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Background: Stabilizing Iraq

May 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: Today’s arrival in Baghdad of former diplomat L. Paul Bremer as the new U.S. civilian administrator signals a wholesale shake-up in the American team. For more on what’s behind it and what it could mean, we turn to Patrick Tyler of the “New York Times”. He joins us from Baghdad.

Pat Tyler, welcome. It looks like this is a lot more extensive than just Paul Bremer coming in and General Garner going out. How extensive a shakeup is this?

PATRICK TYLER: Well, I don’t know that we know the full scope of it. I think what is clear is that Paul Bremer is bringing in his own team and that the message has been passed in some regard that the original Jay Garner team is going to phase out. What you have on the Garner team is a number of currently serving diplomats, ambassadors from all over Africa and the Middle East, Margaret Tutwiller came in from Morocco. John Lindberg came in from Moratania, Tim Karener came in. Various people came in from Washington. It appears that for one reason or another, they are now stating a large portion of this them, that they’re going to segway out of Baghdad as Bremer’s people come in.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s your understanding of what’s behind this?

PATRICK TYLER: I don’t think we have a clear understanding of what’s behind this except that there is a conflict going on between those who think that the security, the dire security situation in Baghdad, is Jay Garner’s fault and others who think that it’s nobody’s fault and just need a lot of help to try and solve it. I think General Garner is getting some blame for being slow off the mark, not as focused on the extensive social, economic and legal breakdown that has occurred in Iraq and for not mobilizing the forces quickly enough. But I think in fairness to General Garner also, it has to be remembered that the United States military, the U.S. Central Command, General Tommy Franks, is in charge of Iraq today and nothing can be done without their approval and say- so. There has been a question from the beginning of who really is in charge in Iraq. And that has caused a great deal of the conflict.

MARGARET WARNER: Just how bad is the situation in Baghdad right now?

PATRICK TYLER: Well, to compare it for you, I think… I served in Russia and the Middle East before. It’s not as bad as Chechnya in the black days. It’s not as bad as Lebanon. Iraq now is kind of teetering. There is an enormous scale of breakdown in police services, in basic services, garbage collection. And people are getting killed. There are car jackings going on daily, gunfire erupts in the city almost hourly. But the looting… much of the looting has been gotten under control. In fairness to the military, the army is out there in force doing small patrols. They’re guarding hospitals. They’re guarding other key facilities. They’re becoming the policemen that we all heard they were resisting becoming at the end of the military campaign a month ago. It’s bad. It’s teetering. It could get worse quickly. If a police force, some kind of security force both here in Baghdad, the key central city but also throughout the country is not put in place quickly.

MARGARET WARNER: Are U.S. officials you talk to over there acknowledging that they didn’t plan sufficiently, they didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to restore civil services and to just manage the place?

PATRICK TYLER: They’re beginning to. I think this conflict over the new team, Bremer’s arrival, the sudden removal of Barbara Bodine who is an ambassador in Yemen who served as a foreign service officer here in Iraq and really knows the country, I think this conflict has brought a new level of candor to the assessment that the breakdown here was far worse than the military expected, far worse than General Garner expected, and beyond the capability of the resources they brought, both the management resources and the physical resources that they brought here to cope with. I mean one of the examples that one of the diplomats detailed to the Garner team used to say is they simply didn’t have language-trained, top-flight interpreters to allow them to interface to work with the Iraqis that they urgently desperately needed to work with to get security in the city, to get food in the city, to make plans for some kind of transition to Iraqi authority in Baghdad.

MARGARET WARNER: And the picture painted both in your stories and other reporters from there is that the U.S. team has really been quite isolated — physically.

PATRICK TYLER: They are. You have to remember that Americans abroad today travel in a bubble that’s more extensive and more rigid than almost any other nation’s diplomats who travel abroad. Our diplomats weren’t allowed to leave the Republican palace, Saddam Hussein’s palace which they’ve taken up residence in and turned it into a fortress of security. They’re not able to leave there without a humvee in the front with a machine gun on it, a humvee in the back, a couple of suburbans with heavily armed people inside, and they’re moving around the city in a way that isolates them from the population. People can’t walk in to talk to the Americans about problems they’re seeing, about crimes they’re seeing, about solutions they might have, about businesses they want to start, about services they might want to provide. That level of isolation has been a real hampering factor.

MARGARET WARNER: So is Jerry Bremer being given either resources Garner lacked or new marching orders or the flexibility to operate differently?

PATRICK TYLER: The key question is: what is Bremer’s role vis-à-vis the central command which still owns Iraq? General Franks and General McKiernan who is the land forces commander here, General McKiernan, you’ll remember, is the one who had this fellow, Zubaidi, arrested who was setting himself up as the mayor of Baghdad a couple of weeks ago. Even that fellow got some sympathy in the population because, like a populous politician, the first thing he did was put up a bulletin board and advertised for people to put their applications in for jobs up there.

So, the critical question is, what will Bremer’s authority be? Who will be in charge? Who will speak for the military? Will he be able to say to the military, I need this done; we’re going to build this kind of police force and we’re going to do it today? It remains to be seen. Bremer didn’t come into the airport and lay out any agenda. And in that sense that may be a negative. I mean, people are looking for the American pro council of Iraq to lay out the mission statement, to state a strategy, to lay out a time line for the turnover to Iraqi interim government and to say how he’s going to get the trains moving quickly.

MARGARET WARNER: Pat Tyler, thanks so much.

PATRICK TYLER: You’re welcome.