View Full Version : Former U.S. administrator sees brighter tomorrow in Iraq

02-02-06, 07:25 AM
Former U.S. administrator sees brighter tomorrow in Iraq
Despite violence, political system is primed, Bremer says
- John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq for the first 14 months after the invasion, said Wednesday that he is optimistic about the future of Iraq despite continuing violence and unrest in that nation.

"Despite the dire predictions of armchair quarterbacks, the Iraqis have done everything they needed to do to get on track," he said in a speech in San Francisco. "The elections held in Iraq have been the most dramatic thing to happen to democracy in recent history."

Bremer has been a controversial figure since he took control of Iraq on May 6, 2003, before the smoke and dust of the U.S.-led invasion cleared. But he received a cordial reception during his speech at the Argent Hotel. A couple hundred people showed up to the event sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Northern California and the Marines Memorial Association.

There were no protests and no heckling, and the questions submitted by members of the audience were inquisitive, but neither condemning nor specifically critical.

"I think he's a great spokesman for the government," said Jon Paulson, a San Francisco businessman and former Marine officer who has been critical of the war in Iraq. "He's an articulate and knowledgeable guy, but he really made a case for not going to war at all. According to him, the government of Iraq was on the verge of collapsing, so maybe we should have waited out Saddam and spent our energies going after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan."

Bremer, a career diplomat who was the ambassador to the Netherlands and ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism in the 1980s, was in San Francisco to pitch his recently published book, "My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope."

Bremer, who was well known for traveling around Iraq in his business suits and combat boots, remained as head of the CPA until June 2004. In December of that year, Bush awarded Bremer a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in Iraq.

One 0f the more interesting things in Bremer's book was his assertion that he thought more U.S. troops were needed in Iraq to beef up a worsening security situation. He wrote that he had asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for one or two more divisions, but that he had never heard back on his request.

Rumsfeld's spokesman, Larry Di Rita, confirmed to the New York Times that Bremer had written to the secretary in May 2004 to suggest that more troops were needed in Iraq. But Di Rita said most senior military officers did not agree.

Di Rita dismissed Bremer's contention as providing "an interesting historical asterisk or data point."

Bremer did not talk about the issue during his speech, and at one point referred to Rumsfeld as his former boss and his friend. Instead, he talked about the difficulties he encountered when he got to Iraq and found the country, its infrastructure and economy in a shambles.

He said the entire nation of Iraq was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after living through 35 years under Saddam Hussein's rule. Overcoming that mind-set and establishing a political process was his main goal, along with rebuilding the economy and providing security.

Bremer wrote in his book that "mistakes were made" during his time in Iraq. He didn't use that same language during his speech, but he did say there have been misconceptions about some of the post-invasion policies. It was wrong, he said, to allow Iraqis to loot government buildings after the fall of Baghdad, for example. The looting cost the government billions of dollars, and worse, it showed the Iraqi people that the Americans could not control the country.

He has taken heat for disbanding the Iraqi army (because it later had to be rebuilt from scratch) and for getting rid of Baath Party officials from all government posts (because they supposedly knew how to run things.)

"The army and the police were not disbanded, they collapsed," he said. "There was no army."

As for the Baath Party, he said many party members were in it for the jobs, but that the Baathists represented the oppressive government, and the only way to gain the trust of the Iraqi people was to remove the party leadership.

Bremer said the two elections that have been held in Iraq are proof that the Iraqi people want democracy and not the repressive Taliban-like government that he said some of the insurgents are trying to force upon them.

"A political process is in place," he said. "The path ahead is clear."

E-mail John Koopman at jkoopman@sfchronicle.com.