Bremer Cites 'Tremendous' Progress in Rebuilding Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2003 Acknowledging that "organized extremists" continue to attack coalition forces, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq cited "tremendous" progress in creating a secure environment, restoring essential services and beginning economic and democratic transformation.
Six months after Saddam Hussein was deposed, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III said he doesn't think it's entirely true that the violence in Iraq hasn't decreased. Bremer made the comment in an interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC's "Good Morning America" today.
"We certainly have attacks on coalition forces, coming from organized extremists, and there is certainly a problem of common street crime," Bremer said. "You've got to remember that Saddam let 100,000 convicted criminals out of prison before the war, and we've got to find a way to deal with that."
But the coalition administrator added that "life is basically quite normal" in Baghdad, with mosques and markets full, and children playing soccer. "There's a lot of good news here," he said. "We just have to keep it in perspective."
In another media event, an Oct. 9 press conference in Baghdad, Bremer cited the coalition's completion of more than 13,000 reconstruction projects "large and small," all part of the strategic plan for rebuilding Iraq.
On the security front, he noted that six months ago, Iraq had no police on duty. Today, the Iraqi police force is 40,000 strong, with almost 7,000 police in Baghdad alone.
Six months ago, the surviving remnants of the Iraq army "had buried their planes and melted away," Bremer said. Today, the first battalion of the new Iraqi army has graduated from training and is on duty. Nationwide, more than 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens, Bremer said.
The coalition is making rapid progress in restoring Iraq's essential services, Bremer said, restoring electricity, reopening schools, and rebuilding the public health system.
Bremer reported that on Oct. 6, electrical power exceeded the pre-war average. If Congress approves President Bush's supplemental budget request for Iraq, Bremer said the coalition expects to be able to provide Iraqis around-the-clock service, which he said is "essential to their hopes and for the future."
Six months ago, all of Iraq's schools were closed. Today, Bremer said, all 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges, as well as almost all primary and secondary schools, have reopened their doors. The coalition exceeded by 500 its goal of rehabilitating 1,000 schools by the time school opened, he said.
Although Iraq's economy was "flat on its back" six months ago, Bremer said, "today anyone walking the streets can see the wheels of commerce turning." Banks are open and making loans, and the central bank is fully independent, operating under what Bremer called "one of the world's most growth- oriented investment and banking laws." In addition, he said Iraq will introduce a single, unified currency next week, its first in 15 years.
Meanwhile, Bremer said, Iraq is moving steadily toward democracy. Gone is the Ministry of Information, which served as a check on free expression. Today, more than 170 newspapers are being published, and journalists and average citizens alike are free to travel, he said.
Representative government is appearing throughout the country, Bremer said. The country's 25 ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in Iraq's history, run the day-to-day business of government. Residents are establishing advisory councils. Chambers of commerce, business, school and professional organizations are electing leaders.
"In six short months we have accomplished a lot," Bremer said, noting that the progress made "is only a beginning."
In today's "Good Morning America" interview, Bremer noted that the $20 billion portion to rebuild Iraq in the supplemental request has made it through the House Appropriations Committee. He said the money would help put Iraq on the road to complete economic recovery after 35 years of "incompetence."
Expressing the hope that Congress will approve the president's funding request, Bremer said that "if we can spend it well over the next 12 to 18 months, that will really be the lion's share of what we have to do here in Iraq."
Bringing Iraq to self-sufficiency won't happen overnight, but is critical to the future of Iraq, and to the global war on terror, he said.
"We are fighting terrorism here, and we will continue to fight it until it no longer threatens the hopes of Iraqis, the hopes of the world," Bremer said. "As the president said, 'We will wage the war on terror until it is won.'"