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News Transcript

Presenter: U.S. Presidential Envoy to Iraq, L. Paul Bremer
Thursday, February 19, 2004 10:00 a.m. EST

Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing

MR. BREMER: Good afternoon. I have a few remarks I'd like to make before taking your questions.

We are in the middle of the largest troop rotation since the Second World War. Over 100,000 American troops will depart Iraq and be replaced by their compatriots. Many coalition partners have carried on or will be carrying out similar rotations.

Before those completing their service depart, I want to speak directly to the men and women from around the world making up the coalition forces.

After months of arduous, dangerous and uncomfortable duty, many of you are being relieved now by your compatriots. People everywhere know, understand and appreciate the sacrifice you've made. You have made America and each of your countries and the world a safer place. You can rightly tell your children and their children, "We liberated Iraq and put it on the road to democracy." Thank you for your service to your country, your service to the world and your service to the people of Iraq.

There are 133 days before sovereignty returns to an Iraqi government on June 30th. Changes in the mechanism for forming an interim government are possible, but the date holds.

And hold it should. In the November 15th agreement, the Governing Council and the coalition promised the Iraqi people sovereignty on a date certain, and we will give it to them.

The coalition's goal has always been an Iraq which is free and democratic, peaceful and prosperous, sovereign and united. The plan is -- to achieve that goal is divided into three interdependent parts: security, governance and the economy. We've made great progress in all three.

Turning first to security. It has always been obvious that the Iraqis must be the ultimate guarantors of their own security. We always knew that what began as a coalition effort would have to become an Iraqi effort in partnership with the coalition countries, and eventually a wholly Iraqi effort. This transformation is under way, and in spite of painful losses, it is progressing. Iraqis continue to swell the ranks of their armed forces. Our Iraqi comrades in arms and the coalition forces continue to capture or kill foreign terrorists, subversives and others who would derail Iraqis' movement toward democracy.

It is increasingly apparent that the terrorists and subversives cannot win, and it's apparent that they know it. In a letter drafted by al Qaeda associate Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, he lays it out -- in his own words, the facts as seen by the subversives and the terrorists. Zarqawi admits that he and his terrorists have failed to intimidate the coalition. He says: "America did not come to leave and it will not leave no matter how numerous its wounds become, and how much its blood is spilled."

Zarqawi knows that attacks on Iraqis provoke hatred of and resistance to the terrorists. He says: "How can we fight their cousins and their sons, under what pretext after the Americans pull back?" Zarqawi and all the others know they are falling behind in a race against time, a race against Iraqi self-government, when he says, "Democracy is coming and there will be no excuse thereafter for the attacks."

In their desperation, the terrorists are trying to provoke a chaotic bloodbath. They see it as their only hope to retrieve an otherwise hopeless situation. They explicitly want to set Iraqi on Iraqi in a cynical effort to kindle sectarian violence. They will not succeed. The growing strength and confidence of Iraq's security forces will eventually overwhelm subversives and terrorists. Iraqis will, in time, secure their own country. Make no mistake, the last terrorist in Iraq will be killed or captured by Iraqis.

On the question of governance and political developments, all of you have reported on the likely changes and adjustments in the road to sovereignty, as well you should. Iraqi sovereignty is important to people all around the world, not just to Iraqis. But the changes should not distract us from reaching the goals that we set out in the coalition at liberation.

We said we'd seek a representative and sovereign Iraqi government. That government should be bound by a transitional administrative law that protects fundamental rights and provides a stable political structure. Under that law, Iraqis will enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the freedom of religious belief and practice. All Iraqis will stand equally before the law regardless of ethnicity, regardless of religion and regardless of gender. Iraq will be a single country with one currency, one foreign policy, one army, one police force and one national border. These are the core values and precepts of the coalition countries, and they will be embedded in the transitional administrative law.

The changes being worked out at the national level of course are important, but the seabeds of participatory democracy are thriving. And this is crucial because democracy is more than just elections; democracy rests on pluralism and the balance of power at multiple levels. That is why the United States is spending almost half a billion dollars to promote civil society in Iraq. These programs are working. Hundreds of local and provincial councils have been formed. Student councils, women's groups, parent-teachers associations have been created in thousands of places. Professional organizations of physicians and lawyers and engineers have come into being all over the country. These are the essential elements of civil society.

Neither security nor government can be sustained without money and without economic activity, so let me finish with a few words about the economy. A moribund economy sooner or later leads to a moribund and insecure society. Iraq's once moribund economy is coming to life. As all of you know when you drive around, consumer goods are widely available. The Iraqi Central Bank, which was wholly subservient, has been independent since September. The currency exchange was one of the most successful in history, under extremely daunting circumstances. We put 4.6 trillion new Iraqi dinars in place and finished on time and on budget. Iraq now enjoys observer status at the World Trade Organization.

The restoration and expansion of electrical services continues. Last week electrical production hit its highest point since the war, on a seven-day average of 4,260 megawatts. Yesterday we generated 98,917 megawatt hours of power -- a record since liberation. We continue to project 6,000 megawatts of peak power by July 1st.

Telephone service continues to expand, with more than 95 percent of service outside of Baghdad, around the country, and substantial progress within Baghdad.

Hospitals, schools, food supplies, water resources are all at or above prewar levels. It's not good enough yet, but progress has been made.

All of this economic activity will be further boosted by the $10.2 billion of reconstruction contracts funded from the supplemental budget that we expect to let by July 1st.

Progress in each of these areas -- security, governance, economics -- reinforces each of the others. Not every piece will move just when we thought and there will bumps on the road. But we have made great progress to date.

Thank you. I'll take your questions.

Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Mr. Bremer, good evening. My question is, what is the American strategy, the case of winning or losing by President Bush toward Iraq? Will the American strategy change if President George Bush loses the election? Thank you.

MR. BREMER: I try to make it a habit not to answer hypothetical questions. But in this case, I don't expect President Bush to lose the election, nor do I expect there to be any change in the American policy. The American people understand the importance of what we have done here, liberating 25 million people from a vicious tyranny, fighting the global war on terrorism and bringing democracy and pluralism to this country. We will continue on that until we succeed.

Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) Mr. Ambassador, Spanish News Agency. We wish that you would tell us: will there be a second source for legislation for the Iraqi new law, in addition to the Islamic Shari'a, the Islamic law?

MR. BREMER: It's important to go back to the principles of the November 15th agreement, in which the Governing Council committed itself to a transitional law which will respect fundamental rights, as I said in my opening statement, including the fundamental right to freedom of religion, while recognizing the Islamic nature of Iraqi society. I don't want to predict at this point how precisely those principles will be recognized in the transitional law, because the Governing Council is just now considering the draft of that. But I'm assuming that the Governing Council will stick with what it said and recognize those freedoms, and the equality of all Iraqis, irrespective, as I said in my statement, of religion, ethnicity or gender.

Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) -- from the Al- Arabiya channel. Mr. Bremer, the secretary-general of the United Nations, according to what is mentioned in one of the Japanese newspapers -- in a meeting with him, he said there is no possibility to conduct elections during the set time for the transfer of the sovereignty to the Iraqis. What is the alternative in your opinion -- and if it is difficult to conduct elections?

MR. BREMER: As I understand the process, the secretary-general intends to issue his views on this question in the next 24 hours and I would prefer to wait until I hear what he has to say. There are, as I have pointed out before, a number of ways in which a transitional government could be selected if it was not possible to hold elections. It is a very complicated task to do it if you don't do it with elections. With the Governing Council, we put forward a proposal to do it by means of caucuses. But there are literally dozens of ways to carry out this very complicated task. There are caucuses that cascade downwards, upward-cascading caucuses, various other kinds of selections, partial elections. On all of these matters, we are going to wait until we hear what the secretary-general has to say and what Mr. Brahimi has to say, but I just invite your attention to how complicated it is.


Q Thank you. (Off mike) -- interview on --


Q (Through interpreter.) (Name inaudible) -- Dustour Newspaper.

Q Thank you. If we could get your view on al Qaeda. We've seen a number of reports recently giving conflicting accounts as to whether it's here, one in Baqubah saying they have detained seven members of a group linked to it. And wonder if you have anything on a group that's recently surfaced called Jaish Ansar al-Sunna?

MR. BREMER: Yes. Thank you. On the narrow question of the events in Baqubah, my understanding is that, at the moment, we do not consider the people who were rounded up to be al Qaeda. They appear to be Iraqi extremists, but I will wait until we finish the interrogation of them to give you a final view on it.

However, it is clear that we have major elements of terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. They have been here basically all along. Ansar al-Islam is a group to whom Zarqawi is connected, as he is also connected to al Qaeda. Sometimes it's hard to make an actual distinction. What we do know is that we are on the forefront of the war against terrorism, a fact which is recognized by Zarqawi in his letter. He knows that they have to try to beat us and the Iraqis here, and that is their strategy.

Jaish Ansar al-Sunna appears to be a successor organization to Ansar al-Islam or a subset of it. I've been working with -- I should say against terrorist groups for more than 20 years now, and it's sometimes hard to know exactly where the boundaries of these groups are.

We do know we have a serious problem. We know these terrorists are now targeting the Iraqis and killing many, many more Iraqis than they are killing coalition forces. I think we can be proud of the resilience of the Iraqi security forces against these terrible threats.

Now I promised the man next to you. Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) Lezawi (ph), I represent BBC Arabic. Your excellency, Mr. Ambassador, you have answered in detail, but we don't understand what you mean. You said in your statements in Karbala that you do not want to have the Islamic religion as the main source of writing the constitution. What do you mean by that? You said also that the agreement between you and the GC regarding the -- on the 15th of just really regarding the constitution and establishment of the government.

Also with regard to the transitional law, there are -- some sources gave us a draft of this law that is not fair to Islam in a principal way. It does not refer to federalism in a principal way. Do you expect that this law will create a problem, or would it be a stumbling block or a hamper to transfer of authority and sovereignty to the Iraqis?

MR. BREMER: I don't see much point in getting drawn into a discussion of various drafts. There have been lots of drafts around. I think it's better to talk about the principles. And the principles are laid out on November 15th. And the principles are that the transitional law should recognize the Islamic character of the majority of the Iraqi people and that there should be freedom of religion, freedom of religious practices, equality before the law for all individuals.

Let's wait and see how this particular document is brought out. I have said repeatedly over the months that we also believe that a federal structure is the appropriate structure for Iraq, and that response to requests from many Iraqis for the benefits of federalism, which are providing a clear way to devolve power from the center out to places closer to the people -- and we think that's an important thing to happen here after having so many years where all power was held by one man.

I expect that the transitional law will address both the question of Islam and federalism. And when the time comes, I'll have comments on it.

Q Stephen Sacker (sp), Ambassador Bremer, from the BBC. Just to pick up on that point, I just want to be clear about this. Just a couple of days ago you appeared to indicate quite clearly that in your view, it would not be acceptable for Islamic Shari'a law to be the basis of Iraq's transitional law. And my blunt question to you is, truly, what business is it of yours to define Iraq's future laws when it's a sovereign nation?

MR. BREMER: We are in the process of discussing the -- this and many, many other issues about the -- what should be in the transitional law over the period ahead. We are basing that on the principles that were agreed upon between the Governing Council and us on November 15th, and we intend to reach agreement with them on schedule, by next week, on this and many other aspects -- federalism, among others.

We have an obligation, as the sovereign power, to do our best to ensure that an appropriate, democratic structure is put in place here while we are here, so that we can deliver to the Iraqis what they want, which is a democratic, unified, stable country at peace with itself -- a consistent message we've had for the last 10 months.

Yes, ma'am?

Q (Through interpreter.) Haluda Zayadi (sp) from (inaudible name) newspaper. Mr. Bremer, is it possible for you to explain to us the reason for releasing Zadul Hamudi (sp) from jail, even though we know that the GC was not consulted in this matter?

Also, the Iraqi street rejects the releasing of any person from the previous regime. We would like you to clarify this subject to us.

MR. BREMER: We conduct our activities in relation to people we detain in accordance with our obligations under international law -- in this particular case, the Fourth Geneva Convention. I'm not familiar with all the details of the case of Mr. Hamudi (sp), but I understand that he was questioned, and it was determined that he no longer posed a security threat to the coalition. And in accordance with our obligations under the Geneva Convention, he was released.

If the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government has reason to believe that he committed crimes, he can be arrested, and he will -- brought before the special tribunal, if that's what the Iraqi people want to do, and brought to justice. And that is the case of all of the people who are accused of crimes, whether they are among the highest-value detainees, the top 55, or others. If there are reasons to believe they've committed crimes, they can be brought to justice. And we will help in that process as we go forward.

Q (Through interpreter.) Evening, Mr. Ambassador. Darak (sp) from Zawa (sp) newspaper. There was a list that was issued with names of agents and advisors for the ministries of the Iraqi state. Has it been confirmed, or are there any changes eliminating some names or adding new names? Thank you.

MR. BREMER: I'm not sure which list you're talking about. If you're talking about the nominations for the deputy ministers that were made to me by the Governing Council, I'm in the process of examining that list, and I'm having discussions with ministers about the proposals for their deputies. And I expect that when that process is over, I will make appointments of the deputy ministers. But that process is just now getting under way.

Yes? Yeah?

Q Could you tell us -- Eddie Sanders from the L.A. Times. What are your views today on the Governing Council and what kind of a job they're doing? Do you think that they're representative of the people and they've established some credibility with the Iraqi people?

MR. BREMER: The Governing Council is working well. Right now they are focusing very heavily on the drafting of this temporary law of administration, which is an extremely important document for the transitional period that Iraq is entering.

They have, at least according to the polls -- and it's hard to know about polls in a society that is still only getting itself organized, but the polls suggest that they have got -- they've made quite a lot of progress in achieving credibility. I think they have worked hard. They have appointed an extremely able cabinet. They have -- by agreeing to the November 15th agreement, they have set out over the next year and a half a path that takes Iraq through a constitutional convention, the writing of a constitution, the first time in Iraqi history, and elections for a democratic parliament by the end of 2005. And I think those are accomplishments of which they can be rightly proud.

Q Just a follow-up.

MR. BREMER: Come back. Yes, go ahead.

Q Do you think that they would be capable of continuing on as an interim government in some fashion?

MR. BREMER: Well, I said earlier, there are dozens of ideas around, and I think it's appropriate now that we await the independent view of the United Nations on the question of, first of all, are elections possible by June? And secondly, if not, what is the best way to approach a transitional government? I think it's appropriate that we allow the United Nations to consider that question and come back with their recommendations.


Q Todd Conner with Fox News Channel. Can I ask you to be a little more specific on the economy? Could you compare about a year ago to today and also maybe compare the north, the Kurdish area, to the economy around the rest of the country?

MR. BREMER: Well, if you mean a year ago, you mean, say, in April. We weren't here in February.

Q Previous to you.

MR. BREMER: This is a very -- this economy suffered enormously over the last 35 years from spectacular underinvestment in everything -- from infrastructure to refineries to electricity to oil refineries to everything you can name. We were not going to ever fix it in the course of 10 months; it's going to take a long time. We've made, I think, very substantial progress. We have all essential services back at or above prewar levels. And as I said in my statement, that's not good enough, because prewar levels were not good enough. But we have a plan, through the spending of almost $19 billion over the next couple years, to address the most urgent of these remaining essential service problems. And we will do that.

The economy is certainly better than it was when we got here in April and May. There is a great deal of street-level activity. Hundreds of thousands of cars have been imported. The banks are open. Hospitals are working. Business is coming back. State-owned enterprises are getting back online as they get their workers back to work and as they get electricity and working capital. There are problems, still. And it's a sick economy that we tried to fix, and we're in the process of effecting the cure. But it will take time.

Q And the second part?

MR. BREMER: Sorry.

Q The northern, the Tikrit area, compared to the rest of the country.

MR. BREMER: I thought you said the Kurdish area.

Q I mean the Kurdish area.

MR. BREMER: Well, the Kurdish area, of course, has had 12 years of relative independence under the protection of the American and British forces. And when you travel there, you see what the future of Iraq can look like. It's a very prosperous area. There are a lot of people moving around. There is more self-assurance against terrorism, although they've had very bad terrorism in Irbil just two weeks ago. But you can get a sense of how well the Iraqi people can do, given the opportunity, and I think that is the vision forward for Iraq. Iraq will succeed economically.


Q Ambassador Bremer, Rajiv Chandrasekaran from The Washington Post.

MR. BREMER: I'm not going away.

Q Excuse me?

MR. BREMER: I wasn't going away. I just need to get -- (off mike) -- (laughter) --

Q (Laughs.) Ducking a question.

MR. BREMER: Ducking a question. (Laughs.)

Q (Laughs.) I want to ask you about some of your views on the issue of Kurdish autonomy, specifically with regard to how that's articulated in the transitional law. And three specific issues, Ambassador: your views on the future of the peshmerga and what should happen with them; the second issue, the issue of the division of natural resource revenue and what guarantees do you feel the Kurds should receive in that; and the third, the issue of the resolution of disputed territories and your position on how that issue should be dealt with in the basic law. Thank you.

MR. BREMER: On the question of the peshmerga, let me address it as a somewhat broader question relating to militia and armed forces that are not under the control of the central government. We have made clear in discussions with the Kurdish leaders and other political leaders that we believe there is no place in an independent, stable Iraq for armed forces that are not under the control of the command structure of the central government. Kurdish leaders have understood and agreed with that, and I think we all recognize that this is a difficult issue which will take some time to work out, which is the honorable reintegration of these kinds of forces back into Iraqi society. And I think that that is the direction we will go, with the help our Kurdish friends.

On the question of natural resources and disputed territories, I expect both of these issues will be addressed in the transitional law. At this point, I think it's too early to say exactly what will be said, but they're -- obviously in a federal system, when you deal with natural resources there has to be some understanding about the ownership of the resources and the allocation of revenues that are generated by those resources. And I think the transitional administrative law will have to address that in some fashion. It is yet not -- I think not yet decided.

On the other hand, on disputed territories, it is very clear, our position is very clear, and it is a position that has very broad support among Iraqis I've spoken to on and off the Governing Council. And that position is that disputed territories, boundaries, these issues are not issues that should be decided until there is an elected Iraqi government to decide them, which means they should be addressed by the constituent assembly that will be elected about a year from now that starts to write the constitution. That is the appropriate forum to decide those issues, not the transitional law itself.

Let me come back over to this side. Yes?

Q (Through interpreter.) In the name of God -- (name and affiliation inaudible.) Peace be upon you. There are some rumors about the disappearance of Saddam Hussein from his prison. Is there any truth to these rumors? And is there any place as far as a secure place for Saddam Hussein? Thank you.

MR. BREMER: There are no truth to those rumors. He's still under our care.

Yes, ma'am?

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Ambassador Bremer, what have you reached with regard to those who were working for the Ministry of Communications, knowing that Saddam Hussein is a prisoner of war, but are the workers of the former ministry criminals of war? Sahaf is in the Emirates receiving wages, but 5,200 families need a resolution to their problem. (Laughter.)

MR. BREMER: I take very seriously the problem. You and I have discussed it before. We are working on it. And I am very sympathetic to the problems of those people and their families, and we're working on a solution. When I have a solution, I will give it to you, I promise.

Yes, sir?

Q (Through interpreter.) (Name and affiliation inaudible.) Mr. Ambassador, you have confirmed more than once today that we must have sources for legislation in addition to Islam from other religions. And you said that this was stated in the 15th of November agreement that the GC have signed; that you believe that the members of the GC signed this agreement, the agreement of 15th, without understanding. Do you believe the 15th of September (sic) agreement did not take sufficient time for discussion at the GC so that they can settle its final formula and that we have -- did it very fastly? Thank you.

MR. BREMER: I just want to be clear. I did not say that I thought that the transitional law should draw on other religions for the source of its law. That's not what I said. It's not what the November 15th agreement said either. It said that the law should recognize that Islam is the religion of the majority of the Iraqi people, but that there should be freedom of religion and religious practices for all Iraqis, irrespective of their religion. I believe that the members of the Governing Council fully understood what that said, and I believe the members of the Governing Council support those principles, and that we will see those principles reflected in the transitional law when it's finished up here in about a week.

In the back.

Q Thanks very much. Guy Henchwood (sp) from CNN. How much longer after the 30th of June do you foresee a coalition or U.S. presence in Iraq? And what circumstances will warrant a complete withdrawal?

MR. BREMER: Well, first of all, I think people tend to confuse the 30th of June and the departure of the coalition authority, which I represent, with somehow the end of American presence in Iraq. And this is, of course, not true. First of all, the Coalition Authority will become the world's largest embassy, the largest embassy America has, and I suppose, therefore, the largest embassy that any country has anywhere in the world. There will be thousands of American government officials from all of our major departments still working here, working with the Iraqi people on reconstruction, working with them on their political developments. And there will be 100,000 American troops and tens of thousands of coalition forces still here until such time as the Iraqi security forces are able to assure their own security, which will not be as early as July. So the major change that happens on June 30th is that the coalition authority passes sovereignty back to the Iraqi government, the occupation ends and coalition forces are no longer occupying forces; they are in partnership with the Iraqi people to protect Iraqi security.

The president has said repeatedly that we are not going to leave Iraq until we finish the job. And the job is very clearly defined as having a democratic stable Iraq at peace with itself and with its neighbors. So America will still be here, many of the coalition countries -- I hope all of them -- will still be here, perhaps more. We're certainly not going to abandon Iraq.

Two more questions. Yes? Here, guys.

Q (Through interpreter.) Hamiz Assin (ph) from -- a correspondent. There is a semi-consensus between the members of council for preference to be the governing -- the authority or governing body during this transitional period. How do you view this situation? They prefer to be --

MR. BREMER: Well, it's not too surprising that that's their preference, but the question is what is going to work and what is going to be recommended by the United Nations as their advice to the governing council and to us? And as I said earlier, I would prefer not to speculate on some of the many dozens of ideas that are out there until we hear from the United Nations. We're looking forward to that. We think the U.N. has an important role to play here as an independent player and we are hoping that they will play an active role in the months ahead, but I don't want to speculate on exactly how that's going to look until we actually hear from them.

Last one.

Q Evan Osnos from the Chicago Tribune. Ambassador Bremer, do you think that a United Nations Security Council resolution would be required in order to extend the role of the United Nations or expand that role, as you described?

MR. BREMER: The role of the United Nations?

Q Yeah.

MR. BREMER: You know, I'm not a U.N. expert, so I would prefer that that question be answered by people who follow the U.N. more closely. I think the principal point is that I think we have said all along that we believe the U.N. has a vital role to play in the reconstruction of Iraq. I am very pleased that they have come back. I have been encouraging them to come back since August. And we are going to work as closely as we can with the secretary-general and his colleagues to ensure that they have the security they need to carry out the independent role that has been given them. Whether they need more U.N. resolutions is a question really for the lawyers in New York and not for me.

Thank you very much.

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