The Magazine

The Future of Iraq, in Outline

From the July 28, 2003 issue: Jerry Bremer, administrator in a hurry.

Jul 28, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 44 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Baghdad

SPEND ANY TIME with Jerry Bremer and you'll notice two things. He thinks and speaks in outlines. And he compresses any timetable he's given, often cutting it in half.

So when Bernie Kerik, former New York City police commissioner and current security adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, told Bremer he would need four years to "stand up" 70,000 police officers across free Iraq, Bremer had a counterproposal: 18 months.

Bremer, President Bush's envoy to Iraq and the head of the Authority, discussed security--and almost a dozen other topics--in his office on July 17. Wearing tan hiking boots and a navy blue suit, he spoke for nearly an hour with six journalists traveling with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Bremer's office is palatial, literally. It's located in what everyone here calls the "four-headed Saddam palace," so named for the massive sculptures perched atop the building's four towers featuring the deposed dictator in headgear resembling a pith helmet. The decoration is sparse, and the bookshelves that stretch to the 30-foot ceilings are mostly empty, except for a box of bran flakes and several books, including Rudy Giuliani's "Leadership." The furnishings are just the essentials--an oversized desk at one end and a round table with seven regal, high-backed armchairs at the other, a coat hanger with a handful of ties, a royal blue espresso maker.

After a brief editorial comment about news reports to the effect that his team lacks a strategy--they're "nonsense"--Bremer shifted to his outline. "We've got to do three things," he began. "We have to establish a sense of security and stability in the country. We have to, secondly, begin the process of economic reform. And we have to move along on transition to a democratic political structure."

Bremer poses questions and answers them. On security: "Where is our problem? Our problem is largely confined to what is called the 'Sunni Triangle' or the 'Sunni heartland.'" He continues: "What is our problem? There are two problems. They are both structural. One is, this is the one part of the country that we didn't fight over. By the time we got north of Baghdad, the two Republican Guard divisions that were stationed there faded away. So, we never conquered that area like we conquered the rest of the country. Secondly, this is the traditional support area for the Baath party. This is where Saddam's tribal base was. This is where a lot of the military industrial complex is located. . . . That's where the problem is. It's not elsewhere. It's there."

The remnants of the regime, Bremer believes, are targeting coalition successes. Naturally, he gives three examples. The American soldier killed at Baghdad University "was killed because they don't want us to have the universities working." The mayor of Haditha and his son were executed because he was cooperating with the coalition. And the bombing at the police academy in Fallujah was the result of progress the coalition has made in establishing an Iraqi police force.

On politics, Bremer argues that the process must have two characteristics. "It has got to be an Iraqi process, a constitution written by the Iraqis for the Iraqis. And it has got to be seen as a process which is legitimate in the eyes of the Iraqi people." Bremer has been reluctant to guess publicly how long this process will take. But in answering questions, he suggested that writing a constitution could take less than eight months. That compact time frame will be necessary if Iraq is to hold elections within a year, something Bremer hinted is possible.

Bremer seems well aware of the skeptical coverage his efforts are receiving in the American media. He is eager to dispel myths before they gel into conventional wisdom, but for someone working 18-hour days and to whom the concept of "weekend" is a memory, his critiques are more matter-of-fact than bitter. "I keep reading in the press that we are somehow late or behind schedule," he says of the political transition. "I said when I got here on May 13 that we would have a political council, we then called it, inplace by the middle of July. We had iton July 13, basically right on schedule."

Bremer told us that revitalizing the Iraqi economy would be the most difficult challenge his team faces. The destruction comes not from the war--"almost no damage from the war," he says--but from a "comprehensively mismanaged economy over 35 years." The devastation, Bremer contends, picking up his outline where he left off, "goes across the entire economy, and it means two things. Number one, the infrastructure is very fragile because there is almost no redundancy built in, which makes it very susceptible to political sabotage for the time being. And two, it means we are going to have to devote extraordinary amounts of money to rebuilding infrastructure in the next 5 to 10 years, which is going to be extremely expensive."