WASHINGTON -- After touring Iraq June 16-19, Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said he was more impressed than ever with the caliber of American troops defending freedom's front lines.
"Wherever you go people are grateful for the men and women in uniform," he said to Marines gathered at the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters in Fallujah June 19. "It doesn't matter what they think of the (administration's Iraq war) policy, they understand the type of commitment and devotion you spend.
"Believe me," he added. "The country is appreciative."
During four days in Iraq, Wolfowitz visited troops and met with leaders of the 1st Cavalry and 1st Armored divisions in Baghdad, Task Force Olympia in Mosul, 1st Infantry Division in Tikrit, 1st MEF in Fallujah, and Multinational Division South East in Basra. At most stops he also met with local Iraqi leaders.
Several times in visits with American forces, Wolfowitz compared the troops' struggles here with what World War II, Korean War and Cold War veterans accomplished.
"What you're doing here is fighting another kind of evil," he said in Fallujah. "It's not fascism; it's not communism; but it's every bit as evil. And I think it's every bit as dangerous to our country."
He stressed that the United States and the world are better off today because Germany and Japan are democracies, and Poland and other Eastern and Central
European countries are free. "We're going to be better off tomorrow and the day after tomorrow because Iraq can be a free, democratic country and a source of stability in the Middle East instead of a source of constant problems," Wolfowitz said.
At the 1st Armored Division headquarters at Baghdad International Airport,
Wolfowitz spoke over dinner to troops who will be heading back to Germany soon after being extended three months in Iraq.
He gave them something to think about when they return to Germany. "You can just stop and think for a moment how much better the world is because Germany is a democratic country today and is a strong ally of the United States," Wolfowitz said.
"That doesn't mean they agree with us on everything, ... but we are so much better with a Germany that has made so (much) progress that was only made possible thanks to the sacrifice of Americans."
The deputy secretary said he has been gratified in meetings with local leaders to hear the high regard with which they hold American service members. And he told the troops of how Iraqis were eager to be iinvolved in their own defense
"There are millions of Iraqis who want to be in this fight, too. And on July 1 they're going to have a government that's going to help us all do it," he said. "But they also know they're not ready to do it on their own. You know it; I know it; and they know it."
After his troop visits were completed, Wolfowitz had high praise for the American service members in Iraq. "Every time I've been out here the troops are simply magnificent," he said of his four trips to Iraq to date. "I've stopped even pretending that I come out to raise their morale, because invariably they raise mine."