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BBC Breakfast with Frost interview with Paul Bremer broadcast on 29 June, 2003
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PETER SISSONS: Now, it's two months since the war in Iraq ended. But the country is still far from peaceful. As we've seen during the week, British and American soldiers are still being attacked and killed. And Iraqi civilians in parts of Baghdad and other major towns are still living under gun law. The wholesale looting of hospitals was perhaps one of the most shocking aspects of the disorder which followed the collapse of Saddam's regime. Doctors struggle to cope without basic equipment and medical supplies and the lack of any civil authority in the country has made it more difficult to restore services such as water and electricity. The coalition forces who've been declared the occupying powers are being criticised for failing to get a grip on the situation. But the buck stops with Paul Bremer, the American official in charge of Iraq. I asked him what progress he was making in the job.
PAUL BREMER: Oh I think we're really at the beginning of my job, but we've made quite a lot of progress on my first three priorities which are to re-establish law and order and a sense of security in the country, to begin the process of economic reform and to carry forward with the discussions we've been having for some time to get the political process going. And we're underway on all three of those areas but there's still a lot of work to do on all three.
PETER SISSONS: Why is it taking so long to establish even an interim Iraqi authority?
PAUL BREMER: Well, the process of establishing an interim authority is very complicated. This is a complicated society that has had no experience with democracy now, of any kind. For 30 years has lived under a brutal tyranny for that matter. And it has involved therefore very broad-ranging consultations being conducted, not only by me, but by my British colleagues, with all of the various sectors of Iraqi society, Arabs, Kurds, men and women, tribal sheikhs, intellectuals, Shias and Sunis. And it's a reflection of how complicated the society is that it takes us time to do all these consultations. I'm in fact in the north of Iraq today and tomorrow, consulting with various Kurdish leaders on this process. I think we'll find in the course of the next three or four weeks that this process will be finished and we will have a political council established.
PETER SISSONS: But you even recently cancelled the National Conference. What was the big problem about that?
PAUL BREMER: Well, there's a lot of mis-information. We never cancelled any National Conference because no National Conference was scheduled. What we have done however, is scheduled a Constitutional Conference. I expect that that will be called into session sometime in the month of July, and its purpose is to write a new constitution for the Iraqi people. All Iraqis I spoke to understand that we can't have a sovereign Iraqi government here until we have democratic elections. And we cannot hold elections on the basis of Saddam's 1970 constitution. So we have to write a new constitution and that will be the job of the Constitutional Conference, which as I say will be convened here, we hope, in the month of July.
PETER SISSONS: The former diplomat, Timothy Carney, who was involved at the Iraqi Industry Ministry was reported here as saying the White House had just not properly thought through the post-conflict situation. Would you agree with that?
PAUL BREMER: No, I think Ambassador Carney is wrong about that. I think we have had a plan for the post-conflict situation in Iraq. It came upon us thanks to the great work of the British and American soldiers, it came upon us rather quickly, after only three weeks of combat. We have a plan but it's a difficult plan to execute, it's not easy to take a country where there has been 30 years of economic mis-management and political tyranny, and turn it around. We're only something like nine weeks after the end of the war here, and we've made a lot of progress in those nine weeks. Mr Carney's just flat wrong, we have a plan, it's just difficult to execute.
PETER SISSONS: He also cites lack of resources, inadequate security, which does seem to be a daily problem. And lack of understanding of the task by military officers.
PAUL BREMER: Well, we certainly have more to do in the three areas I mentioned, in security, economic transformation and political dialogue. There's no question we're not done yet, and we won't be done for some time. But that's a very different matter than saying we don't have a strategy. We have a clear strategy for all three of those and we're executing on the strategy, and I think we'll as the weeks go by and as the summer comes to a close, that we will have made considerable progress on all those areas. As for the military - I have been struck in my visits to military commands, including today when I visited the head of 173rd Airborne Division in Kirkuk, how remarkably well the coalition forces are doing making the transition from raw fighting to civil affairs - they're setting up hospitals, they're running schools in Kirkuk, they established a multi-ethnic, broadly representative town council that's now operating and meeting every week, and they're staffing it with military assistance. I think it's simply not the case that we haven't made a lot of progress in these areas.
PETER SISSONS: It can't do anything for their moral, that practically no day goes by without an American or a British soldier being killed now.
PAUL BREMER: Look, there are people out here, particularly remnants of the old regime, Ba'athists, Fedayeen Saddam, perhaps even some terrorists from neighbouring countries, who do not accept the military outcome of the coalition, and they are still fighting us and we're going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will capture or if necessary kill them until we have imposed law and order on this country. Unfortunately it is the case that we will continue to take casualties such as the tragic attack against British forces in the south earlier this week. But there's no strategic threat to the coalition here, we dominate the scene and we will continue to impose law and order and impose our will on this country.
PETER SISSONS: So you say there's organised guerrilla warfare rather than anger and frustration and resentment at the slow pace of change.
PAUL BREMER: Well I'm not even sure that I would characterise it as organised. As far as we can tell so far, what we have seen is largely isolated attacks by small groups of Ba'athists and Fedayeen Saddam groups of five to ten men. They do not at the moment appear to be operating under any central command in control, so I don't even yet characterise it, or I wouldn't characterise it at this point as an organised resistance. I think we will continue to face this kind of difficulty and I think we will prevail. We are conducting military operations as we speak in several parts of the country, to go after these guys, and the records show that when we go after them we usually capture them by the dozens or by the scores.
PETER SISSONS: How do you rate the chances of catching Saddam Hussein?
PAUL BREMER: I think the chances of catching Saddam are very high. We will catch him. I think it is important that we do that, that we either capture or kill him. There's no doubt that the fact we've not been able to show his fate allows these remnants of the Ba'athist regime to go around in the bazaars and in the villages and in towns and say, you know, Saddam will come back and we will come back, so don't co-operate with the coalition. An interesting phenomenon that any police had pointed out to me is that starting about ten days ago we began to get quite a few normal Iraqi citizens coming down to our police stations in Baghdad, in Kirkuk and other places, and now giving us tips about where the Ba'athists are - would suggest that this policy of intimidation by the Ba'athists about we're coming back is beginning to wear off a bit and we're starting to see co-operation now from the average Iraqi helping us corner and trap these Ba'athists.
PETER SISSONS: But the constant, the biggest complaint when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis appears to be safety for them and their families in everyday life. What promise can you make them? Do you have a timescale for returning the country to a universal peace?
PAUL BREMER: We certainly intend to continue the work as hard as we can to establish law and order. We understand very clearly that law and order, a sense of security, is the sine qua none without which we cannot have economic progress, we cannot have political stability. So the promise that I have made repeatedly to the Iraqis when they raise this with me is, we will do our best and we will succeed, and I don't know when that will be. In most of the country there is a considerable sense of security. Here in the Kurdish regions, for example, they have had of course almost a decade of independence from Baghdad and it's not a problem. In very many of the smaller towns and cities that I have visited it is not a problem. It certainly is a problem in some of the large cities like Basra and Baghdad and we need to just keep plugging at it. PETER SISSONS: Are you satisfied that the quality of basic services for ordinary Iraqis, that gradually you're getting them sorted.
PAUL BREMER: I think it's clear to say we're making progress on basic services. If you look at the gross numbers we have got more power, electricity that is, in the north and in the south than was the case before the war. Until this week when we had some political sabotage we had 18-20 hours of electricity a day in Baghdad, which is as much as they had before the war. We will not solve the power problem without a very great investment because the country was at least one-third under power, that is to say we believe that even if everything were working we still would only be able to provide 66% of the power needs. All the 240 hospitals in the country are now operating. We think that something like 95% of the health clinics are now operating in the country. Basra has better water than it ever had before the war. This is not to say we don't have problems, of course we do, and we're going to keep plugging away. We started a vaccination programme for children this week. We have been distributing food under the world food programmes starting on June 1st, that's going very smoothly throughout the country. So there is a lot of good news that tends to get lost in the noise here. It's not to say we've solved all these problems by no means, and you said am I satisfied, the answer's no, I am not satisfied.
PETER SISSONS: And do you think there'll ever be a total withdrawal of coalition forces? Is that something you're working towards?
PAUL BREMER: My job is to work myself out of a job. My job is to establish a sovereign Iraqi government so that the coalition can effectively go home. What happens to the coalition troops or other troops will be a matter then of discussion between the sovereign Iraqi government that takes our place and the governments of the coalition - British, American, Australian, whoever else is at that time involved. I am focused on the need to help the Iraqis get to that point as quickly as we can do it and really the pacing matter there will be how quickly the Iraqis themselves can write a new constitution which will become the basis for democratic elections. I don't know how long that will take, as far as I'm concerned the sooner they do it the better and I can get to go home to my family.
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