"Time and Patience" Needed in Iraq, Bremer Tells House Committee
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 12, 2003 Roughly a month into his job as the chief administrator in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer, said today that much work lies ahead and that it will take "time and patience" to rebuild Iraq and restore what he calls a very "sick" economy.
During back-to-back sessions with House Armed Services Committee members and Pentagon reporters via video teleconference from Baghdad, Bremer discussed a variety of issues, from getting Iraqi citizens back to work and improving the country's poor economy.
"We've begun process the of putting a country together that has been ravaged for 30 years by political tyranny and economic underinvestment," Bremer told Pentagon reporters. "The scars in this country run very deep. The thugs and torture chambers may be gone, but everyday we find new evidence of how bad the regime was that we threw out."
"And repairing the damage of the last regime -- material, human and psychological -- is a huge task, and it's a task that is only going to succeed if we have a real partnership with the Iraqi people."
Bremer, whose official title is director of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said his first phase has been to get basic services such as water and utilities back working and to restore law and order to the country.
"We've got the water and the power on. In many parts of the country it's actually now above levels of what it was before the war," he said in the Pentagon briefing. "Here in Baghdad, we are producing 20 hours of electricity a day. The gasoline lines that you've read about have almost disappeared, as have the lines for liquid petroleum gas, which is what's used for cooking."
The second phase to rebuilding the country lies in the restart of economic activity, where unemployment is now greater than 50 percent, he said. "I think this is where our greatest challenge lies, and we must now create jobs for Iraqis."
"There can be no higher priority now than trying to find a way to create jobs," Bremer said to the committee. "The chronic underinvestment in infrastructure is going to have to be dealt with, and we're going to have to find ways to get productive activity going, particularly economic activity that creates jobs."
Early this week Bremer met with Iraqi business owners and officials from the International Monetary Fund, U.N. Development Program and World Bank to discuss economic policy and ways to create jobs.
He said he also announced this week a $70 million community action program to help local communities. On June 10, Bremer said he announced a $100 million emergency construction program, paid for with Iraqi funds already in place and to be used to put Iraqis back to work.
Bremer also noted that 58 other countries have helped financially with the reconstruction of Iraq, including France and Germany, two countries that opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom. "There certainly is no hesitation on our part to welcome the participation of many, many countries," he stated to the House committee.
"That's a program that's being run very aggressively out of the Defense Department, with help from the State Department. And I'm sure, as we go forward, we're going to find the need for as much help as we can get from other countries, and we've already, as I say, been actively soliciting that."
Another economic boost for the country will come from trade, most obviously from the sale of oil, Bremer noted. Now that U.N. sanctions have been lifted from the country, Bremer said that for the first time Iraqi oil will re-enter directly into world market by Iraqis.
The country is currently producing roughly 600 thousands barrels of oil a day for domestic use, and "will be able to export a substantial amount of oil" after selling off "the last roughly 8 million barrels that are now in storage in the pipeline to Turkey," Bremer said. He noted that the Iraq plans to ramp up production to about 1.5 million barrels a day by the end of 2003.
The ambassador pointed out he expects bids to be "opened and announced here in the next 48 hours or so. And that is good news -- it means Iraq will have re-entered the world petroleum market," he said.
To help re-establish security in the nation and relieve U.S. military of some duties, Bremer said the process of rebuilding a new Iraqi military has begun using demobilized Iraqi soldiers.
"We have identified training and recruiting sites only this week," he told Pentagon reporters. "We will be starting to clear those sites and clean them up and do the necessary construction ... And so we'll start building a new Iraqi army here, really, in the next month or so."
Bremer said the new Iraqi force can be used to guard oil installations and electrical power plants, now guarded by U.S. soldiers.
"If we can hire back and train enlisted men who have some weapon skills already and get them to a high standard, then they can start to take over some of the site security from our soldiers, which then allows our soldiers to more aggressively try to re-establish law and order in Baghdad, for example," he said.
But what may be the most important task for Bremer's team will begin this summer when they assist Iraqi leaders in establishing a new constitution. He said a constitutional conference will be convening near the end of July to begin that process.
"We have made it clear that the constitution that Iraq needs to write must be written by Iraqis," he reported to the Pentagon media. "It must take into account Iraqi history, its culture, its social experiences. It will not be a constitution dictated by the coalition or by Americans.
"They (Iraqis) will have to decide themselves what form of government they want," Bremer told the House committee, and insisted that "the process must have representation of all citizens of Iraq, which would include, in this case, the Christians."
When one Pentagon reporter asked how long Bremer anticipated the U.S. maintaining a significant presence in Iraq, he said there are no deadlines.
"My guess is that it's going to be a substantial amount of time, but whether that is measured in months or years will depend on developments."
Those developments include how quickly security to the country is established, how soon the new constitution is written and ratified, and elections are held.
"I don't think we should set any artificial deadlines. I think the president has painted it very clearly, as has the secretary (of defense), which is we will stay until the job is done and not a day longer, and we won't leave until the job is done."
"Assuming we establish security throughout the country, which I think we will -- the pacing issue will be how fast the Iraqis can write a constitution, get it ratified by the Iraqi people and then call elections," he said. "And then, the process of writing the constitution will have to start. And we will see how long it takes.
"If they write it fast, that's fine, I get to go home earlier. If takes them longer, then we'll just stay here longer. I don't think we should put ourselves in any deadline boxes."