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Bremer is the chief civilian administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S.-appointed organization charged with overseeing Iraq's reconstruction and transition to democratic rule. A former diplomat and ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, Bremer concedes that his task is daunting. "We weren't planning for the kind of situation we found," he tells FRONTLINE. "What we do here is going to have a major impact on the geopolitics of this region for decades to come." This interview was conducted on Aug. 1, 2003.

I want to go back to the beginning, when you first get a call that you're being offered a new job. Can you tell me about it?

I had a call from somebody in Secretary Rumsfeld's office on a Wednesday afternoon -- must have been in early May -- asking me to come to a meeting with the secretary of defense the next day. So we met on Thursday. He told me what the job was, asked if I would be willing to be considered, because he had to put it to the president. I said yes, and I saw the president that Friday -- so less than 48 hours later.

What did the president tell you?

Every day that goes by, we find another mass grave. Every day that goes by, it becomes clearer how tyrannical this group was. The American people have every right to be proud of what their soldiers did here.

He said he wanted me to come over and basically take over the responsibilities of the Coalition Authority to help rebuild the country.

So the president and you met with Secretary Rumsfeld, too?

Oh, yes.

He described something of the situation on the ground? This was a quick ramp-up for you?

It was very quick, because I was basically over here about ten days later. I had only, effectively, only a week to get ready for the job, as it transpired. So it was a pretty intense week.

And it was a troubled place. ... There were some troubles with the way things were going at the time. What did you find when you got there?

I found what you expect to find in an immediate postwar period. I found a city that was on fire; not from the war, but from the looting. I found a city where there was virtually no traffic except for American military vehicles or coalition tanks and Humvees, a city where there was a lot of gunfire still going on. I mean, there was still combat here.

When I got to the offices here, we had no power, we had no water. We obviously had no air conditioning, because we had no power. The temperature was in the mid hundred-teens. It was pretty rough.

What was the day that you got here?

I got here May 12.

May 12. Just before that, a meeting had taken place at the end of April, that [Zalmay Khalilzad] had chaired. A couple days after that meeting, there was a decision to go forward with the provisional government -- a decision that got reversed when you came in. What was going on?

First of all, there's been a lot of mythology around. There never was a decision anywhere in the U.S. government about a provisional government. There never was a statement by the U.S. government about a provisional government. So there was nothing to reverse.

My guidance from the president was very clear. He said, "Go over there. Use your judgment as to how things should transpire in terms of the economic, the political, and the security situation, and give me your best judgment." I got over here. I gave him my best judgment. I arrived here, and I said, the first week I was here, that we expected to have an interim government, a provisional government -- to use your term -- in place by the middle of July.

That's what we did we then, for the next two months -- basically executed that plan. We never made any course correction or change in terms of our overall strategy, which was to get our provisional government in place by mid-July. We did that when the governing council was created on July 13.

Ahmad Chalabi told me a different set of facts. ... He says that in a meeting with Zal, he was promised such a thing, and that Zal went back to Washington and was told you have no right to make such a--

I don't know what other people may have said to other people. But the fact of the matter was there was no way there was going to be an early Iraqi government. It simply was not possible. Anybody who thought it was possible obviously wasn't sitting here on the ground looking at a city on fire, with a difficult security situation; a country with no experience in democratic elections for 50 years. There was not about to be a provisional government. This was obvious to anybody with eyes.

There was the additional problem -- the people that we had been talking to for the last couple of years necessarily were exiles; they were people who did not live in Iraq. While that was a very useful group of people -- there were five political parties that were all founded outside of Iraq -- they quite clearly did not represent the majority of the Iraqi people. After all, there were 23 million people who did not leave Iraq during Saddam's dictatorship.

I told those five people, the leaders of those five parties, exactly that on the evening of May 16, at my first meeting with them. I said, "You people don't represent this country, and you're going to have to now broaden yourselves if you want to be considered the basis of a transitional government."

Did they squirm in their seats a little bit?

Yes, they did.

You had a problem with ferreting out Ba'athists -- still is an ongoing problem, I think, with ferreting out who are the Ba'athists and who are not the Ba'athists. You made quite a bold decision to de-Ba'athify the country and go several layers deep. Why did you do that?

I did that because I thought it was absolutely essential to make it clear that the Ba'athist ideology, which had been responsible for so many of the human-rights abuses and mistreatment of the people in their country over the last 40 years, had to be extirpated finally and completely from society, much as the American government decided that it had to completely extirpate Nazism from Germany at the end of the Second World War.

So we basically set up a system to take out, not everybody in the Ba'ath Party-- In fact, if people would read my decree more carefully, they would realize it was directed at only 3 percent of the people in the Ba'ath Party. It's not hundreds of thousands. It is directed at somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000, to the top 15,000 to 30,000 members of the party -- a party which had by its own estimates something like 2 million members. So this represented something like 1 1/2 percent to 3 percent of the Ba'ath Party.

It's been difficult. When I announced the decree, I said, "The following things will happen in the next few months. Number one, we will leave in place some people who are Ba'athist and bad people, because we don't know that they are; we will make that mistake. And the second mistake we are sure to make is we will take some people out of office that we should not have taken out of office."

The commitment I made to the Iraqi people and to the press at that time was, "When we find those mistakes, we'll correct them. We will fire Ba'athists as we find we've left them in power and shouldn't. And we will put people back, reinstitute people, who were unjustly accused of being Ba'athists." We've done that. We've done it in many cases across the board. I did it this evening. I just fired two Ba'athists this evening. ...

There was another decision that you made that same week, which was to dissolve the army.

That's right.

Not pay the salaries.

No, I did not make a decision not to pay salaries. I made a decision to dissolve an army which is effectively already dissolved. The Iraqi army was dissolved by the American army in the course of three weeks of combat. There was no Iraqi army here. The institution existed on paper, but it didn't exist in reality.

What happened -- and particularly it's important in terms of our current security problems -- is that there were not units sitting in barracks waiting to surrender to us with their arms. They just went away; they disappeared, they went home. Two entire divisions of the Republican Guard assigned to defend the area around Tikrit simply melted away into the countryside. They are the basis of the people who are attacking us now.

But the army didn't exist anymore when we got here; it effectively was gone. And we felt it was very important, again, as with the Ba'ath Party, to make the point that that old Iraqi army is never coming back. What is coming back is a new Iraqi army, and in fact, we started recruiting for the new Iraqi army this week.

That's often reported as a reversal -- that you made an announcement to dissolve the army, to not pay salaries, and now you've turned around and realized that you put a lot of people out of work in a country that doesn't offer a lot of jobs.


--People who in fact have nothing much to offer as a skill besides using a gun.

Yes. Well, people also said I reversed some decision on a provisional government, which as I pointed out to you, I didn't do, because there hadn't been a decision.

What we did do was spend about a month trying to figure out who these people were in the army. It took us about a month, maybe five weeks, to get a credible roster of who in fact was in the army -- who was the officer corps, who were the conscripts, what were the NCOs. When we had that in hand, we then addressed the question of how do we pay them, and we had a considerable discussion about the amount to pay them.

That was a discussion that we also had with Iraqi politicians. We did not have a governing council at that point, so we had no formal mechanism to consult. But we did do some informal discussions with a number of Iraqi politicians to find out if they would have any objection if we paid the officers and NCOs. They did not, and so we decided to pay them, and we started paying them already now about ten days ago.

Do you have any regrets about the way in which that was all carried out?


I want to talk about Chalabi just a little bit. He's now one of a number of people on the council. ... He's now one of a number of aspiring politicians, depending on who you talk to. But historically, he has a special relationship with the United States government, and had high expectations coming in -- had hoped to see a provisional government established early on during the war, before your time. But then he was also among those very disappointed with the decision to elect an advisory council, and had a frank meeting with you. Can you recall that? ... An "advisory council," as opposed to a "governing council?"...

The only thing-- It's not what I ever said. What I talked about was a political council, and the political council was designed by us to have exactly the same responsibilities that the governing council has. The change of the word "political" to "governing" was important, but it was just a word change. It simply made it, to many Iraqis, seem more like an interim government rather than the word "political council."

So we changed the name. It was a rather easy fix; didn't change anything else. We always all along said that this council, whether it was "political," as it was for the first five or six weeks, or "governing," as it was for the next month-- We always said this governing council would have three important responsibilities. It would appoint ministers to the Iraqi cabinet, it would approve a budget for 2004, and it would set in motion some kind of a process to write an Iraqi constitution.

Those are the three powers that it has, which it has already begun to exercise, just now after it's been set up for a few weeks. A number of the people in the original group of company -- parties we were talking to, including Mr. Chalabi's party -- a number of them had views that were different from ours, different from each other, different from the Iraqis who had lived here under Saddam's tyranny, about how this process should come about. It's one of the reasons that the process took, as we expected it would, a couple of months. It was a very intense round of consultations among Iraqis, between Iraqis and others, between us and Iraqis with the U.N. involved. A very intense round to try to figure out how to pull together a group that was representative of the Iraqi society. ...

Has Mr. Chalabi been difficult for you to deal with?

No. I would say this: one of things that one learns about Iraqis -- and I'm not an area expert -- this is my first time in Iraq, although I did live in Afghanistan for a couple of years -- one of the things one learns about the Iraqis is they have very strong views. Particularly -- I would say even especially -- those who lived under Saddam's tyranny and now for the first time are free, even perhaps more so than a group that lived outside the country.

They have very strong views about things, and they have no hesitation in expressing them, because it's the first time in 40 years they've been allowed to speak frankly. So, are they difficult to deal with? Well, they're strong-willed people, they know what they want and they say it. Frankly, as a diplomat, that's preferable to people who don't say what they want, because at least you know where you stand, and then you've got to find your way around the obstacles ... and find your way to success.

Right. Who is killing American soldiers?

The killings are coming from three or four sources. There are the sort of renegade remnants of the Saddam regime, theBa'athists -- particularly the Fedayeen Saddam, which was a trained group of killers. The people who served in one or more of his intelligence services-- There were about six intelligence services that he had that overlapped jurisdiction, spied on each other. These were the really tough boys of the past regime, the people who really committed probably most of the atrocities and killings and tortures and rapes. We also have some international terrorists here.

So basically it's those sort of four groups of people who are out killing our soldiers, and who are conducting the political sabotage that we've seen against the infrastructure ...

Pipelines and whatnot?

Pipelines, power lines. Power centrals, water pumps, etcetera.

Do you have a sense of how it breaks down between these groups, or how good is their intelligence on this? I'm particularly interested in the last group you mentioned, international terrorists. I imagine you mean Wahhabis coming out of Saudi Arabia who are--

Well, it's a little hard to pin them down. I think most of the attacks are from the first three groups - the Ba'athists, the Fedayeen Saddam, and the intelligence people. The international terrorists, it's a little harder to say whether they have been involved in some of these direct attacks on American forces or whether they are encouraging people or supplying them with arms.

You know, what concerns us, more frankly, is that we have a rather large number of terrorists from the Ansar al-Islam, which is an Al Qaeda-oriented group, several hundred of them here. When they conduct attacks, they conduct really major attacks, which so far we haven't seen here. So my guess is -- and our intelligence isn't precise enough -- but I would say probably the vast majority of attacks against coalition forces are from the Ba'athists, the Fedayeen, and the intelligence services.

In going after these guys, there's been some Iraqis killed. ... Can you talk about that?

It's true. I mean, we are in combat, after all, and in a combat situation, the commander does several things. He tries to protect his own forces, he tries to achieve his military objective, and he does his best to avoid collateral damage, either to buildings or people. Inevitably, in combat, there will be collateral damage, and it will sometimes involve injury or death to innocent civilians. It does happen. When it happens, we try to have an investigation, and, where appropriate, amends as appropriate.

You had an incident just last Sunday in the Mansour neighborhood.


Of which I think it's been reported fairly widely that five Iraqis died. In that case, is there an investigation going on as to what's happened?

Yes, there is, there's an investigation.

Have people been out to the neighborhood?

Yes. There's an ongoing investigation, and when it's concluded, we'll see what conclusions we draw, but there is--

At this point, can you say anything about it?

I can't.

Have there been any apologies made to the people?

The investigation is going on. We'll do what's appropriate when it's done.

But there have been people on the ground talking to neighbors?


Because the people out there are saying that they're not.

... Well, I don't know what they're doing about the investigation. I would guess that the first thing that the military does is review the reports from their own tactical commanders. I presume that's where it starts. What the next steps are, that's the military who conducts that investigation. They will come up with their report when they finish it.

So we don't know yet if they've been to the neighborhood talking to the neighbors? You don't know personally?

I don't.

Fair enough. We now have the job of establishing a police force, and there's been a lot of criticism of the lack of planning along these lines -- that we should have had a constabulary, we should have had police in place the day after the statues fell.

I don't know who's saying that; they obviously have never been involved in reconstruction. I'm sorry they didn't come forward with that plan sooner. What we had done is called for the police to come back to work. We've got 27,000 police now on the job in the country, more than 8,000 here in Baghdad alone. They are conducting joint patrols with our forces in all the major cities, they are making arrests. We have the court systems working now. Criminal courts and the civil courts are now operating here. So it's not just a question of the police -- you also have to have a justice system.

Did you find this process in place when you got here?

It was started. It was started.

But you don't think that there was any-- I mean, mistakes get made in any kind of situation like this.


And it's understandable. But I'm trying to locate what we can learn from this. We certainly knew in Bosnia and Kosovo; we saw looting in these situations.


There is a sense that we certainly didn't expect looting at the ministries [here in Baghdad] because we didn't send anybody to guard them. So I'm wondering how that [planning process was conducted] ...

Yes. Again, I've heard a lot of people who have talked about what kind of planning there was or wasn't for the postwar. It's all very interesting, and I'm sure the historians will have a great time. I frankly don't have time to go back and read the plans that were written before the war. I got a 20-hour-a-day job here doing my job. Somebody wants to go back and look at the plans and write a very careful Ph.D. thesis on it, be my guest.

Fair enough. Is there ever a day, though, when you pull your hair thinking, "God, I wish they'd planned this a little bit better?"

No, the planning was clearly for a different outcome; that's clear. I've said it. The planning, as the people who [were] involved have pointed out, Jay Garner has pointed out, they were planning for things that fortunately didn't happen. That's the good news. We were planning for a humanitarian crisis -- didn't happen. We were planning for a refugee crisis -- didn't happen. We were planning for all of the oil fields to be destroyed -- didn't happen.

So at a strategic level -- and again, I haven't read these plans, but I take Garner and the others at their word -- that's good news. We weren't planning for a three-week war. We were planning for a longer war. We weren't planning for the kind of situation we found. I think it is clear that when we got here, we did not realize how devastated the economy was -- not by the war, not by the sanctions, not by the Iran-Iraq war, but by 40 years of comprehensive economic mismanagement and theft.

I think there you could say, "Well, shouldn't we have known that?" Well, I don't know. I don't know how we would have known that. We didn't have a lot of people on the ground in Iraq going out and looking at textile factories. But I've seen the textile factories, and the textile factories are using spinning machines from the 1960s. We didn't know that. That's going to cost money. ...

You did disband the Free Iraqi Forces. Was that an order that you gave?


I see, "The U.S. administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, disarmed the 700 armed men Chalabi brought back from--" ...

No, we disarmed them. Yes, we were disarming militia all over the country. We're still doing it, and we'll continue doing it. You can't have an independent united country if you've got militia going around. One of the things we are working on-- There are a lot of militias. That's actually one of the smaller ones.

But this was the same people that we flew into the country?


To support out troops.

Well, the war is over.

So they're no longer useful to you, they're no longer the basis of the police force.
We are recruiting an army. We've told them they're perfectly welcome to apply for jobs in the army. We are recruiting a police force; they're welcome to apply for that. We have announced that we're going to recruit a large Iraqi civil defense corps. We're going to raise eight battalions in the next 45 days. We have told them they are perfectly welcome to apply to that. We've told the same thing to other militias -- told it to the peshmerga, which is the militia in the Kurdish north. We've told it to the Badr Brigade, which is a militia run by some of the Shi'ites in the south. There's nothing unusual about that.

We're trying to stand down the militias, which is not a healthy thing for an independent country to have, and, where possible, absorb them into regular new Iraqi formations, whether it's the army, the police, the border guards, or in the case of most recently, the civil defense corps.

You made a trip back to Washington. What were the highest items on your agenda for that trip?

Most important thing for me on the trip was to have a chance to brief Congress before Congress went on their summer recess about the situation in Iraq. I felt -- and when I got to Washington this was confirmed -- that the people in the United States were not getting an accurate picture of the progress we had made here, the really very substantial progress we have made here. They were distracted, understandably, by the trickle of casualities coming in -- almost every day -- from Iraq, and not getting the stories, the other 200 good news stories, about schools reopening, hospitals opening, health clinics opening, the lowest cholera rate in a decade this year in the south, in Basra. Better water in Basra than it's ever had in history, more power in Basra than it ever had.

There's a dozen [good] stories a day for every bad [one], and those stories were not getting through. I thought it was very important to get back and say two things to Congress and to the administration and to the American people through the press. Number one, we have a plan, we are executing on the plan, we're on target, and we know what we're going to do over the next 60, 90, 120 days.

Secondly, we've done a lot; we've come a very long way. And thirdly, even though we've come a long way, this is going to be a very long, tough slog. We are not going to fix a country that was comprehensively mismanaged for 35 years -- we're not going to fix it in three months. It's not going to happen.

It's tough, though, because you're expected to open schools, fix the water. In fact, people are still impatient about the electricity. You're expected to do all those things.


And you're not expected to have American soldiers dying. So the question really becomes, should you get credit for all those things and we ignore these soldiers? ... [And is] the death of these soldiers going to continue to erode public opinion back home as to whether this was--

Well, it may, it may not. I actually happen to think the American people are more resilient than that. I think American history shows that when the American people undertake a great cause, whether it's throwing out the British, freeing the slaves, or freeing Europe, we stick to it until the job is done. We have undertaken a major noble cause here, which is repairing a country that was under the boot of a brutal, brutal dictatorship.

Every day that goes by, we find another mass grave -- today, every day that goes by, it becomes clearer how tyrannical this group was. The American people have every right to be proud of what their soldiers did here in three weeks. Now we have to carry through our promise to the Iraqi people from the president, which is to give them a stable, democratic, representative democracy here, and we'll do that. I think when the American people think about it, they'll say, "That's right, that's what America is about. We're not going to quit."

I don't think there's any question that what we did here was noble, to get rid of Saddam Hussein. But there are other dictators. There are other horrible situations in other countries; throughout Africa; there's North Korea. The question becomes, how far can we go? We're redefining our role in the world. This was, after all, a president who said he was not interested in nation building.

We are redefining our role, that's right. What we do here is going to have a major impact on the geopolitics of this region for decades to come. It'll be a wonderful impact on the geopolitics of the region when we succeed, as we will. ... I'm sure there are other places in the world where there are lots of problems. That's not my job. My job is here.

I don't think there's any question -- in all the briefing that I've had -- that this is a grand experiment. It is about transformation of the whole troubled region, and for a people that have been on a losing streak for some many, many years -- decades. What chances do you give it?

Oh, I think it's very high. I'm very optimistic. I'm optimistic because, first of all, this is a country which has succeeded in the past. This is a country which, in the 1950s, was at the forefront of the entire Islamic world. They had more women educated, very high educational standards. They [were the] first country with television, first member of the IMF, a country with lots of riches. It's got oil, it's got water, it's got fertile land. When you put the water together with the land, you get the Fertile Crescent, you get the birth of civilization. It has historic sites which are almost without equal anywhere in the world which can be developed for tourism. It has two of the holiest shrines in Islam - again, a site of considerable tourist interest.

And it has very energetic and educated people. As we talked earlier about the Iraqi people, these are tough-minded, well-educated people ... who have a good sense of nation. There's no reason at all why this country can't again achieve its place of prominence in the Muslim world, and I think it will.

There's got to be good days and bad days.

They're all long. There are no short days.

You're working long hours, I'm sure. It's a huge task. Now there's talk about bringing in some more firepower. Is that happening?


That's not happening?

No. As often seems to be the case, there is a lot of sort of miscommunications around. ... There's no consideration being given to bring in any more people out here. It doesn't exclude that at a certain point, if there are certain issues, for example, debt renegotiation, if we decide to get into a major debt renegotiation, that we might want to call on some official to help the United States government with such an undertaking. We're actually not at a point yet where we have figured out what to do about that negotiation, though.

In my view, it is clear we are going to have to have a very deep write-off of Iraqi debt. We cannot burden successive Iraqi governments in the next 30 or 40 years with major reparations and debt repayments. We would be making the same mistake that was made at Versailles in 1919 with Germany. We simply must not allow that to happen.

So I have been a strong advocate for a major write-down of debt. That is probably going to take a fairly substantial negotiation, which will probably involve some high-level discussions. For that, you might want to have a senior non-governmental official. That's been the only discussion, but we're not really at that point yet.

You mentioned before that this was a country that had great advances in women's [education], and across the board. I accept that; everybody is aware of that who has looked at this country seriously. Yet there is no tradition of entrepreneurialism. This has been a socialist state for a long time.


A welfare state. This is not a country that has had a democratic tradition.


So that's two strikes against it.

Yes, but you could make the same kinds of arguments about Japan. You could make, with a little less force, the same arguments about Germany. On entrepreneurship, actually, the Iraqis are quite entrepreneurial. I was surprised to see that, after we got here, we started putting liquidity into the economy through the payment of salaries and pensions, and purchases of agricultural crops, how quickly entrepreneurship sprung up, at least at the sort of storefront level ... goods, tires, satellite dishes for television, television sets.

There's quite a history of at least an active trading entrepreneurship that perhaps doesn't reach to the size of large industrial enterprises. How could it? Because effectively, at least since the end of the Second World War, it's been a country, as you point out, that's been under socialist -- even more than socialist, almost Stalinist [government].

But I think we'll find that the Iraqis are able to adapt to that. I think that democracy will come along -- there's a lot of it already in the country. I mean, people sort of focus on the governing council -- and it was quite an achievement for them to get a governing council -- but as we speak, 85 percent of the towns and cities in this country have town councils. They have self-governing councils that are there [talking] about municipal sewage and trash collection and the schools and so forth, kind of doing the business of what governments do at the less exalted level than Washington, Paris and London.

That's what governments do. They look after those things, and that's happening. When we set up the Baghdad City Council, we started with neighborhood watch meetings and we then built them into district-level meetings -- there are eight districts in Baghdad, nine districts in Baghdad. Then those people selected people for the other council. This was a wonderful sort of outburst of the democratic spirit.

Doesn't make it democracy -- democracy's not something you learn overnight, any more than you're going to fix 35 years of economic mismanagement overnight. It's going to take time.

In fact, in the State Department, where you spent your career, many people there with experience in the Arab world never got on board this train, and felt that democracy could never take root here.

Yes, I know that, and I consider that a form of cultural arrogance. I don't think democracy is too good for Arabs. I don't see any reason why Arabs can't be as democratic as Indians or Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

People said the Chinese could never be democratic; there's a democratic government in Singapore, there's a democratic government in Taiwan. There's a democratic government, at least within bounds, in Hong Kong. I consider it culturally arrogant. I think it's an advantage to me not to have that kind of a prejudice coming here.

I think they're saying that you can't graft [democracy] as quickly as we're trying to graft it onto this place.

Well, it's going to take time.

How much is it going to cost?

It's going to cost a lot of money. Our economic advisors think that repairing Iraq's infrastructure will cost $100 billion -- $100 billion. Big money.

That's just repairing the infrastructure. That's not all the money we pour--

That's just putting the country sort of back together. ... You know, the numbers are -- you can build them up pretty fast. The U.N. says it's going to cost $16 billion to fix the sewage system -- fix it, not make it modern -- fix it. My engineers tell me we're going to have to spend $13 billion on the power system just to get it to a point where it meets the power needs of this country before the economy takes off and it needs more power.

What happens when you run those kinds of numbers by the president?

He understands those numbers. He understands this is going to be a very big project. Now, it's not that we're going to spend all that money; the Americans aren't going spend it all. We'll have to put in more money here. There will be a donors conference in October -- international conference, and many, many countries who will come and hopefully pledge substantial amounts of money. There is the World Bank, there is the IMF. There is eventually, hopefully, the hope of ramping up oil revenues, so that a lot of capital can come from the Iraqis.

Is that on schedule?

It's more or less on schedule. We're [at about] a million barrels a day as we speak now, and our goal is to get to the pre-war level by the end of 2004. The pre-war level is 3 million barrels a day, of which 2 1/2 million would be exported. If we can get 1 1/2 million by the end of the year, we'll make our goal of 3 million by the end of 2004.

We have lost some production in the last 60 days because of sabotage against the pipelines, in some cases against the power systems that supply the refineries. So we're a bit behind where we wanted to be, and that's unfortunate. It shows a point I've been making, which is that these saboteurs are attacking the Iraqi people; they're not attacking us. They are attacking the assets of the Iraqi people.

What's at stake here?

What is immediately at stake here is the future of 25 million people in Iraq. Are they going to live, as we have promised them, in freedom in a robust economy, at peace with their neighbors, with an ability to provide for their kids and what everybody wants -- a good living, jobs, time for life outside their work?

For the United States, what's at stake is holding good to our word that we are going to make those things happen -- and we will.

For the region, what is at stake is the prospect of a stable Iraq, which is no longer attacking its neighbors as it did for the last 20 years. For the region, there is the prospect of the example of an Arab democracy that you point out the so-called experts at the State Department think is not possible. Well, we'll see; we'll see.

But you know, and I know, that this is beyond your control -- even this president's control. This is a matter of national will, and nobody can predict that. This is a grand experiment with an uncertain outcome.

Yes, well, but you know, I said earlier the American Revolution was a grand experiment with an uncertain outcome. The Civil War was a grand experiment with an uncertain outcome. We specialize in doing really tough things. When we get at it, we're not going to quit on this. Americans aren't quitters.

I asked Jim Woolsey how long we could withstand one or two deaths a day, and he said, "Well, in Vietnam, we withstood more than that from 1964 to 1967." That's not what the American people want to hear. They didn't sign up for this war. As you say, we are in a war, they didn't quite sign up for this, and that presents a real political problem down the road.

Perhaps. I think my capacity to influence the outcome is to do several things: Number one, to do the best I can working with my military commanders to get the security situation better here. It's our number one priority, and we are working very hard everyday at that. My view is that the deaths of Saddam's sons is going to be significantly helpful to us. It already is bringing in more intelligence than we had before. More and more Iraqis are now willing to tell us, "There are bad guys over there in that house."

We're seeing an uptick in our intelligence collection, because the Iraqis are now beginning to realize that what we said is true. The Ba'athists are not coming back. They were afraid of that, understandably. Thirty-five years of torturing, murdering and raping by these people left a lot of Iraqis pretty careful about what they said. So we're going to get better intelligence.

We are reconfiguring our forces to make them more appropriate to the combat we're in, make them lighter, more mobile. And we're getting an Iraqi face onto that security. We will get the security situation better. That, I can do.

Secondly, I can push hard to meet the Iraqis' desires for essential services and some sign of economic life. It's going to take time, and I say it to the Iraqis -- I did it tonight again, I say it every time I talk to the Iraqis -- it's going to take time. It's not something that's going to happen overnight.

One of the problems that I'm sensing is that, the more aggressively we go after Saddam, the more Task Force 20 incursions into various neighborhoods and whatnot, the more leery Iraqis become, especially when they see sons, fathers, sisters, killed by some of the roughness -- perhaps necessary, perhaps not -- of our raids. We've experienced a lot of talk on the streets about this, and as I said, we saw this incident in Mansour.

A very delicate balance. ...

It is a delicate balance, and it's not one that I call myself. It's a call of the tactical commander, and my business isn't to second-guess the military guys. They have a job to do. They get intelligence, they act on the intelligence. We hope that they always act in a prudent fashion, but one which, after all, has as its goal protecting our forces first, achieving their objective, and doing that with a minimum of collateral damage to either people or property. They will make mistakes, and then we need to be ready to admit our mistakes.

But this is not a problem that has risen to your level, where you've had to say, "Look, commanders, you got to get some of your boys under control -- they don't understand this culture?"


They're smashing their rifle butts into people's backs and throwing-- We've seen some incidents that are not very pleasant.

Yes, I'm sure there have been. I don't believe it has risen to a point where it suggests any kind of comprehensive misbehavior or ill actions by our soldiers. It's not my assessment of the situation. If it were, I'd do something about it. ...

We've talked about what's at stake, we talked about planning, democracy. Are there any anecdotes that you can share with us that encapsulate what it's like here?

Yes. To me, the most important thing to remember is that there is really no Iraqi family in this entire country that wasn't in some fashion hurt by this tyranny. I was at a dinner for an American guest about two weeks ago here. I had two senior Iraqi politicians on each side of me, actually both of them women. I was just talking to one of them and she got to talking a bit about this and that and suddenly she was in tears -- in full tears.

The problem was that she had gotten to be talking about her brother. Her brother is younger than she is -- he's, I guess, now in his late 20s. For some reason, Saddam's thugs had come after him some years ago and tried to set fire to him. His hands were badly burned. He wound up going to a country in Europe for burn treatment. He got the burn treatment, but he was so psychologically damaged that he was now effectively a ward of the state in the European country.

Anyway, she was in tears. I did what I could to console her, and turned to my other tablemate, who was now also in tears, because she'd heard this story. It reminded her of her 21-year-old brother, who had made the mistake of saying to a schoolmate in passing at school one day that he didn't like this guy Saddam very much. So they came and executed him the next day.

I think it's almost impossible for Americans to conceive of such a society. It's just sort of unimaginable. You had Uday, the son, this monster who was killed by our forces in the attack, who would go into restaurants -- an Iraqi told me last night. He would arrive in a restaurant with his lion, his pet lion that he traveled with. He'd come in at 10:00 at night, at which point nobody could leave the restaurant until he did. They didn't dare look at him. Everything was quiet, and he would choose whichever women he wanted that night and take them away and rape them and kill them. This was going on every day.

I sometimes say that I can see the damage to the economic and political infrastructure that was done; it's the damage to the psychological infrastructure here that will be in some ways the most difficult to repair. It's not something that outsiders are going to be able to help an awful lot with. There certainly will be counseling. There will be an effort at truth and reconciliation. The governing council has talked about starting a process, and I hope they do that. But in a country that has been this comprehensibly abused by these ghouls, this is going to take a long time. I think it's important, when people say, "Well, you know, it wasn't worth the war," and so forth and--

"We didn't sign up for this ... We signed up for weapons of mass destruction."…

They ought to come here. They ought to come spend some time. I'll be glad to take anybody-- I won't introduce them to those two women, but I'd be glad to take anybody down to see some of the mass graves. ...

I guess the problem is that Americans cautioned that this aftermath would be difficult, and that we didn't sign up for a humanitarian mission; we signed up to rid ourselves of an imminent threat. Was the war wrongly sold?

I don't know. You know, I'm not a politician. I'm just trying to do this job. I have absolutely no question that this was, by anybody's terms, a just war, by theological, moral, political terms. If ever a war deserved to be fought, if ever a three-week war ever brought about such enormous benefits to 25 million people, this was the war.


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posted october 9, 2003

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