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Ambassador Bremer Interview with NBC Today

Presenters: Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority
August 20, 2003

(Interview with Matt Lauer, NBC Today.)


     Q:  On close-up this morning:  The bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Iraq.  As we've reported, the truck bomb that destroyed the United Nations mission in Baghdad killed at least 20 people and wounded 100 others.  No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.


     Ambassador L. Paul Bremer is the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq.  Ambassador Bremer, good morning to you.


     Bremer:  Good morning.


     Q:  First of all, our condolences.  I know you worked closely with some of those who were killed and wounded.  Can you tell me anything more about the investigation overnight into -- for example, was this indeed a suicide bombing?


     Bremer:  Well, first, let me extend my condolences to the families of all the people who were killed and injured yesterday in this terrible attack, which reminds us that wherever in the world it appears, the face of terrorism is ugly and evil, whether it's in Baghdad or Jerusalem, as it was yesterday, or in New York or Washington.


     We don't yet know for sure whether this was a suicide bombing. The Iraqi police are busy with their investigation.  And I'm sure when they have some information to announce, the chief of police, Ahmed Ibrahim, will announce that.  But for the time being, I think we have to wait and see what evidence is turned up.


     Q:  Ambassador Bremer, the Iraqi people in general do not oppose the U.N. presence in Iraq.  Does that fact, combined with the magnitude and sophistication of this attack, lead you to believe that it was brought to Iraq by outside groups?


     Bremer:  There are at least two hypotheses.  One is that it was done by remnants of the Saddam regime.  This is the preeminent view of the members of the governing council here.  But it's also possible it was done by people from outside.


     You know, it's interesting that today the governing council, which is the interim government of Iraq, issued a very strong statement condemning this attack as being an attack against the Iraqi people and saying that it would not deflect them from their determination to rebuild their country.  And I think that accurately reflects the views of most Iraqis.


     Q:  Talk to me a little bit about security at the Canal Hotel.  I know that the United Nations had not wanted it to become a fortress.  Was the U.S. responsible for protecting that facility?


     Bremer:  The coalition, under international law, is responsible for law and order in Iraq writ large.  But as the secretary general said in his press conference earlier today, there's no such thing as 100 percent security against terrorism.


     My understanding is there were American troops posted at the front of this building but not in the alley way where the truck -- or the road way, really, behind the building -- where the truck went.


     Q:  And now how have the rules changed in light of this attack?


     Bremer:  Well, we've had obviously a review.  We started that review after the attack against the Jordanian mission here a couple of weeks ago.  We had another review this morning.  We are calling a meeting of all of the diplomatic missions to Iraq for Friday, where we're going to sit and talk with each of them about their security arrangements, offer them our assistance in assessing whether they've got the best fixed-site security available and offering assistance in improving their security.


     Q:  I don't know if you got to see the New York Times this morning, Ambassador Bremer, but Jessica Stern writes in an op-ed piece -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- that the United States has created a situation inside Iraq that's what the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorism, a place where the borders cannot be controlled and where the basic needs of the people are not being met.  Would you comment on that?


     Bremer:  Well, Iraq has been -- was, under Saddam Hussein, a state that supported terrorism.  So terrorists were already here, including al Qaeda, long connections going back a decade with al Qaeda by the previous regime.


     It is the case that after the war, it appears that a number of terrorists from the Ansar al Islam group have reinfiltrated into Iraq. We are concerned about that.  We also have other foreign terrorists who have been arriving from other borders.


     It is a very difficult country to guard the borders.  If you look at the map, you can see why.  They have desert in the south/southwest, marshes to the southeast and mountains around the rest of the country. So it's a difficult country to guard the borders.  We're doing the best we can.  But it's quite clear we do have terrorists inside Iraq now.


     This is a global war that was declared on America on September 11th, 2001, and it's a war that we are going to have to fight wherever we find it.  Right now we're finding it in Iraq.  We have to fight it and win it here or we'll have to fight it in New York or Buffalo or Chicago.


     Q:  Ambassador Paul Bremer.  Ambassador Bremer, thanks very much for your time.  I appreciate it.


     Bremer:  Thank you.


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