My Afternoon with Paul Bremmer

Myself and roughly 150 people enjoyed an afternoon with former ambassador and CPA director Paul “Jerry” Bremmer. The event was held at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vt that was just voted the top bookseller by Publisher’s Weekly. Quite an accomplishment for a small-town store.

Bremmer gave about an hour long talk on his new book, My Year in Iraq. I took very thorough notes which I will soon share below. But first, a few thoughts. Bremmer was thrown into a caldron that was ripe with failure. When you think of home many Bush appointees have failed, need I mention “Brownie” and the Katrina fiasco, it is amazing that Bremmer is not made into a scapegoat. He in fact conveyed a sense of compassion for Iraq, admitted some of his mistakes, and mentioned some issues where he differs from the White House (though he did toe the party line mostly). He opened the floor for questions and did answer, albeit simplistically at times, the hard questions tossed at him.

I came away from the talk with a favorable impression of Bremmer. It seems that he did the best he could with the situation. Of course he chose the statistics to whip out, so who knows if there are some negative numbers to throw against him. But nevertheless, it does not seem like he made things worse in Iraq and that he often made things better.

What I found most interesting was his compassion for the people who have endured and continue to endure so much. He mentioned that the whole nation may be suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is something that I find fascinating and is worth exploring. It may be a huge part of the recovery process for a nation that was broken over a 40 year period.

Without further ado, my notes:

Credentials: Career in the foreign service since the early 1960’s, serving in Afghanistan, Malawi, Oslo, the Netherlands, and the counter-terrorism office.

quote: “Once you are engaged in the war on terrorism, you can never let it go.” (in reference to 20 years working in the counter-terrorism office).

What we faced in Iraq:
We were in a palace without water, telephones, air conditioning, electricity for a while upon first arriving. 115-120 degrees during the day, 100 at night. 138 high in summer. Coalition provisional authority was a multi-national group who volunteered to work in Iraq and make it a better place. Members of the authority worked 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Political/Psychological Situation
Hussein imitated Hitler.
People spied on one another, even children spied on parents.
Images of Saddam everywhere was part of a personality cult.
Mein Kampf was read by all Iraqi politicians. Many copies in Arabic were found.

Found mass graves in the south from Shiites who rose up and were crushed after the Gulf War. Huge open pits 3x’s the size of a football field filled with bodies. 20-30 thousand in that grave. there are 300 mass graves found so far.

Northern Iraq
In the 80’s, Saddam killed 80-100,000 Kurds. 1988, used chemical weapons. 5000 tombs can be seen today in one town from one attack.

Every police station was found to have a torture chamber and a rape room. Human shreading machines for execution were found. Saddam ordered that feet go in first.

1.5 Million Iraqis from Saddam’s reign. The entire nation is suffeirng from a post-traumatic stress syndrome of some sort.

Iraqi Economy
It was in horrible shape by 2003. Saddam mismanaged for 40 years. 15 world bank teams said Iraq had a 15-100 billion dollar infrastructure deficit.
1980-2002 per capita income of Iraq fell more than any other nation.
2002 Iraq had the highest infant mortality rate and shortest life expectancy.
50% unemployment by 2002.
IN the 80’s and 90’s Saddam printed more and more currency, 115,000% inflation.
Equivalent to the Great Depression.

Steps of action
Get rid of the Baath party.
– Was it a mistake to disband the army? No, there was not an army to dispand any way. The soldiers had all fled.
-The old army had committed genocide. Kurds promised cession (20% of pop.) if army retained. Fear of regional war with Tukey and Iran if Civil War breaks out with Kurds in Iraq.
-Shiites, 60% of pop. wanted to disband the army too.
Only top members, 1% of politicians, in the Baath party could no longer be on the public payroll because of crimes.
Mistake: Bremmer turned this job over to the Iraqi’s who got rid of too many leaders.

25 member Iraqi Council
Multi-national committee to select ministry leaders.

Insurgency: Fall 2003
Bremmer resisted calls from Pentagon to leave early. Bremmer did not want to leave until there was a constitution and more established government.
Bremmer met with George W. and told him he recommended not leaving too early. Bush agreed with him and said that they would do the right thing, even if it made life harder in the short run. GWB said, “Success in Iraq will change the world.” Set up 7 step plan toward sovereignty and Iraqis followed every step.

Terrorists threatened voters. 12 million voters came out. Higher than any US election since 1876.
25% of Iraqi parliament is women.
15% of Congress is women.

Promoted Civic Society:
Organizations were created for women, democracy, human rights, professional organizations, olympics.

1. Stimulate jobs
2. Sensible macro economics

1. Unemployment
Found chaos in the Iraqi ministries and had to set up civil service pay scale in 3 days.
Paid in cash, 200 million dollars each month.
Did not have enough Iraqi currency and was in danger of flooding Iraq with the dollar.
Replaced Iraqi currency in a 3 month period
New Dinar has done well.

2. Macro Economics
Central independent bank set up
modernized laws
cut taxes
Economy is doing better, which is underreported.
Unemployment is down.
80% better water
50% more women with jobs
Per capita income has doubled.

1. Saddam Loyalists
2. Terrorists: Islamic extremists

These two groups have been fighting each other lately.
2003 the US over-estimated the strength of the Iraqi army and police.
Revamped police and army training, now 98 Iraqi army battalions.
US forces are on the outskirts more of the country.

1. Optimistic about Iraqi people who want democracy and are optimistic themselves.
2. Patience: we must learn to be patient with Iraq.
3. Benefits: We benefit by helping democracy succeed.

Open Questions
1. Capture of Saddam:
Got Iraqis to verify the capture. Saddam was defensive and talked casually about killing.

2. Notion that we can invade a nation and impose democracy:
Convinced of the threat posed by Islamic extremists.
Saddam supported terrorists for 20 years. We did face a threat from him.

3. Women in Iraq: do Shiites oppress women and support Iran?
Shiite are the 60% majority. They are split. Muslims in Shiite parties are not closely connected with Iran as Iran’s puppets.
Iran and Iraq border is the boundary between Persia and Arabia. Shiites sufferred severely in the war with Iran.
In the south women have been pressured to be veiled.
More women are in the work force now and they are generally better off.

4. Security: Government in Us needs better border policies. Homeland security director may not be best.

5. Oil, did we go to war over it?
No. Bremmer did not allow US to invest in oil until all countries have a fair shot.

6. How to Prevent civil war?
No Iraqi leader wants it. If it happens, it would become regional. Many Kurds are in Iran, so Iran does not want to see Kurds break off. Al-Qaeda has impacted thinking lately.

7. Talks with Iran over Iraq future:
Uneasy about Iran. Iran has brilliant thinkers who have well-planned foreign policy. Wary of what they may try to slip in.

8. Trauma Issues and Mental health in Iraq:
health care budget was 930 million. NOt sure have this is being dealt with right now, but it is a major issue. Medical profession is 12-30 years behind the world. NO seminars, travel, or internet.

9. US Interrogation and Torture:
Torture is not justified. Abu Grahaib prison abuses surfaced while Bremmer was there. He apoligized to Iraq and its leaders. Iraqis condemned the abuse, but appreciated: the US announced, investigated, and tried those involved. They compared this to Saddam and were thankful for how US government handled it.

10. Halliburton and Contracts Corruption
Pentagon signed them. Had no personal problems, but there have been allegations that may be true.
Halliburton did pay $63 million fine.

That’s all folks!!! Pant, pant, pant.

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