorists, attacked his neighbors and was a major destabilizing force in this very important region in the world. The U.S. and the UN Security Council and the International Community agreed last year that Hussein was a threat and placed conditions upon which he could prove to the world that he was not a threat.

His response was to ignore , to delay and to defy the international community. The President has made very clear that in the war on terrorism, you are either with the civilized world who are peace and or you are against peace and freedom loving people of the world. And as a result of Saddam defiance of Resolution 1441 action needed to be taken that would help ensure stability and the security of the region and all those who have banded together in the war on terrorism.

Hussein is no longer a threat because of the actions we took 6 months ago. He is not coming back and the 24 million people of Iraq now have hope for a brighter future and a free society where they have the power to affect their future.

Rick, from Washington DC writes:
Tom, Give us a sense of the day to day activities of the Provisional Authority staff and the working environment. Are most of you directly working with Iraqi citizens and officials?

Tom Basile
Thanks for your question. In fact, we have many Iraqis working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, they work with us in offices, they serve as translators , community and cultural liaisons and advisors. The Coalition recognizes that we need the help of the Iraqi people in order to help them rebuild the country and create the institutions of democracy that will enable this nation to flourish. We have formed very strong relationships with the Iraqis that we work with. It is an extraordinary experience to work at the CPA and to work so closely with the Iraqi people.

We work on a day to day basis with Iraqis from all segments of Iraqi society who believe and are working every day to ensure that when the CPA leaves Iraq they will leave a strong free nation for the Iraqi people.

As to the day to day activity, many of us work here in what is called as the Republican Palace in Baghdad. The dedicated employees of the CPA -- many work 16 - 18 hour days, they actively liaise with all of the Iraqi ministries, the Iraqi governing council, religious leaders, educators and businesspeople across the country.

It is an extraordinary experience to work at the CPA and to work so closely with the Iraqi people.

Ashleigh, from Strasburg, PA writes:
Dear Mr. Basile, How does the Iraqi press portray US forces and leaders? Do the Iraqi people appear to have the same thoughts and feelings toward America as their newspapers and news programs suggest?

Tom Basile
I continue to be impressed with the burgeoning Iraqi press corps which is developing in the country. Prior to liberation, the media here was very tightly monitored and state run. Now we have over 170 newspapers in Iraq, there are new radio stations, the whole culture of investigative journalism is being established here amongst the journalists who are realizing that their work can have an impact on local officials. The Iraqi papers that we read on a daily basis appear to be fair and balanced. They are learning that as they report something in the city, council or coalition is stepping up to be responsive to the people who are in that area. Many of these papers are neighborhood papers which don't have wide circulation which is helpful because they are the eyes and ears of the Iraqi people -- they help us address residents concerns and prioritize our projects for reconstruction. So we've seen a very balanced approach on behalf of the Iraqi press and they have been very appreciate of the Coalition's willingness to engage with them on a regular basis. We engage with them at press conferences and at city hall in Baghdad. For the first time in history members of the press go to city hall every week and meet with city officials and Coalition officials and go and ask questions and get answers. We do get criticized occasionally in some of the Iraqi media outlets, but it is a free country and they can do that now where they couldn't before. And it is another sign of democracy taking root in Iraq.

Jones, from Fort Worth writes:
Do the troops have what they need in Iraq? What's the general morale?

Tom Basile
The morale of our troops is generally high. We should be very proud of all of our coalition forces which are here. They are professionals, they understand and are committed to the mission, they are doing fantastic work everyday. They are protecting the Iraqi people but they are also helping in reconstruction. It is important to note that these units in the field are helping to build soccer fields, community centers, restoring playgrounds, delivering needed items to local communities and they are building relationships with the Iraqi people. There is a misperception out there that the Iraqi people dislike the Coalition forces and they are not as welcome today as they were when the arrived here.

But when you are here in Iraq and you talk to the commanders in the field, and you talk to the specialists and the privates and you listen to their stories about their relationships with the local families, with the children of the neighborhoods they are in, you see that this misperception is incorrect.

Americans should be proud of their military not only for the campaign which was waged, but for the role they played on the human level in helping to show the people of this country what an American and what America is about. They are some of the best ambassadors we have and they do it under often very difficult circumstances.

Kris, from Charlotte writes:
Why does Bremer wear those silly boots?

Tom Basile
Silly boots? I wear those boots everyday. I can only speculate. But knowing the kind of leader that Ambassador Bremer is, I would say he wears them as a sign of solidarity and support for our military here in the country.

David, from South Brunswick writes:
Do the people of Iraq trust their own that have become police officers and civil servants or is their a fear of revenge that has been embedded over the years?

Tom Basile
Good question. One of the first things the coalition did after liberation is institute a de-baathification policy and the purpose of the policy was to effectively strip the government of all the high-ranking Baath party officials. There is a perception that is held by some, that the people would like to see elements of the baath party return -- but being here in Iraq, I can tell you there is no love loss between the people of Iraq and the Baath party. This policy was overwhelmingly accepted and has been implemented over time. This will go a long way toward helping people build confidence in government again. You have to consider that the people of Iraq for thirty years lived under the thumb of a corrupt totalitarian regime where government officials served the regime -- not the people. And that definitely bred a culture of mistrust for law enforcement and for the government.

Part of our job working with the new leadership in Iraq will be to help create institutions of government that will build confidence and trust among the people of this country. The Iraqi people lived in fear of the secret police and other enforcers and informants that worked for the regime and Saddam Hussein. The new Iraqi security forces are being established with an ear toward human rights, new codes of conduct and standards of professionalism and accountability that did not exist during Saddam's rule.

A prime example of change is the establishment of a new Inspector General's office in the Iraqi police force. It will take time for the people of Iraq to build strong relationships with the government officials but after decades of distrust we would never expect it not to.

Seth, from Atlanta, GA writes:
How do you see the Coalition Provisional Authority's role changing in the next six months? Can you stem the tide of needless deaths, or are you already anachronistic?

Tom Basile
First off, the Coalition's role over the next six months will be to continue the progress we have made in the first six months. We will be accelerating and augmentation of Iraqi police and Iraqi security forces that will work alongside the coalition to better secure the country and to interdict terrorism.

We also will be continuing to move forward working with the governing council to develop a process by which the constitution for this country can be written and the institutions of this document be instititued so that sovereighnty can be ceded back to the Iraqi people and the CPA's mission can be successfully completed.

I get the impression from your question that you do not believe coming into this country has been worthwhile and that those who lost their lives in the pursuit of the liberation of this country died in vain. I have seen firsthand brutality of the former regime. I have had the privilege of visiting Halabjah where Saddam Hussein gassed 5,000 people; where women and children were burned alive in the streets. The survivors recognize the value and contributions of the international community. I have been to the southern part of the country where Saddam's brutality sought to destroy a 5,000 year old culture when he decimated the marshes that sustain the marsh arabs of southern Iraq. those people also recognize the brutality of the regime and will never forget the contributions that we are making here to restore their livelihood and their culture. And I've also met the man on the street who was hauled out of his home at gunpoint in front of his family and brought to the torture rooms for charges he still does not know. All of these people would disagree with you. In removing Saddam Hussein, we freed the people and we are giving them hope for the future. And we are contributing to the peace and stability of the world.

Tom Basile
I want to thank everyone who wrote in. it is important for us who are serving over here to know that the American people continue to be engaged in this mission from back home. And I look forward to answering more of your questions in the future.

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