Newsmaker: Paul Bremer
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RAY SUAREZ: Now to our Newsmaker interview with the postwar administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer. He’s been in Washington this week, briefing administration officials and members of Congress. I talked with him this afternoon.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Bremer, welcome.
PAUL BREMER: Thank you. It’s nice to be with you.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the secretary of defense this afternoon went on at some length about the decision to release the photos of Qusay and Uday Hussein. Apart from the decision to do so, what does having them shown to be dead to the Iraqi people mean for the job that you have to do?
PAUL BREMER: Well, I think it’s very good news that we have dealt with these two ex-dictators. It helps underline the point that we’ve been making since we’ve been there that the liberation of Iraq also means that the Ba’athists are finished and this helps us underline that point.
RAY SUAREZ: Are you expecting a response from the streets, a response from the masses of the country as the news sinks in and as time passes?
PAUL BREMER: I think in some ways we’ve already seen some response with the rather joyful outburst on Tuesday night in Baghdad and other cities at the news that they had been killed. I think there’s also on the darker side there will be some of these Ba’athists, some of these dead enders that we’re fighting will probably try to step up the tempo of attacks against our forces in the short run, but in the long run this is very good news.
RAY SUAREZ: So an initial up-tick and then possibly less support for them as time goes on.
PAUL BREMER: Well, less support, and I think what’s going to happen here is we’re going to find that more people are willing to come to us with information, which is what we’ve seen already in the past month or so, an indication that more and more Iraqis are willing to come; they come into the police station; they come into our tactical commanders, and they say, well, we know that so-and-so is back in town or so-and-so is living in our house. We’ve seen an up-tick in that already, and I think this will encourage others to come forward with information, perhaps looking for the reward, perhaps just because they’re fed up with the Ba’athists.
RAY SUAREZ: A lot of the American reporting from Iraq that reports on the day-to-day lives of Iraqis talks about a certain restlessness, expectations that aren’t being met. What — what kind of progress has been made by your administration and what can account for some of the delays in getting basic services to many people?
PAUL BREMER: Well, I think we’ve made quite a lot of progress, and we haven’t gotten where we want to be yet. We’ve made a lot of progress in the three areas we’re working on: security, the economy, and the political transition.
I think what accounts for some of the – some of the unease or impatience is the fact that these are people who were under a very tight dictatorship for 35 years. Suddenly they’re liberated virtually overnight in the space of three weeks and they assume therefore now that they’re free, everything will get fixed, all of the problems they used to have with electricity, with health care, with water, with sewage will be fixed overnight just the way they were liberated overnight.
And the fact is because Saddam’s regime so totally mismanaged the economy in addition to being a dictator, it was 35 years of mismanagement. We’re not going to fix that overnight. And one of the things I’ve been trying to counsel to the Iraqi people in my regular addresses to the country and my press conferences is you have to be patient. We understand the importance of getting essential services back. We’re making a lot of progress. For example, all of the universities are reopened and have finished the year with their exams. 90 percent of the schools have finished the year. Almost 100 percent of all the health clinics in the country are now open and providing services. So we are making progress and we will continue to make progress, but the very devastated infrastructure that was left behind by Saddam is a long-term problem.
RAY SUAREZ: Why did it take, for instance, so much time to restore electricity in a lot of the urban areas?
PAUL BREMER: Here’s the structural problem. The demand for electricity in Iraq, we estimate, is about 6,000 megawatts every day. Saddam built 4,000 megawatts worth of power, so there’s already — no matter what we do — when we get back to pre-war levels, which we hope to do in the next 60 days, there is still going to be a shortfall of about a third. There’s no other way to slice it. That’s what’s going to happen. And we now are at a situation where we’re producing about 3400 megawatts out of a total of 4000, so we’re 75 percent of the way back towards pre-war levels.
Most of the country now actually has more power than it had before. What I had done to try to deal with this problem is to say, okay, we’re going to have a system of sharing the load; we’re going to have what’s called load shedding so that we have predictable times of day when the power will be on so people know when the power’s on; they’ll know that their two or three hours every day at a particular time when they won’t have power and we’re going to try to take a lot of the uncertainty out of the — out of the power situation. But the structural fact is we’re still going to be a third short, and it’s going to cost us $2 billion to get those extra 2000 megawatts, and it’ll take a long time.
RAY SUAREZ: Have the continuing attacks on American forces taken their attention away from the kind of day-to-day street level security concerns that police might be giving their attention to? Have the fact that they’ve had to protect themselves and also go on offensive maneuvers meant that that area has been slowed down as well?
PAUL BREMER: No. I think the question of policing is really more or less a separate matter, and what we’re dealing with there is trying to establish a large police force of sixty-five to seventy-five thousand police. We have now 32,000 police on duty already. And we will build up those extra thirty-five or forty thousand over the next eighteen months, and we hope progressively as time goes by to pass more and more of the policing duty onto the Iraqis, but we are running policing patrols, our MP’s are running about 1,500 patrols every 24 hours in Baghdad, almost half of which the Iraqi police, so we have policing going on, and policing by Iraqis.
RAY SUAREZ: So the transition to native police will free up American forces to go on the counteroffensive?
PAUL BREMER: Yes. We have basically four things we’re doing in security to basically shift to a more Iraqi face on security. One is the police I mentioned; the second is we started recruiting last week for a new Iraqi army, and the recruiting has gone very well so far. We will raise a new Iraqi army over the next two years. Thirdly, we are recruiting… for a border police, which helps guard the main border post, and finally we are going to raise an Iraqi civil defense corps, which will raise something like eight battalions, seven thousand men, in the next forty-five days. They will take over a lot of the fixed site security, you know, securing a bank or a school or a hospital, or a ministry that our guys are now doing, and that will free our people to go out and try to hunt down these renegades who are attacking us and the Iraqi people.
RAY SUAREZ: A report that came out in just the last week from the Center for Strategic and International Studies — I’ve sure you’re familiar with it -
PAUL BREMER: We commissioned the study — the secretary of defense and I commissioned it.
RAY SUAREZ: It says basically the clock’s ticking. You’ve got about three months to answer some of these concerns, or else you’ll start losing the goodwill of many of sort of the vast Iraqi middle who you want to win over. Can you do it?
PAUL BREMER: I think we can and I think we’ve got a plan to do that. We have — I released that program that takes out sixty, ninety, a hundred twenty, and three hundred and sixty days with the actual metrics of things we want to accomplish in each of those time periods in security and essential services and the economy, and I think we will find as we move forward we can do that.
Let me say, I understand the impatience of the Iraqi people. These people have been brutalized in a political, psychological, and economic way for the better part of four decades, so it’s not surprising they’re impatient, and I sympathize with their problem. It’s not an easy situation. On the other hand, we can move only as fast as we can move and in some areas like power that I mentioned we really are constrained by the structural underinvestment over a very long period of time.
RAY SUAREZ: The report also called the administration isolated and under-funded. Is there a gap that exists between your government and the people and do you have the resources you need to close it and get — get done those things that need to be done quickly?
PAUL BREMER: Well, I don’t really accept the hypothesis that we’re isolated. First, I was traveling virtually North, South, East, West. I’ve been all over the country but more importantly, we have dozens of people in each of the provincial capitals, the 18 provincial capitals around the country. We have people — I have dozens of Arabic-speaking experts on my staff who are regularly outside of Baghdad moving around and who are in daily contact with the some two dozen ministries that we are responsible for helping to re-establish.
So I think we have quite a lot of contact, quite a lot of discussion and we also have a television station we run that reaches 60 percent of the Iraqi people, more than Al-Jazeera and the Arab television stations, we have a newspaper that goes all over the country and we have a 24-hour radio station, all of which we use to try to communicate our policies and decisions out to the Iraqi people. Could we do better? Sure we could and we’ll certainly keep pushing at it, but I think it’s really a bit of an exaggeration to say we’re isolated.
RAY SUAREZ: What about under-funded, the other part of their critique?
PAUL BREMER: Well, you know, you always can use more money. I think we will have a situation here in the fall when we’re going to have to come back to Congress and ask the American people to put up some more money for the reconstruction of Iraq, and I think the reason is this really comprehensive mismanagement of the economy, the waste of what is a rich country, something like a third GDP over the last 30 years has regularly been spent on the military, vast amounts of ammunition and arms wasted. We have palaces that Saddam built all over the country. I don’t know how many billions of dollars he and his colleagues have squirreled away in accounts outside the country but as a result very little money was spent on any infrastructure, whether it was public sector infrastructure or factories, you go into factories and they’re working with — a textile factory I visited — working with spinning machines from 1963; you find this throughout the economy; there’s just a huge capital need.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Paul Bremer, thanks for being with us.
PAUL BREMER: Nice to be with you.