Paul Bremer: Security and Iraq

Paul Bremer spoke to CSO about his experiences in Iraq and about the 'war on terror'.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Bremer: Oh sure. Well, certainly the insurgents are. Certainly the Saddamists are. But and they have -- they’re Sunnis and they are the remnants of the Baathists and of the Saddamists and so forth. And they have a tactical alliance with Al Qaeda, I would say. Their strategic objectives are totally different -- if they ever were to succeed, they’re totally different -- because the Saddamists want to install, effectively, a secular fascist government like Saddam, and Al Qaeda wants to establish an Islamic extremist government like the Taliban. So there’s no way they could agree on the strategic objective. But their tactical objective to harass us out of the country, to promote sectarian violence is certainly -- and there seems to be some operational coordination, although again, while I was there, we saw almost no evidence of operational coordination between the two.

CSO: I heard Defense Secretary Gates on the news yesterday talking about there has to be a lot of political progress. It’s not just a military issue now. [Also] there was recently a meeting at which United States diplomats were in the same room as Iranian diplomats. Is there room for talking or diplomatic activity with some other players in the region to help?

Bremer: Well, there is. I don’t think it’s likely to be central to the solution. It certainly would be better if Iran and Syria were being less helpful to the insurgents. I mean the Syrians basically -- and we knew that when I was there -- were allowing these suicide bombers to come to Damascus and go up the road and across the border into Iraq, and they still are. And the Iranians have actually become worse since I left. I mean this provision, which appears to be going on by the Iranians of the new high tech explosives was not present when I was there. So the Iranian [situation] has actually gotten worse. When you negotiate in any diplomatic context you have to have a fairly clear sense of the relative strength and weakness of the two sides. We’re not negotiating from a great period of strength with -- or a position of strength with the Iranians right now because of the uproar back in the United States about getting out of Iraq. So the Iranians, presumably, would like to just talk us to death. So I’m a little skeptical as to how far that’s going to go. I think in the end you’ve got to solve it in Iraq.

CSO: Another part of the book I was interested in is the role of women in the Iraqi society. And I’m wondering what your understanding is? You talked a lot near the end of the book about progress being made. Has that progress sort of slid backwards or?

Bremer: Yeah, it’s going back a bit, because the Shiite Islamists, in particular, Moqtada Al-Sadr, and to some lesser degree, the Dawa [Party], which is [Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri] al Maliki’s party, have started to try, in a way, to force the women back into a more subservient role. There has been, as I mentioned in my remarks, a 50% increase in women in the workforce. So that’s good news. And the women centers that we set up -- we set them up in all 18 provinces -- are by and large still operating and so are the human rights centers and the democracy centers. But particularly in the south, there has been some backsliding. And it’s concerning. There’s also been an increase of pressure on the Christian community, which again, was not really present when I was there. The Christians were really enjoying a freedom that they had not had before under Saddam. But there’s been pressure on them, again, from the same source, the Shiite Islamists are saying -- because the Christians basically make the liquor in the country. They make the liquor and they sell the liquor. And of course, to the Islamists, that’s not allowed. So there’s been pressure on them, closing them down, [in] Basra in the south.

CSO: What’s your greatest concern going forward?

Bremer: My greatest concern going forward, actually, is the impact of the I think largely irresponsible debate in Washington now about what we’re doing. I think the President has a strategy which can work. I think he’s got a commander in Dave Petraeus who can make it work and who was told that he can ask for more troops if he thinks more troops are needed. And I think we’ve got the right strategy now and the right commander. My concern is that the debate in Washington sends a signal to our enemies that they just have to wait for us; that sooner or later we’re going to get out of there and then it’s going to be over to them. And it may very well be that -- well, we’re reading these days that Moqtada al-Sadr’s people in the Mahdi army are sort of off the streets. And they may just be trying to outwait us, too.

Now the good news is I had a meeting with a high ranking Iraqi government official last week who told me that he’s more optimistic about that. They are hearing -- they’re politicians, so they talk to Iraqi citizens in the streets -- that people are feeling pretty good about this new strategy. They’re feeling a little safer. And he thinks that -- and his party has been approached, he’s a Shiite -- by some of the Moqtada people saying, "We’re really not so sure about Moqtada any more, maybe we ought to be kind of coming into your party and so forth." So it could work. We just need time. So my biggest concern is we don’t give it the time it needs.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
7 hot cybersecurity trends (and 2 going cold)