From The Washington Times
White House Web site guests got some straight talk about postwar Iraq yesterday from Dan Senor, senior adviser to L. Paul Bremer, who's spearheading the multinational rebuilding effort in the war-torn country.
Mr. Senor, who has spent the last six months in Iraq, answered questions submitted online as part of "Ask the White House," a live, public forum that has featured more than 50 Bush administration officials since April.
There is good news, he told a New York woman who complained that the news media presented an "unfairly negative" portrait of the coalition efforts in Iraq.
"Hospitals are open. Schools are open. Children are back at school. Iraqis are taking more and more responsibility for their security. There is a flourishing free press with over 160 Iraqi newspapers that have started up since liberation," Mr. Senor said. "Ninety-five percent of the country is at peace and returning to normal daily life."
One California man wanted to know if the Iraqis are grateful to the United States for ousting Saddam Hussein.
"There are Iraqi leaders stepping up all the time thanking the United States for their liberation. Members of Iraq's new governing council as individuals and as a group have repeatedly thanked President Bush and the United States for removing Saddam Hussein from power," Mr. Senor said.
"I hear from Iraqis all the time who have expressed this sentiment. One I will never forget was Gen. Ahmed Ibrahim, who is a senior Iraqi security official. In his words, 'We will never forget the Americans who came to a foreign country to help people they never knew.' "
Mr. Senor also calmed a man concerned that the media reports depicted Iraq as "another Vietnam."
Iraq had 40,000 new police officers and a new army battalion to help protect Iraq's borders and assist American troops, he said.
"In addition, today, all of Iraq's 240 hospitals are open, 90 percent of Iraq's health clinics are open ... just a few days ago, we exceeded prewar electricity-generation levels," the aide said.
"The overwhelming majority of Iraqi people have embraced the liberation and are grateful for all we are doing to reconstruct their country," Mr. Senor told a California woman concerned about Iraqi children.
"When we arrived in Iraq after the fall of the regime, the school system was in disarray, but we got the school system up and running quickly," Mr. Senor added, noting that 1,500 schools were rebuilt in time for the new school year, and that all of Iraq's 22 universities had reopened.
"As the media speculates, do you think Iraq has derailed us from the war on terror?" asked one man.
"Iraq is now a central front in the war on terror," Mr. Senor said, and Iraq now served "as a model for the region" for a nation at peace with its citizens.
"If we choose to ignore terrorists in Iraq, we will wind up hearing from them on our own soil. That is why success in the reconstruction of Iraq is so critical," he said.
The complete transcript can be read online at www.whitehouse.gov/ask.