KARBALA, Iraq -- During a tour of Iraq, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz took time to visit with the Karbala's mayor July 19 to discuss the successes and challenges facing the city.
Mayor Akram Al-Yasari informed Wolfowitz that the city's partnership with coalition forces has resulted in many success stories following the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Al-Yasari discussed ongoing efforts to raise security in the city, including training and equipping of Iraqi police and security personnel, reopening several schools and keeping the hospitals running.
"The hospitals never closed their doors, and with the help of the coalition, we are building new wards, but we still need assistance in medical (care)," said Yasari.
Because of Karbala's status as a holy city, it is important that the city continue to thrive, the assistant secretary said.
"We understand how important Karbala is as a center of Shi'ite Islam," he said. "We understand also that the Shi'ites are the people who believe in freedom."
Some problems are now being addressed in Karbala, including a continuing struggle of providing residents adequate electrical power, Al-Yasari said.
"The main problem is the power," he said. "This really affects the security situation in the area. All other businesses are functioning within their own resources."
Though the dissolution of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and its armed forces created an unemployment problem, the former military are being taken care of, according to Al-Yasari.
He said that with the help of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which is overseeing reconstruction efforts in Iraq, former Iraqi military have been paid through June, and that preparations are underway to pay them for July.
Al-Yasari went on to make a point of the fact that the people in the Karbala area only desire peace and freedom, and do not wish to get entangled in the wars of others.
"Karbala is one of the first cities that enjoys peace, tranquility, stability," he said. "Iraqis refuse to be linked or follow any other countries. It's true that we in Karbala are Shi'ite Muslims, that we have ideological and religious ties with the Shi'ite in Iran, but the Shi'ite originated in Iraq, therefore we refuse to be led by Iran.
The Iraqis are a free people.
"We want to heal our wounds from the past regime," Al-Yasari said. "We'd like to have computers and use the Internet, we want to practice our religious rights and freedoms. We would like to maintain good relations with our neighbors and the world."
Wolfowitz told Yasari of a conference he had attended in the United States at which he was told that the Shi'ite have been persecuted often in the past, and therefore do not believe in persecuting others.
"I believe that is true, and everything I've seen in Karbala reinforces that belief," Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz complimented the accomplishments of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines in Karbala, and gave Yasari a message of goodwill and hope for the future.
"We were at the mass graves in Hindia earlier today," he said. "We know how much people have suffered over the past 30 years in small ways and big ways. Now we are partners, we are working together to build a free and independent Iraq.
That is very big, and it will influence the whole world."
Yasari offered his own words of goodwill to Wolfowitz.
"We will never forget that America is the nation that saved us out of the hands of the Saddam regime," he said.