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President George W. Bush
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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.

Ann Veneman
November 21, 2003

Ann Veneman
Hello and it's good to be here today. I got back from Iraq, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan a week ago today. Happy to take your questions.

John, from Hawaii writes:
Where did you stay while you were in Iraq? Where did you tour in Iraq, and where what areas in Iraq were better than others?

Ann Veneman
We stayed in Baghdad at one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. This palace currently serves as the coalition provisional authority where Ambassador Bremer and many of the U.S. staff resident in Iraq are currently housed and where they currently had their offices.

We visited the agriculture college which is part of Baghdad University; we visited with a representative group of the Governing Council; we visited the agriculture ministry and then we travelled to northern Iraq to visit various agriculture related enterprises in that area.

Northern Iraq is more developed in many respects because after the first war with Iraq it was part of the no-fly zone and not as subject to the reign of Saddam Hussein.

They have made a number of reforms in the north which we believe can serve as an example of what can be done in other parts of the country. We found the people we visited with throughout the country were very receptive with what the US is doing in Iraq and happy with the assistance we are providing.

Mary, from St. Paul, Minnesota writes:
As the Agricultural Secretary for the current administration, what was your objective in touring Iraq and Afghanistan?

Ann Veneman
We visited Afghanistan and Iraq to assess the agricultural situation in these countries and in the case of Afghanistan we also assessed food aid needs. Both countries have a strong agricultural base. And both are trying to rebuild their agriculture sectors. In Afghanistan, the years of war devastated many of the true fruit and vine growing areas and irrigation systems were destroyed. This past year the Afghans had a good wheat crop but that followed several years of drought.

Thus food aide has been important to Afghanistan.

We also assessed the agriculture work that was being done with the provicial reconstruction team in Afghanistan. These teams are going into local areas around the country to work with communities in rebuilding multiple sectors of the economy.

In Iraq, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture working with Australian counterparts have been instrumental in rebuilding the agricultural ministry after the reign of Saddam Hussein. We also had the opportunity to visit with farmers and other government officials to talk about the building of Iraq and the agriculture sector in particular. I also had the opportunity to visit with women in both countries about the status of women as the reconstruction takes place.

Josh, from Lynchburg, Va. writes:
Secretary Veneman, Everyday we see news reports that show Iraq to be dangerous and chaotic. Was this the impression you got and were some parts of Iraq better than others? Also, if you were in charge of agriculture in Iraq, what would be the first thing you would do to help get that industry up and running again? Thanks for your time and keep up the good work.

Ann Veneman
The reports that we see on the news are not always reflective of life everyday in Iraq. There are lots of people on the streets, there are many shops that have opened since the removal of Saddam Hussein, there is traffic on the streets, children are going to school and life in around Iraq seems to be making significant progress forward.

In response to your question about what would agrciulture in Iraq, one of the things that was most needed was information on current farming practices, research, better laboratory equipment for agriculture related laboratories, and repair of water and irrigation systems in certain parts of the country.

Having been to a college in Iraq, we discussed partnerships among U.S. colleges and universities and those in Iraq. Agriculture remains a very important industry in Iraq while many people do not believe that Iraq would have much agriculture, it is indeed a country rich in natural resources and water and a prime agriculture region.

It is home to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which many call the birthplace of modern agriculture.

Sarah, from Boulder writes:
Secretary Veneman, It's so neat that you went to both Iraq and Afghanistan. My FFA Chapter has been trying to understand agriculture over there. To help us put it in perspective, how would you compare it to the United States? Is an Iraqi farm at all like your average Midwestern farm here? What about Afghanistan -- is it more like the American West or just all cliffs like we've seen on TV? Is there any good farmland there? Also, is there anything that our chapter can do to help educate our peers over there?


Ann Veneman
Both Iraq and Afghanistan have many different kinds of agriculture regions. Both produce wheat but both also produce many specialty crops such as those you would find in Florida and California. Both countries produce fruits and vegetables, grapes, and a variety of other crops which we could see in roadside shops that were selling food to the residents.

Both also produce poultry and meat and each country has areas that are better suited to produce certain crops than others -- much like we see in the United States.

Agriculture in both countries is in need of repair of irrigation systems, updating of technology and technical assistance to farmers.

Branden, from San Francisco writes:
What was Saddam's palace like? Did you feel safe in Baghdad?

Ann Veneman
Hello Branden

We did have a significant amount of security in Baghdad so we felt safe everywhere we traveled. Saddam Hussein had several palaces around Iraq, many of which we were able to see best as we flew over Baghdad.

One of those palaces is where the Coalition Provisional Authority is housed as I indicated before. Saddam Hussein clearly spent large amounts of money building palaces for himself and his family while he allowed infrastructure around the country to deteriorate and he deprived the Iraqi citizens of basic living necessities.

One person described living in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, "it was like living in a prison."

Again, people all around the country are enthusiastic about life after Saddam Hussein and are working to rebuild the country.

Jody, from California writes:
Did women you meet seem to be happy with their growing -- and in some cases -- new freedoms and opportunities?

Ann Veneman
I met women in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan women were severely repressed under Taliban rule. They were required to cover their faces and heads in Burqas, they were denied the opportunity to get an education and they were not allowed out on the streets alone.

All of that is changing. Women are generally still covering their heads now feel free to have their faces uncovered. Girls are going to school and women are allowed to be employed and are making a contribution to society.

We had the opportunity to visit a woman's bakery -- one of 30 or more -- around Kabul. These bakeries were established by the world food program and they employ women to bake bread which is made available to very poor women at a reduced cost to help feed their families.

In Iraq, women are attending the University. There are two women who are part of the Governing Council and one woman is the Minister of Public Works in the new government. Women in Iraq are playing a role in re-establishing the government and are employed in ministries and there are many professional women in the country.

laurabushfan, from Rockford,Illinois writes:
Dear Mrs. Veneman, Are the Iraqi and Afghanistanian children getting proper education? Have we established any schools in Iraq?

Ann Veneman
We did not visit elementary schools on this trip but we did see schoolchildren both in Afghanistan and Iraq. As I indicated before, since the US defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan, girls now have the opportunity to attend school.

We also visited a health clinic where education classes were being made available to illiterate women who had been denied the chance to get an opportunity earlier in their lives.

In Iraq, as I indicated, we were able to visit a college. Applications for that college were up from 1,200 last year to 2,000 this year. This, in my view, indicates the hope and increased interest in education since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Also, when we were in Erbil in Northern Iraq, we had the chance to see some young children as they had just gotten out of school. They were happy, running and playing and they all wore school uniforms.

David, from Oldwick, NJ writes:
As a fellow-Californian now living on the East Coast, what is the one thing you miss seeing the most in the supermarket? For me, it is the wonderful (and inexpensive) avocados. Thanks for answering our questions.

Ann Veneman
As you know, California is the number one agriculture producing state in the country. It produces over 350 different crops and commodities. Much of what is produced in California is shipped to the East Coast so we can enjoy the bounty of what is produced there.

As I indicated earlier, one of the things that we noted in the countries we visited (Afghanistan, Iraq and Uzbekistan) is that each has diverse agricultural sectors producing not only feed grains, but also specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables much like what we see produced in California.

Tim, from Cleethorpes, England writes:
I would like to express my delight and thanks to President Bush for visiting England, I know that this was a state visit and he deserves the honour, I would also like to express my dissapointment at the display of a minority of people that protested, but as President Bush said "at least they can have there say in a free country" I have visited your country some 25 times, and you have always made us feel welcome, it is just a shame not every country is the same Once again thank you Mr Bush for making our world a safer place. Yours sincerely Tim Radcliffe

Ann Veneman
Thank you for your support of President Bush and the job he is doing. We appreciate the strong partnership that we have in this country with your country in the fight against terrorism. My trip to Afghanistan and Iraq only underscored for me and my delegation the importance of what we are doing in these countries and what we are doing in the global war against terror.

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